Seoul, South Korea: Inwangsan


I have been having free weekends in Seoul lately and this weekend I was quite determined to go somewhere outdoors after a few disappointing sights around Insadong. Saturday was not that great, it rained. Pretty heavily too. Sunday started off good, not a sunny day, but with low clouds and chance of rain. I did a quick check of the weather, clouds are moving relatively fast, but the texture seems consistent and there doens’t seem to be too much risk of heavy rain, so umbrellas were not required. So picked up my small utility bag with a D300 SLR and a Nikkor 12-24mm lens and a GPS and I was out without a clue of the route to take, but as long as I’m going uphill I’m on the right path.

Target today is Inwangsan, a mountain just to the northern border of Seoul. Close enough to be able to reach it by Metro line 3, Dongnimmun Station. Not the mountain top, of course. The station straddles below a main road that leads out of the city to the north. This destination took up only a small portion of Lonely Planet guide book which I did not bother to bring along with me. So I started looking around for a way to get up the mountain. (By the way, realised after this climb that the proper and easy way up is on the east of the mountain, so you will need to walk anticlockwise around it from the Metro station. I went clockwise.)

Going up north, I came across a bunch of apartments and a pedestrian foot bridge after going slightly uphill, still along the main road with mountains on both sides. Figuring that as long as I go uphill, I’d get to a trail, I decided to go up a very steep concrete road, which leads to a small village on the foot of Inwangsan. Its a tough slog up this slope that runs about 200m. There were a few old hikers loitering around so I followed one. Look for the playground behind the village, where you will find the start of the trail identified by a map board which is unfortunately in Korean. It looks like the old city wall goes up this mountain along the spine so this should be fun.

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Tochigi, Japan: Return to Senjogahara Plateau

Chuzenji-no-taki: Chuzenji waterfall
You could say Tochigi is my playground. I just love the place. Take a long slow train over to Tobu-Nikko station and there are many options. Most tourists would spend the whole day at the temple complex, Toshogu, Rinnoji and of course, snap photos of the stable with 3 monkeys. But the hidden gem of Nikko is the many hiking opportunities like Chuzenji to the northwest and Kirifuri area to the northeast.I’ve been to Senjogahara and Kirifuri before, and the links are embedded in the two names in this sentence.

Senjogahara Plateau

Senjogahara is in the northwest just further up from Chuzenji. Chuzenji is, of course, synonymous with a waterfall, not just a normal waterfall, but one that drops hundreds of meters. The lake that feeds the waterfall, Chuzenji lake, is relatively large, and on a plateau in the highlands. On a summer day, there are anglers spaced evenly along its banks. I don’t have proof, but it does look like you need to have permit to fish there and you are probably assigned slots. They do look spaced out a little too evenly to be random!

Fly Fisherman on Yukawa River

... And more fly fishing...

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Travels: Kirifuri Kougen: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

Noon at the Kirifuri Highland
When you look at the map of Nikko, there are 3 major attractions. There’s Nikko town proper, with all its UNESCO temples where the majority of tourists are dropped, then to the west there’s Lake Chuzenji and the Onsen at the end of the road, including Senjogahara, which I did in the last trip… and finally there’s the east with Kirifuri highlands. And a visit is not over till I’ve gone to Kirifuri, which is the destination this week. Mountains, forests, valleys & cows!

Its a similar early morning sight. I am having a McGriddles at the McDonalds at Asakusa in the alley near to the Tobu railway station, waiting for the Tobu Sightseeing Center to open its doors at 7:45am to buy the 4400yen All Nikko Pass. The current expectation is that this will not be as impressive as the latter but the only way to find out would be to go and have a look.

Tobu-Nikko Train Stationmaster's office (Leica M6, 50mm Summicron)

While having my McGriddles, it looks as though the bus ride to Kirifuri Kogen will be cheaper to go a-la-carte rather than a full All Nikko pass. A bus ride to Kirifuri cost just about 650 yen according to the web. Making the quick decision to jump on the next available train to Nikko without waiting for the sightseeing centre to open. Looks like I don’t need the All-Nikko pass this time.  Again, cheapest ticket is the 2hr train to Tobu Nikko at 1320yen. The limited express trains costs double as they have reserved seats and possibly half an hour quicker. They seem to call these limited express and the services have names like Kegon and Kinu. For me, I can spend 30 minutes extra. Everything is routine now for me with the Tobu station at Asakusa. This is my third time here. Buy ticket, go to platform 5 and board the first 2 trains away from the station entrance. Remember, the other train cars get left behind on the way to Tobu Nikko.

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Travels: Nikko: Tochigi Prefecture, Japan

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Leica M2, Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH, Kodak 160NC: Tobu line Train to Tobu-Nikko

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Leica M2, Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH, Kodak 160NC: Spring Water Pool in Nikko Town

Its a scouting trip because I’m fed up with the weather. Its just too much. Cloudy and raining the whole weekend and I’m here expected to be hanging around all the time in Tokyo. Rain or no rain, I’m off to Nikko to have a look. The temples will be covered today, but what I will really scout are the wilderness and mountains this place offers. Next trip will be more specialized. However don’t think for once I’m going light!

In the backpack, a Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm lens, and 2 film backs. One loaded with Velvia 100 I don’t expect to use at all considering the weather, and a couple of Tri-X rolls. In the utility pack, Ricoh GR Digital and a Leica M2 with 35mm Summicron ASPH.

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Leica M2, Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH, Kodak 160NC: Forest in Nikko

Train to Nikko, or shall I say, the cheapest way to get to Nikko I can find is the Tobu line to Tobu-Nikko from Asakusa Tobu line station. Cost 1320yen. Taking the 7:10 train today. The 7:30 express train cost 1400yen extra because its more ‘express’. One thing to be really sure is that your train car actually reaches Tobu-Nikko. The last few I saw has different destinations, so my guess is along the way they drop cars so only the Tobu-Nikko train actually gets there. The train is oldish, but hey, it moves. Going to take a nap… Been a chore to get to Asakusa before 7 am.

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Leica M2, Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH, Kodak 160NC: Stream on the way to Jakko Waterfall

937hrs: And it has to happen. Just arrived at Nikko and the rain is coming down hard – for Japanese standards, that is. So hard it is probably stupid to walk anywhere in this rain. So its time for a morning katsudon and salad in a restaurant next to the station. Could be a nice weather to shoot b&w in. Although this place is not full of people today (likely because of the rain) its mostly elderly hikers at the station. Should have borrowed an umbrella on the way here! The buses plying the routes here are from the Tobu group and they look quite high class for a town bus! Too bad I have plans to take the bus today. Walk is good!

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