So I’ve discovered another cross-cultural similarity between Koreans and Japanese: looking the part. So what if you’re physically incapable of climbing a mountain? So what if you have to stop and rest every thirty minutes? You’ve got your fancy gear, don’t you? Your shirt made of the special fabric that sweat only helps to clean; 60,000 Won pants; stainless steel and aluminum hiking poles…
In any case, there’s a really sweet trail behind Deokgu Hot Springs that, combined with a good soak, make for a good outing. Just take the bus from Uljin or Bugu and get off at the second to last building (before the turn to the hot springs):
Follow the southern path behind this building and you’ll reach the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s right: this entire trail is covered with imitations of famous bridges across the world (all pictures here).
The trail over the bridges is fairly straightforward; follow the pipeline along a somewhat straight and level path for a few kilometers. There will be plenty of places to rest and take a dip; when I approached the waterfall below, a man told me “a dragon used to live in that pond”. Good thing he eventually left. I will say the gnats were beyond annoying for this stretch: around my eyes, ears, everywhere, unrelenting. Bring one of those beekeeper masks if you have one.
Of course, gnats aren’t the only creatures to worry about:
Once you do get past all the bridges, you’ll come across one of the places Deokgu springs releases a little pressure in the form of a geyser and foot bath. There’s even a Buddhist shrine if you’d like to pay your respects. Let me be clear: the first ~3.7 km are EASY. Old ladies were doing it, and they got to finish with a nice long soak and lunch. After this point, the trail got strenuous.
Pretty much straight uphill for the remaining ~4 kilometers. The only upside was the gnats started to back off as we got farther from the water. I won’t bore you with the details of each turn. Sufficed to say, it took me about 2.5 hours to reach the peak from Deokgu, and there was only one other place with a decent view:
As expected, the top was crowded with Koreans settling in for a nice lunch after a harsh climb… what I would have done to inhale kimchi at that point… well, I’m glad I had a little plum juice handy.
Everyone was very unmoved by the appearance of a foreigner on the trail with a few exceptions. On the descent, several groups stopped to shake my hand. One man, who was lying down in the shade, perked his head at my arrival:
(Nod from me)
“TEXAS! Texas Rangers baseball!”
I had the chance to reinforce my Korean listening for “thank you” (as I moved aside to let others pass) and speaking for “hello”. A few others tried to engage me in conversation, but I suppose they’ll have to wait a few months.
Roundtrip, the trail is about 13.7 km. It took me around 4.5 hours, but the guidebook recommends six. The southern route is probably best for the ascent. The northern way may actually be good for some trail running, as it’s less rocky… but the grade would be intolerable going up.
Oh, and when you finish? Relax in the bath for at least an hour.