Last week I took a trip to a temple called Haeinsa with a fellow boarding assistant named Wesley. We had a flight booked to Busan on the southern coast of the country and vague plans of getting to the mountains in the middle. We were drawn to search for a section of the Baekdu-daegan, , a mountain range that runs up almost the entirety of the Korean peninsula and is often referred to as the “tiger spine.”
Upon arrival in Busan, we grabbed a Korean lunch of bibimbap and Coca-Cola and looked around a bit in the area of Busan station. We encountered a strange strip of bars that took their names mostly from American states and cities that sported banners welcoming the US Navy. (As we found out later in our journey this area transforms at night into a creepy ghost town populated by women of the night.)
From there we got onto the speed train called the KTX and were a quarter of the way up the country in a city called Gyeongju in a mere 15 minutes. After about 30 minutes of discussion we decided that Gyeongju was not, in fact, where we needed to be so we got back onto the speed train and found ourselves in Daegu. In Daegu, we hopped onto the subway to a bus station and got onto a bus going north. One of our fellow passengers was a monk on a cell phone. As the sun set I saw mountains in the distance who’s shadows got closer as we wound our way farther and farther into the dark landscape.
An hour and fifteen minutes later the bus reached it’s final destination in Haeinsa and I stepped out into crisp mountain air. There was a small mountain town at the base of the temple with a few restaurants and motels and we grabbed a delicious meal (again of bibimbap but this time with soju and homemade makali so cold it had ice crystals in it.) We had vague plans of camping for the night and inspired by the electricity of the mountains walked our way up a road that wound up and up. We reached what seemed like the top in a few hours. We were surrounded by stars and mountain spines with the occasional bark of a dog in the background and it felt like the roof of the world. We quickly made our way down finally stopping for the night at a makeshift campsite next to a gurgling stream. We unrolled our new Korean sleeping bags (brand: Buck703), sparked a fire, bundled up, and hunkered down for a cold night of sleep.