Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gyeongju National Park: My First Solo Hiking Experience

This is something I debated with myself for a long time the night before: should I go hiking at Gyeongju National Park in Namsan Mountain or spend my day somewhere else? So I asked Google and read a bunch of articles and blogs.

I wanted to go because (1) I was very interested in seeing carvings and statues in the mountains, (2) they say it's a must-see in Gyeongju so I kind of didn't want to miss out on that, and (3) all the articles and blogs I read say that it's an easy hike (one even said that even children can manage the hike). 

Now the reason I was hesitant to go is because (1) I didn't have proper gear (Heck, I didn't even bring my running shoes because my backpack was full.), (2) I get tired rather easily, and (3) I was scared of going alone. (Remember the mountaineer who died in Mt. Maculot while he was hiking alone? I didn't know the guy but he was my high school batchmate's boyfriend... may he rest in peace.)

However, I remembered that I've climbed Mt. Banahaw in Quezon wearing flip-flops so why wouldn't I manage Namsan Mountain in my flats? I also read that Namsan Mountain always has a lot of hikers so I guessed I wouldn't really be alone. Also, the French traveler I met the day before apparently likes hiking so I asked him what he loves about it, then he showed me some photos of beautiful views he took in his previous hikes and then I was like "Ohh I see now!" I guess I also got curious about the whole hiking thing so I wanted to try it.

That morning, after breakfast, I went to the bus stop near my guesthouse (the bus stop in front of the Post Office, near Gyeongju Station), rode bus #500 and went down at Samneung Valley. (I actually wrote down my stop in hangeul in a piece of paper and gave it to the bus driver but, turns out, I didn't have to because it was a common stop.)

From the stop, I walked back around a hundred meters toward the Tourist Information Center (located at the parking lot). The staff there did not speak English but through some illustrations and gestures, I was able to understand his instructions haha.

Three Royal Tombs

At the foot of the mountain, I did my stretching and then started my hike. It was very easy at first and there was even a short boardwalk. However, at some point, it became really difficult.

Boardwalk with pine trees all around

Looks easy... at first

Damaged stone Buddhas
Seated stone Buddha without a head

Gwaneumbosal Image Carving

When I reached this carving called Yukjonbul, I couldn't find a proper trail but I saw a group of middle-aged people climbing the side of the rock without a fuss (Apparently, that's the rock trail that the map mentioned.) so I went as well.

Yukjonbul Rock Carving (the carvings are not very noticeable but they're there)
See the a man above? Yup, I climbed that rock.

At this point, I realized that hiking without proper gear was a very bad decision. I almost slipped a couple of times which could have resulted to a very bad fall or maybe even worse ugh. Thankfully, a group of Spanish travelers (around 50 to 65 years old) whom I helped with directions earlier that morning were there as well so they helped me out. And as much as I'd like to back out, I could not because the way back would be even more dangerous. I had no choice but to continue moving up. (Oohh doesn't that sound a lot like life? Lol.)

Seated Yeorae Image carving (plus the Spanish travelers who helped me)

We reached this carving called Yeorae and then when I looked behind me...

"Wow" was all I could say.

I couldn't properly capture the beautiful view but all I can say is that when I saw this view, I finally learned why people love hiking. Sure, I see many photos of friends' and acquaintances' hiking trips all over Facebook and Instagram but it just doesn't compare to seeing this view in person.

A few more hurdles and we finally got out of the difficult part of the trail and after a few minutes of rest, I felt energized again so I carried on. There were man-made trails but the path was getting steeper so I kept huffing and puffing and my breaks were becoming more frequent.

Seated Stone Buddha of Samneung Valley

Eventually, I reached the Sangseon-am Hermitage, where many locals were praying. At that point, I was debating with myself whether to continue going up to the Geumobong Peak or to go down? I was already very tired and I was scared of slipping again. Well, I decided to go down because I didn't want to risk myself any further. It was quite a fast way down and I didn't have to pass by the difficult rock trails anymore so it's much easier.

At the Sangseon-am Hermitage

I also decided to take a look at the temples at the foot of the mountain. The walking turned out to be a good way to cool down.

I also passed by a graveyard.

Mangwolsa (Temple)

Baeri Standing Stone Statue Buddhas in Sambulsa

Sambulsa (Temple)

Well, that was a really amazing, albeit risky and scary experience. The whole hiking took me 3 hours (10am to 1pm) and then I returned to my guesthouse for some rest before going out again.

Lessons learned? (1) Never hike without proper gear. (2) Don't believe the internet when it tells you that a hike is easy... at least not when you're a clumsy non-hiker like me. (3) NEVER. HIKE. ALONE. EVER. (4) Hiking is fun!

I'm actually looking for some easy hiking trips around Manila but I ought to find some hiking buddies first. :)

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