Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hiking Above Yecheon

Yesterday I woke up in a funk and after attempts at curbing that funk, including heavy caffeination, watching a movie and reading, I put on my walking shoes, dialed in to some Tom Waits and left my apartment. I didn't necessarily have a direction in mind but I knew I didn't want to follow my usual path around the river, typically a 40 minute walk.
Whatever can be said about the path not taken, I took a hard right instead of the gradual left that leads to the river. I wound up walking the base of the mountain around which Yecheon skirts. I recalled a Buddhist temple high up on the mountain that my coteacher took me to my third week after arriving, almost exactly one year ago. I decided I'd try to find it. After walking a good 25 minutes, I saw a sign which I could read but not understand. I intuited it to be a sign for the temple. Almost immediately, the road ascended at a 20% grade (I understood that sign) and I walked and walked, following the snaking road up the mountain.
After another 25 minutes of walking uphill, I arrived at the temple and was once again humbled by the solitude of standing alone on its vista. The temple itself is simple though the beauty of the main room left me speechless all over again. Unfortunately I only had my smart phone with me so the pictures are not as spectacular as they ought to be. I will rectify this with a subsequent hike and my DSLR.

Yecheon from the temple
The entrance to the temple
Inside the main chamber
Paper lanterns
Woodwork on the outer wall of the main chamber
Under the roof of the main chamber

After poking around, straining to catch my breath and trying to raise the pall of the funk, I saw some wooden stairs which shot up the mountain. My curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow them up.

I reckon there were somewhere in the neighborhood of three to four hundred steps to the top. As I walked, short of breath, blood pulsing through my neck and forehead, I wondered what was up there. Was there a kind of sanctuary for the folks who lived at the temple (I only saw their shoes outside a building adjacent to the main chamber), a platform overlooking Yecheon or a family tomb? I had no idea so I just kept on hiking.
The walk was silent aside from the shuffling of my tired feet and my heart beat throbbing in my ears. As I walked just above the temple, an acorn landed on my right shoulder and without a beat, another landed in front of me and behind me. I looked up hoping to spite whatever squirrel caused this nuisance. The strange thing was, there was no squirrel and the acorns fell from a sapling about twice my height. Strange. I recalled stories of similar coincidence my friend Zach related to me about his experiences in sacred spaces in Japan.
As I continued to ascend, I felt like I was progressing from late summer into autumn. A cool wind blew, whispering through the trees, leaves fell all around me and the further up I climbed, the less dirt I saw for leaves of various colors.
I finally made it to the top only to come upon a path running perpendicular to my own. I couldn't quite decide whether I should go back down, turn left or right. 

Steps from the temple on the right
I decided on left and came upon another vista, this time higher than any other point in my vicinity. The hike up flattened out into a grassy patch overlooking the entirety of Yecheon.


After admiring the view, I turned around and took the path to the right of the steps coming from the temple. This was a singular path, varying between 10 and 20 feet wide, from which I could look over the side of the mountain over either face.

Autumn had indeed arrived atop the mountain while we in Yecheon still wait for the heat of the midday sun to dissipate with the oncoming season.
I walked this path for a good 45 minutes and realized I was on my way to Cheungharu, the pagoda which sits atop the hill near my school. Along the path, I found some family tombs. Traditionally, Koreans are buried atop mountains as flat land in Korea is very expensive.

I knew Cheungharu was in this direction, however, there were a couple of times when I felt completely lost, having lost sight of Yecheon down to my right altogether. Fortunately, I ran into the odd hiker coming my way and in my broken Korean, asked if the direction I was going was correct. After some encouraging words and charades, I made it to Cheunharu, down to my school and finally back home.
All said and done, the walk, which turned into a hike, took around two hours and I felt calmed and refreshed.