So I started spring-cleaning the computer, and found a few old posts that never got finished. This one is from two years ago(!) and I really don't know why I didn't just post it at the time....
Walking along an exposed ridge in unseasonably cold and wet weather, rain briefly turning into hail, while mist alternately covers and reveals the surrounding mountains. A rainbow briefly appears when the sun comes out, and the path gradually turns into a muddy bog. The summit is marked with a stone monolith, but the weather is only conducive to a short break for water and a quick snack. And no other hikers seen until we reach the bus. A familiar scene indeed to anyone who's gone for a walk in the Scottish hills. But this was Korea – a country with sunshine! And good paths! And hikers on every hill!
I haven't done as much hiking in Korea as I should have, but enough to have begun to understand the differences between Korean hiking and Scottish hillwalking.
Probably the most striking difference is the wilderness, or lack of it. While there are some very popular hills, and routes, in Scotland, there isn't nearly the same density of people that you find on Korean hills. Koreans absolutely LOVE to hike, and they love to hike in groups. You don't to go hiking to feel close to nature, or to be alone, it's a hobby. And like all Korean hobbies, it's a group activity. Paths are large and well marked, making maps largely unnecessary, there are benches, pagodas for picnics, even clocks tied to trees. When the going gets too steep, there are staircases on the more popular paths – and I don't mean stones built into the hill, but fully-formed metal staircases with handrails. Every time I see one of these giant paths, I remember complaints about 'motorways' going up the more popular Munros back in Scotland. The equivalent here is more like an airport runway.
Gear is another big difference. I'm certainly not above lusting after the latest kit, especially when it comes to rock-climbing, but Koreans take the love for gear to a new level. In general, people here like to be properly attired for whatever activity they're engaged in – and the mountains are no exception. At home, the outdoors shops usually sell everything for camping, trekking, climbing – anything you do in the outdoors. In Daegu, theere are plenty of stores for hiking, but they really just sell the clothes – no gadgets, no tents, no toys.
The basic uniform is: hat or visor, colorful neck scarf, pink or purple hiking jacket and shirt, black hiking trousers, brightly colored trekking shoes or boots, walking stick and a small bag or specially designed belt for carrying your water bottle. There is very little variation on this – overall the effect is very colorful, but I've only seen one or two pairs of trousers that weren't black. And it's worth noting that none of the above clothing is ever worn for any other purpose. If you're wearing the clothes, you are hiking. In Scotland, we used to say 'all the gear, no idea' when we saw climbers or walkers with a ton of brand-new kit – in Korea, the newer and shinier the kit, the better. Nothing ever looks beat up, or even very well used.
I'm sure I intended to finish this post with loads of profound and insightful cultural observations... let's just go ahead and pretend that's what I did. I never did end up spending much time on Korean mountains. The gaudy outfits were entertaining, and the scenery was often pleasant, but I was just too curmudgeonly to get into K-style hiking. That said, even I can enjoy a sunny afternoon wandering around local hills with friends and a bottle of makkeoli!