Celebrating Seollal, breathing in that mountain air

20160207_145201Happy New Year!

Earlier this month, Korea celebrated one of its biggest holidays, 설날 (Seollal), also known as the Lunar New Year. To celebrate the holiday many Koreans go to their family’s hometown, pay respects to their ancestors, and eat a ton of good food. Koreans make a big effort to bring gifts of expensive honey, healthy green tea, dried fruit and meats to their families. Children also pay their respects by bowing to the elders. Many of our students said they like this holiday because they get money as a New Year’s gift every time they bow!

With the long holiday weekend ahead of us, Wade and I decided to turn our days off from teaching into a “staycation” in and around Sejong City. According to the Korea National Park Service, Korea has 21 national parks. The holiday seemed like a good time to check a park off my list. I’ve already visited Seoraksan National Park (see my photos here), so we turned our sights to Gyeryongsan National Park.

Gyeryongsan is only a short bus/subway/bus ride away from Sejong City. According to Visit Korea, the park stretches across Daejeon, Gongju and Nonsan, making it pretty substantial. There are many entrances to the park. We decided the easiest way to get there from Sejong City was to enter from the Donghaksa (동학사) Park entrance.

20160207_132305We took the BRT (bus rapid transit) in Sejong to Banseok station. From there we hopped on the Daejeon subway line, getting off at the National Cemetery stop. Take Exit 3.

Next, take the Daejeon bus 107. The bus stop is just down the street from the subway exit. The bus will take you to the Donghaksa parking lot, and that’s your stop. It’s a 10 minute walk to the Donghaksa Park Information Center. There are dozens of little restaurants and tourist shops along the way. I’ve never eaten at any of the restaurants, but I have heard they are a bit overpriced because of the touristy location.

Once you reach the park entrance it’s ₩2,000 to enter, cash only.

We decided to take the trail up to Gwanumbong Peak. It’s an ascent of 816m (about 2,677 feet), which isn’t much to sneeze at. Our map marked the trail as 0.9km of moderate hiking, 1.7km of intermediate hiking and 0.8km of advanced hiking. However, the hike up was significantly harder than I expected. The trail was packed with a layer of slick ice, and we found ourselves scrambling all the way to the top.

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The trail we took is marked in red. The red circle marks our start at Donghaksa Park Information Center.

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All scrambling aside, the climb was well worth it. The day was crisp and clear and warm enough for February. We also got a great view of Daejeon. Once we hit the sunny side of the peak, we took a break for some nourishment and sunshine. There’s nothing like hot coffee and chocolate-covered almonds to perk you up!

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Gwanumbong Peak, Gyeryongsan National Park
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At the top… nice gloves, Wade!

The sun was making its way downward, so we didn’t linger at the top too long. We didn’t want to be caught in the cold and dark on a mountainside.

The next stop was Yeoncheonbong Peak. From Gwanumbong we worked our way down the mountain on a much easier path. The trail was sunny and ice-free. It was a very easy progression of steps.

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We ended the hike by making our way to the Sinwonsa Buddhist temple on the opposite side of the mountain where we started. We felt like rock stars after such a restorative day.

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The only problem? We had no idea how to get home. We were now miles away from where we started. We stared at the only bus in the small parking lot… knowing this was our ticket outta there.

We learned from the driver that he was likely going to Gongju (the classic point-at-the-map-and-pray-that-we-understand-each-other method). So we hopped on, and thankfully, we did end up in Gongju at some back-alley bus drop-off. Luckily, we had a good idea of where we were (near the Gongsanseong fortress). From there, we walked about 20 minutes back across the river to the intercity bus terminal and caught a ride home.

It was not the most ideal way to get home, but with such limited speaking skills and no real options, we made it work.

20160207_164148All in all, it was a fabulous day of breathing in that fresh mountain air. I feel revitalized when I’m going on hikes like this one. Gyeryongsan wasn’t the most mind-blowing park, but it was uncrowded, clean and peaceful. It was also a good reminder that hiking is healing. Wade and I are looking forward to visiting Gyeryongsan again in the spring, and searching out our next national park.

Happy New Year!
새해 복 많이 받으세요!

PS: Click here to check out my photo gallery for more shots from our winter hiking trip to Gyeryongsan.

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4 thoughts on “Celebrating Seollal, breathing in that mountain air

      1. I hope so. I’m staying near Daecheong lake the night before with my theatre group, probably drinking until early in the morning haha. Fingers crossed that I can get up early that day to make it to the hash!

        Liked by 1 person

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