I 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)
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.
Light 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.
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.