I wake early on my final day in Korea. I plan to simply walk back to the other hostel near Kyungsung University, finish some work and maybe get one final meal of friend chicken and beer. But the sun is shining and it seems a waste not to enjoy one final hike in Busan. So I eat some jam on toast (the staple free hostel breakfast in Korea), fill my water bottles and set off with no real idea where I will go. As I follow the road out of Haeundae I see many locals wearing hiking clothes heading out for the day. But I am more intrigued by the women collecting mushrooms from the sidewalk and city garden beds.
I stop at a sign that shows there is a temple nearby on the ascent of Jangsan (Jang Mountain). I have been admiring Jangsan’s brooding mass in my many walks to and Haeundae this past week so I take it as a sign. A steep road takes me past an apartment complex, into the small houses and narrow streets that are so much a part of Busan’s charm. This area is characterised by images of musicians and musical notes painted on the concrete fences and walls.
Soon the houses give way to forest. It amazes me that Koreans have retained their mountains as green spaces. I fear that in Australia developers would just bulldoze the trees, stabilise the soil and sell the land for housing. But here the green space is vast and beautiful.
The road to the temple is steep and relentless. But the reward at the end is a peaceful and relaxing space. I could see the temple’s gold statue from the main road long before I started the climb and now it stands tall and proud surrounded by lush green forest that is slowly changing to autumn yellows and reds.
A few of the faithful have made their way up the mountain, whether by car or on foot, to worship and I do my best to respect their needs. Everyone bows at the entrance gate so, despite not being Buddhist, I do the same. It’s quiet so I try to take my photos discretely without capturing the image of any locals. It’s not easy but I wouldn’t take photos of Christians praying in a church so I want to extend the same courtesy here.
A sign indicates the path to Jangsan’s peak. I recognise the characters from a cheat sheet I wrote at the larger sign on the main road. I should have been doing this all the time I was hiking in Korea and not just on the last day. While many forest trails have English signs, in older areas where there are fewer foreigners this is not always the case.
It’s a busy day at Jangsan but I never feel crowded. I hear Korean voices drifting between the trees from time-to-time as our paths cross but their jovial conversation does not intrude. Everyone is walking in small groups. It seems that hiking here is a social engagement undertaken at a painfully slow pace. I’m not the fastest hiker but still I find myself overtaking the locals as they meander their way uphill.
The hill is steep and unforgiving but stunningly beautiful. There are rocky outcrops and autumn colours everywhere. Pine trees are bowed by the wind and the path winds through a landscape so foreign to my eyes. I will miss these mountains of Korea when I return to my home in the subtropics. I like the pine trees, changing seasons and rocky terrain.
I reach the crowded peak at 634m above sea level. I am chuffed to have hiked all the way here from the beach. It’s as challenging a walk as any we’ll find near my home city in terms of altitude gain and steepness.
The views over Busan are amazing. I can see the whole city, including a pocket that is new to me because it has always been hidden behind mountains during my other hikes. I look back towards Haeundae Beach from where I started my hike and across Gwangali Beach past which I have hiked twice on my way back to the Kyungsung University area. In the distance I can see the Idigae Park and also Yeongdo Island where I hiked Busan’s coast.
There are many Koreans here on the summit all taking photos of each other in front of the view. I still love their colourful hiking outfits and the way they have embraced the selfie stick. A friend recently asked me what I love so much about Korea and I think their passion for the outdoors is one of the biggest drawcards. Here is a whole nation of people who share my deepest loves: hiking and cycling.
The walk down is, as always here in Korea, steep and tricky. It’s my practice to wear an old pair of joggers when taking to the trails and I always notice that where I pass the locals on the climb they are much more sure-footed coming down in their non-slip, ankle-supported boots with balance-inducing trekking poles. But I want to savour this my final hour in the Korean mountains: a place that has captured my heart.
Back down on the streets of Busan I walk along autumnal streets to Centum City shopping centre where I cool off in the air conditioning, take in some Korean shopping centre action and access the subway home to my hostel.