Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Season's Ripe for Hiking!

In the past few weeks, the weather in Pohang (on many days) has significantly improved, making me feel like I want to be outside all the time! Of course, I have things to do that keep me from fulfilling this wish, but every time I step outside, I am excited and hopeful for spring. It's a little bizarre from time to time, however, as after 3 days of temperatures in the low 50s, we'll have a day where it's 24 degrees, and they're predicting snow. I've heard the weather at home is somewhat crazy as well. I'm sure we have global warming and climate change to thank.

This past weekend, I went with Hoopie for a nice day hike in Gyeongju. Gyeongju is the cultural capital of Korea, and is only 30 minutes by car from Pohang. I haven't spent a lot of time there except to keep medical appointments, so this was really the first time I got to see it. It is beautiful. Even before the hike, riding the bus through the town to get to the temple, I was overwhelmed with how traditional the city looks. It's completely different from everywhere else I've been in korea. Most cities here are spattered with high-rises and industry, and the only traditional buildings you see are temples, usually on the outskirts. Gyeongju, however, is quite different. The buildings are low, with pagoda rooftops and traditional facades. There are mazes of side streets running through the little houses, and hardly any chain stores or large marts. There is a river that cuts in and out of the city, reflecting the sun and making everything green and blue. It's beautiful. It made me feel more like I was in Asia than anywhere I've yet been in korea.

The hike was delightful. The weather was warm, but cool and breezy enough that we didn't overheat as we climbed the steeper parts of the trail. We began at the Bulguksa Temple, one of the most famous temples in South Korea, because it represents the height of Shilla architecture. I never tire of the brilliant colors on the eves of the temples, the spacious interiors of the courtyards, and the easy peaceful feeling present inside their walls. After looking around, we found the trail to Seokguram, another temple just a few short kilometers up the mountain. We took our time and played trail games, occasionally stopping to snap photos of the magnificent views, or just take a wheeze break. (In the midst of this, I realized I'm pretty out of shape!) Seokguram is incredible to see, as it's nestled into the mountain amid rocks and steep inclines--it really is an engineering feat. I want to return there at night to see how it looks when the lanterns are lit, and the view of the countryside below is dotted with lights of scattered cities.
Hoopie and I continued up the trail at my request--though we were getting hungry for lunch, I wanted to see the peak, and it was only another 1.3 kilometers, though quite steep. We munched some trail snacks, sipped our water, and continued on. We breathed heavily on the climb and carefully navigated around wide patches of mud, as well as left-over ice from the last snow. When we reached the top, the payoff was incredible. The trail opened up and we could see for miles. Vast ridges of mountains in all directions, rivers cutting through the valleys, and the ocean in the distance. What a beautiful country this is, I thought.

As the weather is easing into spring, I'm making a personal resolution to get onto the trails as often as possible. There is so much natural beauty here, though this country is so industrialized and western. Korean people really value their mountains, their hiking, and the peace of nature. As a northwesterner, I feel a certain affinity for them through this shared piece of culture.
Where to next?

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