I have been hiking regularly again. It has been a few years since I have been this regular hiking the Bukit Timah Hill.
After the Hill was closed for works for about two years the trekking group continued with hikes all over Singapore. I wasn’t keen on those kind of flat ground and hot sun hikes. I had my eyes turned: cycling. So I cycled in those years when the Bukit Timah was closed for renovations and restoration works.
I was pleased when the Hill was reopened and for a while I hiked there but ministry demands on Saturdays meant my outings there were erratic and occasional.
This has however changed recently when my wife and I started doing the hikes on Mondays, the day off for pastors. So I use the Monday mornings and relish these hours of breathing fresh air, under a green canopy, in quiet and with less hikers around. Furthermore, I don’t have to worry about parking as there is free parking in the vicinity of the Hillview MRT.
I usually walk from there to the Dairy Farm trail, along the Jungle Fall path, up the Summit steps, down to Rengas path and circle back to the Hillview MRT, a good two hours of perspiration and sometimes inspiration and thanksgiving.
On my sabbath, it is always good to do something I relish, something that nourishes me.
The Mt Hallasan hike gave me a muscle strain on my right leg so it was good that on the day after, we did not hike, but went instead on a sightseeing tour around Jeju island. We saw a UNESCO World Heritage site called Manjanggul Cave, a tunnel cave formed from volcanic lava flow. It was an hour into the tunnel and out, and I was frankly disappointed because I have been to the Mulu Caves in Sarawak, and this was boring by comparison.
Later we went to another UNESCO World Heritage site, the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunshine peak) a volcanic tuff cone. It was a beautiful spot and we found the cone a gradual and easy ascent. At the foot of the cone, by the sea, they cleverly put on a regular show of the haenyeo (literally, sea women) who were strong female divers who made a living diving deep in cold waters for abalone and sea urchins. They demonstrated their prowess to tourists and sold their fresh catch nearby. Later in the afternoon we visited Naganeupseong folk village where an elderly man gave us humorous insights into their culture and rural life. Then he brought us into the room to sell us horse oil cosmetics!! This was a relaxed and pleasant enough day, though I had to use a hiking stick and occasionally rub Fastum on my aching right leg.
When we registered at the Jeju Olle Walking Festival (3 & 4 November 2017) we received a gift packet of mineral water, a metal cup, Innisfree sunblock, a scarf, some biscuits and cheese snacks and a guidebook. The starting point was noisy with excitement in the air. All kinds of announcements were being made on the stage and there was live music. The weather was cool and it was a beautiful morning by the coast. It was to be a 14.5 km coastal walk on the first day and another 18.5km coastal walk on the next day. The distance covered was more than what we did in our endurance training in MacRitchie reservoir in Singapore, but after Mt Hallasan this was comparably bearable, perhaps even pleasant by contrast. We were to discover that Jeju had a very rocky and stony coast. I did not see any sandy beach front until we reached the end point.
We had different starting points on both days but both ended in the same end point destination. The views were quite similar along the windswept coast but on the second day we walked inland through mandarin groves – a happy variation in scenery. Along the way they organized performances: saxophone, violin, even a grand piano performance, and at the end a rock or jazz band. There were many professional videographers along the journey but mainly at the endpoint. This event was telecast on Korean national TV. On the second day, they interviewed the Japanese Kyushu team who were here to learn as they were planning a Kyushu Olle Walking Festival in a year or two.
Lunch was ordered online and they were cooked by the locals – a way to help the elderly earn some pocket money and stay active. They had rice with hot soup with side dishes on trays, on both days. On the first day, lunch was served at a park along the coast. On the second day, it was at a primary school inland. We sat down in the fields and ate our lunch. We started each day at about 7.45 am and returned back to Forest Hostel in time for dinner. On the whole, it was a memorable fun walking festival that most people with minimal physical training can enjoy.
I looked up some videos on YouTube about climbing Mt Hallasan on Jeju Island, South Korea’s highest mountain at 1, 950 m. It seems most agree that it is not an easy climb. The ascent and descent together is about 18 km in total and the average person would take an estimated 10 hours.
My first reaction was surprise at the elevation. Korea has many mountains yet their highest is only 1,950 m. This cannot be compared with Mt Kinabalu in East Malaysia which is 4,095m high and I have hiked there several times. By comparison, Hallasan should be doable.
However, as the day drew near my anxiety increased. I hardly could train as I had originally planned. Saturday church ministry meant I was available for training intermittently. Thus, I tried to squeeze in some training on days and times different from the rest of the Saturday hiking group. I did make sure I had at least one endurance training which went from 7.45am to about 12.45pm. I remembered how a lack of training ditched one of my earlier group hikes in Hong Kong on the MacLehose trail. And I was not as young as before when I did my earlier hikes up Mt Kinabalu. What made things worse were weather forecasts of cold weather! That worried me as I hated cold!
When the group gathered together at the airport most of us knew each other. Some of us had hiked together for years. Others were new. The oldest was Jenny Teo, 75, the leader’s elder sister. The youngest was Eunice Lian, about 23. Most of us were in their 60’s including me. With mixed ability and levels of training, the challenge was obvious, “How can we keep the group walking and summiting together?”
It was good we had a few days in Seoul to relax and carbo-load before the climb. I will blog about our days in Seoul in a later blogpost. We took a Jeju Air one hour flight to Jeju island and settled into the Forest Hostel. The weather was often on our mind, so we flashed our requests up to God about this.
We decided to take the difficult Gwaneumsa trail (8.7km) up, and the easier Seongpanak trail (9.6km) down. We started our hike early at 6.45am. We wanted all in the group to be able to make it by the time fixed by the park. For safety sake, they turn back hikers who cannot make it to the three quarters point by a certain time. So the leader, Linda Teo, appointed Brian to be at the front and nobody was to overtake him. He would pause and regather the group at various points up the route. She took the rearguard. The route was straightforward and no guides were required.
As light gradually shed its rays on the forest we saw how beautifully the valleys were dressed in their lovely autumn colours, set in the midst of grey rocks and dried stream beds. Taking our time to enjoy the sights and take photos, the hike seemed quite leisurely during the early part of the hike. And I was thanking God for the fine weather: it was not as cold as weather reports predicted! The terrain and vegetation changed as we hiked up the route. We paused to drink, snack, take pictures, use the toilet and to regather the group.
The last stretch was deja vu for me. It felt like that last stretch before we reached the Laban Rata rest house at Mt Kinabalu. All of us made it on time except for a lovely couple who did not meet the time requirement. They were advised to go back down the same route. Later, when they heard stories of the rest of our hike, they were glad they were turned back. It would have been impossible for them to ascend to the summit and down the trail without great difficulty. By the time they were turned back, the rest were already hiking the last uphill climb to the summit. It would be another hour and a half before we reached the summit at about 1 plus. Someone brought a Singapore flag and we took photos and looked around the summit, peering down the crater lake (more of a pond), and the cotton clouds below us.
Then the mountain ranger hurried us off. We were at risk of hiking in the darkness if we did not hurry. Darkness fell early at about 6pm. We raced down even though we carried LED torches with us. If we could, we would rather not hike in the dark on uneven stony paths. By 5.30pm it was already dark. We reached the car park at about 6.45pm. Others in the group returned later. I thanked God for Beng Chai and Brian, who helped one of the hikers, who sprained her ankle at the summit area, down the trail at her pace. When all were in the bus, we were happy to return back to the hostel with a great sense of satisfaction, and exhaustion. I was so thankful to God during the climb for the fine weather and the strength to summit and descend safely.