Take a Hike!

Jardín Kim

Lead Korean Writer

I must have stood out as an Asian in the suburbs of a small city in Spain that is overlooked by tourists. A granny asked me, “What country are you from?” She beamed when I answered, “Korea.” “Oh, I hear you have so many mountains there!” Hmm. How did the word get around all the way here? “It’s true. Mountains make up 70% of the land in Korea,” I said, somewhat embarrassed at reciting a line from a textbook still fresh in my mind after more than three decades. The granny was pleased and remarked, “We have such wide, open fields here.” Oh, that’s nice. I always wished that I could go to school on flat terrain.

Maybe because there are so many mountains, Koreans just love hiking. According to the 2022 Korea Forest Service data, 78% of Korean adults hike up a mountain or walk in wooded trails at least once a month. Traditionally, the definitive majority of hikers had been midlifers and the older generation, but since COVID-19 that seriously limited outdoor activity, more and more twenty and thirty somethings turned to hiking for easy outings alone or in small groups. And hiking outfits evolved with this demographic trend, with anoraks, leggings, and sweatshirts sold in vivid, rainbow colors. Of course, some older folk disapprove of the tight-fitting leggings on public trails. Differences in opinion always exist among the generations.

MCST Korea https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcstkorea/18586056152/in/photostream/
At any rate, climbing a mountain lets you get fit and breathe in fresh air, fitness and wellness all wrapped up in one hiking package. Korea has easy access to trails, with subway lines and buses taking you right to the foothills. The college I went to had a trailhead right next to the school gates. That’s what you get when mountains make up 70% of your country!

If I were hard pressed to find one downside of hiking, it’d be Korean middle-aged hikers dragging along their younger co-workers or school alums. That happened to me several times among the few times I went hiking. Once, I was so exhausted that I gave up reaching the peak and sat alone to wait for the group to return. A grandpa passing by generously handed me a beer and fish jerky. That kind of generosity on the trail makes friends out of strangers.

There’s a reason why I persisted in waiting for my group to return. I wanted to be included in the final stop. All proper hikes end up at a foothills food joint where you eat whole-chicken soup and scallion pancakes and drink makgeolli. I complained about being left behind. Why climb a high mountain when you can go straight for the food? A senior colleague replied, “Because then, it’s my treat.” Oh, what trail magic that brings out such generosity in hikers.

Translator: Culture Flipper English Team
Original Content in Korean: cultureflipper.com/blog/take-a-hike-ko