Sunday, September 13, 2015

Daemosan: first real hike in six months

On Saturday afternoon, during what turned out to be an amazingly pleasant day, I hiked up Daemosan, the local mountain. I took over 80 photos along the way, but whittled that number down to the eighteen most relevant and/or interesting ones so as not to bore you. NB: while I've written little captions for each image (hover your cursor over an image to see a caption), I've decided to describe the images in the main text of this post so that people can look at the pictures on their mobile devices and not worry about missing "ALT" text.

Come along with me, now, as we go on a rather brutal hike.

To set the stage: I haven't hiked in months. I used to hike Namsam almost daily, but once I moved to Goyang City to teach my second semester at Dongguk University's Ilsan campus (Ilsan is a district of Goyang), I stopped hiking. In fact, I pretty much stopped walking altogether, partly because I was so depressed about the slim pickings, mountain-wise, in the precinct where I lived. There were three nearby mountains, but all of them had military bases on them, which meant they weren't hikeable. So I only walked to and from Ilsan campus... and I regained most of the weight I'd lost over the previous semester. Of course, saying that the mountains were unavailable is no excuse for not exercising: I still could have walked (and I did try, half-heartedly, to do so), or I could have amped up the intensity and done some jogging. But I didn't. It is what it is, and now I have to start almost from Square One again.

These days, walking about 1.5 miles home from the Golden Goose means getting sweaty, getting winded, and most dangerous of all, experiencing some tightness in my chest. Not enough to constitute actual chest pains, mind you, but enough to make me wonder about what I've done to myself, and whether I might need to be airlifted off the mountain after collapsing from a heart attack.

So—out of condition, but needing to start somewhere, I set off for Daemosan.

Here's the walk down the street from my apartment building. You can see the shoulder of the mountain off in the distance:

Eventually, the walk leads to the robotics high school, with its massive copyright infringement (i.e., the Google Android image) inscribed shamelessly in brick. The path up the mountain starts behind the high school, so that's where we're headed. You can see, can't you, how the road goes on, then curves around to the left.

Below, you see we're behind the high school now. Some cars are parked out back, and there's a concrete road leading upward at a steep angle: the hike has begun in earnest. The road leads up to a dead end... for cars, anyway. The hiking path continues at the top, where the road ends and the path levels off.

Next: there are signs, at this point, indicating direction and distance, including one arrow pointing to Daemosan's peak. For further clarity, a large map stands in the same spot. In this picture, you see the "You Are Here" arrow pointing right behind the high school, along with the yellow path that leads upward, ever upward, to the blue path that goes along the ridge of the mountain. While it looks simple and straightforward on the map, there are, in fact, many tiny (and walkable!) paths, some of which are presumably shortcuts to the summit for the trail-wise. I decided to keep things as simple as possible, focusing purely on the main pathway up the mountain, not allowing myself to be distracted by the temptations of smaller trails.

Below: a lot of the path looked like this. I had wondered whether Daemosan would be as paved-over as Namsan is, especially for nighttime hiking. Would there be street lamps? Would there be asphalt sidewalks? No and no, as it turned out. This was, I decided, unfortunate, because I had wanted to make Daemosan into my Namsan surrogate: a mountain that I could hike every day. Now, alas, I know that (1) I can't hike the mountain after dark because it won't be safe, and (2) the dirt paths will be slick in the rain, so I can't hike during or just after rain, either—not a big guy like me. When you're my size, you're constantly worrying about slipping, falling, and breaking something. This discovery—that Daemosan isn't accommodating to big hominids—was, to put it mildly, a major disappointment.

At one spot where the path leveled off a bit, there were these cairn-like structures. Were they ancient? New? There were no explanatory signs that I could see, although I admit I didn't look very hard. Two women were sitting at this spot, just shooting the breeze. The spot also served as an overlook, and one gentleman was busy taking pictures of the urban panorama below us. Here are the structures in question:

And here, below, you can see Lotte World Tower, uh, towering. It's going to be the tallest building in South Korea once it's finished—yet another phallic symbol thrusting priapically upward from the landscape, straining skyward in an attempt to fuck outer space.

The trudge continued. I found myself a bit confused, and I wondered, at several points, whether I had missed a turn to keep going upward. Sudden descents like the one in the following picture didn't help my bewilderment. I do remember thinking, "These will be a bitch to get back up." Little did I know what sort of stairs awaited me farther on. This set of stairs would prove to be nothing.

Ah. Here we are. Look at the pic below. This is the most fearsome set of stairs on the mountain, and get this: by the time you reach the end of these stairs, you're still not at the summit! I remembered David Carradine's Bill, in "Kill Bill: Volume 2," telling Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo how he didn't envy her imminent kung fu training, which would involve a long mountain stairway and "carrying buckets of water up and down that fucker." In fact, I think "That Fucker" is a good name for this part of the mountain path.

Below: more of the same. Just to emphasize how huge this stairway is.

And here are yet more stairs for your enjoyment. By this point, I was soaked in sweat, and my heart was pounding. I clumped up the steps one by one, my feet moving to the rhythm of my gasps. But something strange was also happening. I'm not sure what to call it except to say that I think my heart got its second wind: despite this being the most arduous part of the path yet, there was no tightness in my chest—no heart-attack-y feeling at all. In fact, despite being winded and despite lurching like the undead up the mountain stair, I felt bizarrely good.

Eventually, the path leveled off. At the landing, there was another signpost with many arrows, including one pointing toward the summit. Civilization intruded: there was, as you see below, a fence that ran along the ridge. At least that made it easy to decide which way to go, and go I did, thankful to walk on level ground for a few meters.

Of course, this is Korea, which fancies itself a theater of suffering, a character-building crucible that strengthens the heart and the will and anneals you until you can endure any hardship. With that pleasant thought in mind, I saw the renewed onslaught of stairs up ahead and committed myself to the climb, following that lady you see in the distance.

There were more hikers than I'd thought would be there, but then again, Saturday afternoon was a perfect day to go hiking, so this shouldn't have been surprising.

Eventually, the more organic-looking stairs gave way to actual staircases:

I didn't know it at the time, but the stairs you see below would turn out to be the final quadriceps-abusing challenge before the summit:

The ground leveled off; there were some easily navigable rock outcroppings, which I crossed over like the lumbering bear-gazelle I am. I had expected to see a helipad at the summit, based on an online article I had read (or had misread, more likely), but there was none. There were, however, plenty of old people lounging around. Most of them had arrived at the summit by other paths. Here's that rock outcropping:

The actual summit is marked by a large stone compass. I had arrived!

Going back down was, overall, much easier than trudging up. It had taken me almost 90 minutes to reach the summit after having started at my apartment building. This meant that a round trip would be close to three hours. I did the math in my head as I walked back down; if I were to wake up at 6AM, I'd end up late for work every day. Since I normally got home from work around 6:45PM, it would be too late to hike Daemosan safely: it's getting dark at 6:30PM these days. Conclusion: Daemosan is a weekends-only mountain. On weekdays, I'd have to do something else, like go to the gym or use one of the local hiking/biking paths. This was disappointing, but not entirely so: Daemosan's hiking path was brutal, and given how potentially unsafe it was, I knew early on that I wouldn't be climbing it every day.

So I walked most of the way back down the path before taking this next shot, right beside the large map I'd mentioned earlier, at the fourth photo above. On the signpost, you can see the arrow pointing me toward the path to the summit.

And that's how I spent three hours on Saturday before coming home and tiredly making dinner, which I had discussed in an earlier post. Daemosan is a far greater challenge than Namsan ever was; frankly, I found the mountain intimidating. I still plan to hike it, but as I said above, I won't do that on weekdays. Weekdays will have to be gym or bike-path days.

Still, it was good to hike again. I need to try tackling Daemosan in the morning one day—maybe even a weekday, if I can persuade myself to wake up at 5AM, which is ghoulishly early for me. A 5AM wake-up would be possible on a weekday because I'd be finished by 8AM, and that would give me plenty of time to prep for work. Hmmm. Much thinking to do, I have.

Hope you enjoyed this tour of my hike.



  1. Good write up about the hiking adventure and exploration! Have you explored up and down the yangjaecheon yet?

  2. Now that's the way I like to climb the mountain. Scrolling through your photos I mean. My mouse wheel finger really enjoyed the workout!

    It's looks like you had yourself quite the hike. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Brier,

    Thanks for the comment! I'll be exploring the neighborhood in bits and pieces over the coming months.


    Sort of a "better you than me" moment, eh? Yeah, that was a hard hike, even though it was relatively short in terms of both time and distance. It's the angle that's the killer. On the plus side, it's a great cardio workout. From yesterday to today, I already lost a kg.

  4. Namsan is an anomaly--you will be hard-pressed to find another mountain with a paved and lit path to the summit. I can't really think of one off the top of my head, and I've been up a lot of mountains. At the very least, I can pretty confidently say that there are no decent mountains in Seoul that are paved and lit to the summit.

  5. True enough--although if you really want to hit the mountain, there may not be much time for that!



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