Yeosu and Islands Abound

From Jirisan, we drove just over an hour to the southern end of the Korean peninsula and crossed the bridge over to Yeosu island. Our pension (Naver Maps), was located 3 floors up from a fishing pier falling off into the south sea. Yeosu boasts over 350 islands in the area and it seemed we could see every one of them in their entirety from our room. To have the ability to travel from mountains as magnificent in Jirisan to a sea of serenity in just over an hour speaks to limitless geographical diversity of Korea. We enjoyed a couple rolls of Gimbap with cocktails and wine while marveling at the sun cutting diamonds across the water. That evening we were treated to one of those sunsets that made us forget about everything else going on in the world. Fragments of clouds folded over mountains that were bursting out of the ocean. The chain of islands that stretched out across our view were coated in a pastel haze. At one point, as the sun was taking its final breath, the caldron of colors poured over into an explosion that ignited the sky. The moon began to crawl out from its cave and soon the sphere was full and bathing the sea a milky white. Families, enjoying the final day of Chuseok, had their vehicles parked on the pier with grills sizzling meat and kids fighting with their shadows. Roman candles started blasting off from the beach and the fireworks shuddered in the show that nature had just orchestrated.

The next day we followed a series of fascinating bridges linking a series of forested islands over to Goheung Island. Because our pension was located on the southern tip of Yeosu, the drive was only 30 min to the start of our hike in Dadohaehaesnag National Park (Naver Maps). When staring up at the ridge line from Nunggasa Temple, we had no idea on the intensity of the traverse that lay ahead of us. Maybe this naivety came from the grounds around the temple invoking a peaceful feeling or it could be that aside from looking at a map, we had done little research around the hike (All Trails). The stone path that meandered through the woods took on a playful feeling. There were no steps and the incline was gradual as we weaved through the stands of Korean maple and cedar trees. We stopped for a break at a pagoda and were amazed to find that we were less than a kilometer from the top. I knew from the map that we would gain close to 3,000 ft and cruise along a bumpy ridge but, it did not seem like we had climbed enough. The trail finally turned to the dreaded steps that are found on mountains all across Korea. We were commenting that they were still the least we had encountered and felt solid on reaching the first peak. There were a few other couples who we shared the top with and we would get to know them over the course of the day by taking pictures of each other. The view was incredible as we could see all the hundreds of islands that were scattered like beads spilling out into the sea.

We did not fully grasp the enormity the ridge until we studied the picture posted at the saddle and counted 8 more of these prominent rock outcroppings that we would be scaling that day. The first set of stairs resembled more of a ladder and from that point on we were hiking and scrambling hand over hand. In the US, we would have needed to sign a waiver, hire a guide, and be hooked up to a rope and harness. I did not take as many pictures as I would’ve liked as there were times we could not risk stopping or taking a hand off the railing. To comfort myself, I tried to imagine the team of people that constructed those steps bolted into the mountainsides as the most highly qualified group of engineers in Korea.

Every time we reached one of the pinnacles, we were greeted by the other members of our ragtag hiking party. One of the groups we saw taking a Makgeoli and cigarette breaks in the shade and another couple was hiking in jeans. The woman who essentially became our personal photographer spoke enough English to tell us the names of the summits and which trail to follow. I’m guessing by their surprised reactions that hey had not seen many foreigners in this area and maybe felt a little responsible for our safety. We were very grateful for their kindness and compassion on that section as the exposure we felt on the ridge definitely created some vulnerability. Our adrenaline was coursing through our bodies as we held on tight and carefully measured the placement of our feet with each step. As we came down from the last spike jutting into the sky and dipped back into the forest, we felt a collective sigh. The ridge we crawled across was less than a half a mile in distance but had provided one of the more thrilling sections of hiking I’ve experienced. We capped off the day with a fantastic dinner at a Korean BBQ joint (Naver Maps) that featured beef rather than the typical pork.

Once discovering that sunrises are worth the early wake up, the mornings become even more unique. The next day we drove the 90min through the dark to the other side of Yeosu and crossed one of the many bridges interconnecting the islands to Dolsando Island and arrived at Hyangiram Hermitage Site (Naver Maps). As we were parking, the the sun was starting to blossom and bloom pedals of clouds stained in violet. We walked up the steps as fast as we could to reach the temple just as the sun was breaking the horizon. There were about 12 other people at the stunning overlook and 4 of those appeared to be part of a film crew capturing a model/actress as she occupied the prime photo spot. She came equipped with a photographer, videographer, drone operator, and someone frantically directing all of the traffic. I was not sure how to ask if we could get a shot in there, so, I simply started taking pictures of her as well. Who knows, maybe she’s famous or the woman could simply be an influencer hopeful.

Everyone who had woken up for the sunrise started slipping back to their vehicles and we seemingly had the temple grounds to ourselves. We hiked up to the top of a rocky point that offered spectacular views of the vast chain of islands. The temple was originally built 1500 years ago and then again restructured after much of it was destroyed during the Korean War.

From the temple we went to Mangseongni Geomen Morae beach (Naver Maps) which is one of the few black sand beaches in Korea. Because it was still early in the morning there was no one else around. We were basically trying to kill some time before places opened up for lunch and Ashlee found a street on the hills overlooking Yeosu which was covered in murals and shique cafes (Naver Maps). We wandered around before scooping up some Gimbap (Naver Maps)on our way back to our place.

We came to the conclusion that we should plan to have dinner back in our room so that we would be guaranteed a sunset view. The evening sky seemed to be perfectly stitched together in a tapestry weaved with a stunning spectacle of the world rotating on its axis. Claw marks gashed through the blue sky and lava flows seemed to bleed out into the ocean. The falling sun sliced across the sea and embossed the water in bronze crystals. The ridge that we had hiked the day before sat perfectly silhouetted in the shadows of the horizon. Along the beach, families had set up tents and were barbecuing an assortment of meat while enjoying what nature was serving. It had been a long day that could not have produced a more prefect ending.

Our location on the southern tip of Yeosu provided quick access to take the ferry from Baegyado Island (Naver Maps) over to Geumodo Island (Naver Maps). The Bireong-gil trail (All Trails) covers a 13 mi stretch on the West side of Geumodo and there is something that adds to the adventure when you have to take a boat to access the trailhead. The water taxi took about 45min and it was an ideal day to sit on the top deck and marvel at the islands that weaved through the cobalt colored water. Although we took our car on the ferry, there was no need as once we de-boarded at Geumodo, we simply parked our vehicle and started walking. There are 5 different sections to the trail with established access points and a bus that frequents those spots. We elected to hike the 1st course of the trail which offered absolutely stunning views of the prominent coastline of Geumodo. The trail winds through a sturdy bamboo forest and pine trees which then spit you out into viewpoints that offer the full magnitude of the South Sea. Sun bleached cliffs with conifers clutching to their existence peered over forested mounds bathing in the turquoise splashes of liquid jade. Halfway through our hike we stopped at a shack of a restaurant that sat overlooking the water and I enjoyed a seafood stuffed Pajeon (Korean Pancake) while Ashlee was regulated to a bowl of buckwheat noodles. Although the older gentleman pushed their shop’s homemade Makgeolli (famous in Yeosu), we abstained as the day along the coastline was intoxicating all on its own. With an early start, one could definitely cover the entire trail in a day or there are several options to stay along the trail including camping on Ando Beach (Naver Maps). Although there are buses which have frequent stops around the entry points of the trail, they were not running on a Friday in late September and fortunately there was a number to call for a ‘cab’ that took us back to the ferry port. Geumodo is a destination in its own right that deserves several days of exploration. Unfortunately, our vacation was coming to an end and we had a 4.5 hour drive back to Seoul awaiting us the following day.

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