Munsubongsan, Seoul, South Korea

I’ll make this post the laziest one that I’ve had so far. Rather simple. North Seoul. Mountain. No map, just follow those usual old Korean hikers and live to record GPS paths and pictures. It was a bright day, so it made taking pictures boring.

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So lets do it quick:
1. Line 3 Metro to Gupabal
2. Bus 7211 to 진관사
3. Munsubong 문수봉 727M ( 37.632133°, 126.971909°)
4. Down to Daenammun thru ilseonsa temple

Trip Statistics:
Odometer 11.4km, Moving Average: 3.6kmph Moving Time: 3:11 Stopped Time: 1:30 Maximum Altitude 727m

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View from the top of Munsubongsan. Picture is a subtle HDR.

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The rocky top of the mountain is littered with boulders, and there are hikers as far as the eye can see. Some are more daring than others. Behind me is an all wall protecting Seoul from invaders.

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This is the real peak of Munsubong, but it is not that easy to get up as it requires some rock scaling on your hands and knees and perhaps a rope.

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At the peak.

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And it is still autumn, just a reminder.

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Ungilsan, Seoul, South Korea: Autumn Hike

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Ungilsan in Autumn: Achieved by focusing much closer than the subject itself and let the bokeh work its magic.

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Although I was using a wide angle lens, the slope on the left and right is not an optical illusion.

This trip started as a routine mountain hike a little outside of Seoul at a place called Ungilsan (운길산) mainly because it is possible to get there by taking the suburban line 1 metro to a station with the same name. At least on the map it looks like there is a mountain to climb over there. And it looked like one of those popular places to go on weekends as there are quite a number of overdressed korean hikers (nothing new here). The metro line is supposedly quite new, going all the way to Yangpyeong town and going upstream along the Han River.

Ungilsan metro stop is new enough to be built less than a year or two ago. Just outside the station is a large map of the hiking paths that lead off the station. I counted at least 2 or 3 high peaks and many smaller routes. There’s no real need to memorize it for me since all routes would be new to me. Best would be to follow the crowd. The path starts by going back where the train came from, past many village restaurants on your left. This is where it is possible to load up on lunch by buying a kimbap or two (Korean maki rolls). Then the road goes under the train track and through a small village. Very quickly it starts to go uphill through some woods.

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At the village at the bottom of the montain, some of the lower peaks around Ungilsan

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Some parts of the hike is quite like an easy walk.

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Bukhansan, Seoul, South Korea: Climbing the Hard Way

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One of the daunting peaks at Bukhansan National Park

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Forest Canopy from the peak

The answer to question of what a typical normal Korean would be doing on their weekend would be to climb a mountain. So in my assimilation training, I picked up a friend and we’re off to Gupabal Station on Metro Line 3 on an excellent warm summer Saturday morning. We’re in shorts and t-shirt while the fellow hikers at the Metro station are all in Gore-tex and week long packs with titanium cups hanging off it. Reminds me of the old hikers in Japan, overdressed for the occasion. All I had was a bag with my camera and GPS in it, expecting an easy walk all the way to the top.

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Blue line shows the GPS plots from this trip. The peak is marked with the GPS coordinates, reason being I have no idea what the peak is called as of writing.

Target this weekend is one of the peak at Bukhansan National Park, a bunch of peaks to the North of Seoul City Centre. Its technically inside the city, surrounded by urban sprawl. Some of the peaks in the National Park are quite scary indeed, craggy peaks with no visible easy route other than with crampons and drilling holes in the rocks. And most of them are 500-800m high. Nuts. This is one of those weekends where my mind is in a “what the hell” mode and that’s how most memorable adventures start.

At Gupabal Metro station, there is a large crowd of hikers (remember what I said about what Koreans do on weekends?) waiting at the bus stop. Follow them and you won’t go wrong. The bus goes fast here, they are probably the proverbial race car drivers in their previous career. But quickly we get off at a nice village. Having a friend that knows Korean helps, but not mine as we’re all first timers here at Bukhansan. So I took out my GPS and said that peak looks interesting and lets go the path of least resistance which is straight as the eye can see.

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Make no mistake. This is the EASY part of the climb. I don’t have pictures of the tough part because obviously I’m hanging on for dear life.

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View across the valley. While I doubt climbers for that mountain will have to scale those rock face, they still look scary.

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Hong Kong Trail Part 5, Hong Kong: Shek O Road to Big Wave Bay

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View of Shek O from the ridge

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Highlight of this trip: Dragon’s Back ridge, which is what you think it is: trail on a ridge

And what a way to end the Hong Kong Trail. On this last stage, officially named Stage 8, but for me this would be the fifth section, the sun would be out in full force. I’ve been doing this long enough, my backpack and shoulder bag is rather standard by now, including dinner packed to enjoy when I get to Shek O later in the evening. Except this is the second time I’m out with a new GPS, and this is Garmin’s Colorado 300. Hardly new, but as a replacement to my old eTrex Vista, it is years more modern. The way to get to the start of today’s walk is still very fresh in my mind. Take a metro to Shau Kei Wan, and at the Bus Terminus, jumped into a No. 9. The fare is around 6.90 HKD and all this bus does is to go up Chai Wan/Tai Tam Rd and then on to Shek O Rd all the way to the town that bears its name. The only tricky part here is I need to get off at the right bus stop. On the map, the coordinate of the stop is somewhere near (22.227375, 114.239611). I didn’t have my GPS out at this time because everything is packed shut in my backpack and I wanted only to take them out when I get to the stop. I remembered what the stop looks like, but with the speed buses go in these out-of-the-way roads, it is difficult to anticipate.

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GPS plots of Section 5, from Tai Tam Bay to Shek O via Dragon Back ridge

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Tai Tam reservoir in the background, on the way up to Dragon’s Back

At the stop, amidst tourists an local hikers and families I start to put everything into hiking configuration – camel bak piping, gps latched on bag, etc. I must say that this is the day when it seems everyone attempts Dragon’s Back trail. I see families with kids barely able to walk, and mainland chinese tourists overdressed in their faux-Burberry shopping attire. And these for a trail that’s rated as strenuous? I think I have to be up against an easy day today. Its noon by the time I start, and the first kilometer up to the top of the Dragon’s Back are steps and relatively tree-cover free. If you remember the last post in Section 4, this part of the Shek O Country Park has a lot less tree cover than the part closer to Chai Wan. There are some shade, but a nice had is in order for sure. Around the coordinate (22.229759, 114.24293) the trail branches into two and there is where the first rest stop lies, the right path leading up the hill to the top of the ridge, while the left goes in parallel but at the same altitude as the branch.

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Two pictures of Shek O from the start of the ridge

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Keelung, Taiwan: Northern Taiwan Coastline

Keelung Harbour
Wikipedia opens the article for Keelung as a major port city situated in the northeastern part of Taiwan. Fine. That is not the reason I wanted to check out the town during the idle weekend in Taipei, but more because the town has nice rocky coastlines and most importantly food. More on that later. Being close enough from Taipei, it doesn’t require a long commute to get there, and from what I can see it looks like a different world altogether from the capital city. Do-able in a day, nice coastlines, and food. That seals it for me!

This

This is why I'm here: Coastlines...

All great leap starts with a small step. Finding how to get to Keelung from Neihu is not that difficult. Its not fair, I know, but that starts by asking a secretary in the local office. After a few minutes the email came in and it is simple enough. Although it is possible to catch a train, the easiest solution would be to go over to the bus stop on the main road close to Miramar Neihu (look for the out of place giant ferris wheel) and catch a “Capital Star” bus (http://www.capital-bus.com.tw/). And if you have seen the buses in Taiwan, they are usually nice buses with ultra tacky colours, graphic designs and an interior only a pimp could love. Hope I don’t get that in the golden star!

Started off the day early, 6am and having soya milk and buns at a popular 24 hour local corner shop near Miramar. It is one of those place I never remember the name, nor do I care, but I can tell where it is on the map. For Taiwanese out there, maybe you know where it is when I tell you a couple years back some gangster got gunned down. Tofu? Get it?

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Travels: Hong Kong Outlying Lamma Island, Hong Kong

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I have been to Hong Kong many times but always to either side of the harbour and whenever the flight circles the islands I would be wondering what it will be like hiking on one of those barren hills. No more wondering. Going this weekend. However, instead of going all rambo this weekend, why not start with the largest and possibly most popular of them all, Lamma island. And thinking if I have time,a to do another one. Getting there seems to be easy enough. in short, MTR to Central, walk to the Central Piers next to Two IFC, and pier 4. I will start at Yung Shue Wan, where apparently everyone will go as well looking at people crowding at the entrance to the pier. One way ticket cost 14.5 HKD and octopus card works here. And it seems the crowd only starts going into the holding area 10 minutes from boarding time and the ferry only holds 370 souls.

Ferry ride takes somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes. I didn’t time it. Feels like the same type of fast ferry that connects hong kong with macau. The boat lands right at Yung Shue Wan village, and although there are normal village shops, most of them are restaurants, shall I say, catering to tourists flooding the village.

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15 minutes hike out of town and the crowd starts to thin down, on the trail to Sok Kwu Wan. It starts in the forests with farmer’s lodges everywhere and before long I start to get to the bald and barren hills with trails along the hill side. There are a couple of pavilions en route, doubling as a rain shelter. I’m now typing this out at one (N22.20922, E114.12299). Today started with heavy cloud cover, and surely as the forecast said it would, periods of sunlight could be seen. And I had to forget my sunblock lotion!

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Travels: Senjogahara Plateau: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

Mamiya RZ67 Pro II, 50mm f4.5 W, Fuji RXP, on the Senjogahara Plains


It is an early start. I’m here on the second weekend and I think I should be going back to complete Nikko, but to another direction, and another attraction… hiking in the highland marshes. This will be an ideal location to do some landscaping pictures. Of course it would be good if I was there when the sun is coming up, but no car and the first bus is later than that anyway, so got to file up the thoughts first.

Tobu-Nikko standard train (Ricoh GR Digital)

I’m not too sure there are metros running at this time of the morning, it’s 5am and I’m taking the Tokyo taxi instead, zipping past quiet streets, trying not to look at the ridiculously fast counter on the dashboard that shows the eventual 4000Yen price to get from Shinagawa to Asakusa by taxi. That’s almost the price of the all-in-one ticket to Nikko including the train fare! I’m on my way to Tobu-Asakusa Station to catch the first semi fast train to Nikko. Semi fast because the real first train stops everywhere and would take longer time to get to the destination so this is the second train it seems. Semi-fast too because if you double your fare you take the glamourously faster super-express-whatever trains that shave 20 mins off a 2hr 30mins journey. Not enough for me. I’ll stick to the cheap one.

Leica M3, 50mm f2 Summicron, Kodak 160NC, Early Morning Tokyo


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