Mount Soyosan: Onward and Upward

soyosan_stairsI returned to the Soyosan trail the day after my jaunt to Jajaeam Temple, taking advantage of the unseasonably balmy weather before a forecast snowstorm later in the week. I set a brisk pace to the temple grounds.

Beyond Jajaeam Temple, the trail up Mount Soyosan develops what I’ll call “attitude.” Soyosan isn’t a terribly tall mountain, but it’s rugged and steep. The stairs that were helpful negotiating the lower portions of the trail get longer and increase in pitch to the point where they become a daunting obstacle themselves. (Click on the pictures for full-size images)

soyosan_trailThen the stairs disappear, replaced by stone steps, which in turn dissipate into a dirt trail with nothing but a stout rope separating the hiker from a nasty fall.

Until the rope ends.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much huffing and puffing this trail brought on, and how many times I had to stop to catch my breath. Meanwhile, wizened Korean ladies and gentlemen, fitted out with sporty Alpine togs, boots, and backpacks, trotted past me from above and below. They were mostly cheerful and politely silent, but a few chuckled softly at the silly American staggering up their mountain. One nice young man with excellent command of English offered me a sip from his Gatorade bottle. There were families making a day of it too—one young couple with a 3- or 4-year-old in tow passed me on the trail. Having worked through some of the more challenging spots, I had to admire their courage, or wonder about their sanity.

soyosan_ridgeLight began to fade, and I still hadn’t reached the top. I considered turning back, an option that became more appealing with each step. I’m glad I pressed on. A few minutes later, I crested the ridge, not at the tip-top of Soyosan, but one of the parade of smaller peaks along its crest, at least. Good enough, and a prudent compromise, knowing I had to make it back down the trail while I could still see it. That was a different sort of challenge, perhaps not as difficult, but a bit more dangerous if I wasn’t careful.

soyosan_viewAs for the view…words fail me.

Yes, it was worth the climb.

I picked my way down the trail in the last glow of sunset, arriving at Jajaeam Temple without mishap. The doors to the shrine carved from the mountain were open, and a few of the monks were inside, chanting and prostrating and tapping on hollow gourds, the sound echoing from the stone, blended with the waterfall’s patter into its dark pool below.

soyosan_eveningThe rest of the trail was wide and well-lit. No reason to hurry now. I paused a few moments to listen.


2 thoughts on “Mount Soyosan: Onward and Upward

  1. I’d be huffing and puffing, too, but that’s never stopped me from climbing trails this out-of-shape body had no business being on (as a particularly arduous climb in Oregon back in August reminded me). Someday, I hope to visit Korea and see some of these places.

    1. It’s pretty easy to find. From Seoul, you can take subway line #1 all the way to Soyosan, which is the last stop going north, about 1.5 hours. Walking east from the train station, you’ll reach the foot of the mountain in about 10-15 minutes.

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