A Frosty Valentine’s Day in Jirisan National Park

For Valentine’s Day/ Lunar New Year (a huge holiday in Korea) we traveled to Jirisan National Park for a break from city life. We took a local bus from the Sasang intercity bus terminal and 1 1/2 hours later we arrived in the small city of Jinju. We looked around for a short while and soon checked into a classy “Love Motel”. Love motels here in Korea are the equivalent of older Motel 6’s or any cheaper hotel. They also are what travelers typically stay in since they are affordable. To paint a picture of our accommodation, image an 80’s style decorated prostitution house. The ceilings were painted with a solar system theme in neon glow paint, the walls had scenes of naked girls posing with cars and other various backgrounds – also in glow paint. Each door had a mural of a different girl. To top it off, the elevator was all mirror-covered and the room key had a picture of a girl in a “swimsuit” on it. Contrary to what one might expect, however, and in keeping with Korean tradition, the rooms were quite clean and nice. In addition, the room had a computer with internet included in the $40 price for the night.

We spent the evening walking around Jinju, exploring. We passed through street markets, coffee shops, and every outdoor brand store known to man. Eventually, we decided on a delicious U don Noodle place that seated around 12 people. Afterward, we took in a movie called Valentines Day. The point of the movie was to keep adding stars. There really wasn’t much of a point other than that, but it was interesting to see who the next person to be added was.

We boarded a bus early the next morning and went the last 1 1/2 hours to the “mountains of Jiri.” After a series of stops in small little villages/towns, we were the last two on the bus. Our final stop was a large gravel parking lot down a dirt road overlooked by the mountains and a few small houses/stores that sold trail snacks, but were closed because of the holiday. We started walking towards the trail head, past a temple and eventually through a small little village where the trail began. We stopped for a few moments to get water and had some small children come out to practice their English with us while their grandparents looked on from inside. They were quite good, but were obviously in for the holiday from a larger town.

The road was icy as we walked up the hill, but quickly turned to a few inches of snow as we started the trail up the mountain. We followed along a small mountain stream as we climbed, then continued up towards the ridge along slick, packed snow. A few other Korean hikers passed us, giving us questionable looks for not having crampons (metal hiking cleats) on. The funny thing about this is that in America, we would never consider having crampons for conditions like those, but in Korea, it is the fashionable thing to do. The trail itself was pretty neat. At times, ropes were placed around trees to help us climb up or down steep embankments. There was a bit of bouldering that needed to be done to get over slick, rocky sections, but we finally reached a small hut with a great view of the valley below.

The snow at the top was considerably heavier than at the start of the trail and almost immediately upon reaching the top, the snow began to come down heavily. We were greeted by an older Korean man, also a hiker, who had a mug of Soju (the staple Korean acohol) oustretched in offering before we even sat down on our wooden block seats. After a short drink, the man departed on his way and we took a short – cold – nap before preparing some dinner. We had not brought our bag liners for our sleeping bags, not knowing it would be that cold or snow covered, so our nap was a shivering one. After waking, we broke out our camp stove and began cooking. We had a delicious meal of ramen noodles with tuna and some improvised spices. It hit the spot! We actually used our stove to warm up after dinner for a bit as we sat in a little room off the side of the cabin looking out at the snow. After a short trip by myself down a snowy embankment to gather fresh water in the dark, we retired for the evening with some rented blankets that were provided in the cabin. Our sleeping quarters were in a dual level bunk that had a large, lower platform for males and an upper platform for females.

The next morning, we set off down the mountain with only one set of footprints leading the way in the fresh snow layer. It was very nice as we were able to slide down the soft snow blanket easily for most of the trip. We arrived back at our original parking lot with plenty of time to spare to wait on the bus. While we were waiting, a Korean man, who had also been hiking, sat down near us. When his friend pulled up in a car to pick him up, he called over to us to see if we were waiting on the bus. Although they spoke no English, we were able to determine that he wanted to give us a ride to what we thought was the bus station. We agreed and loaded our bags in to the back of the car. After a while in the car, we realized that we were going farther than just down the street. As the signs were still pointing towards Jinju and we couldn’t communicate anyway, we just rode along. Over an hour later, we arrived at the Jinju bus terminal! The complete stranger had driven us over an hour – without us even asking – to our bus terminal, saving us a whole bus ticket and lots of time. Awesome!

We grabbed a quick coffee then boarded a bus back to our home in Busan where we had dinner at our local favorite, The Loving Hut, and headed home to get ready for the week.

J

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