Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hiking outside of Seoul

So, this morning, I decided to head back into the Angeles National Forest, to do a morning hike. From where I live (about 10 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles), the closest location that offers some hiking trails is the Chantry Flat recreation area, in the San Gabriel mountains. I used to hike there every weekend, and I noticed that if I got there around 8am, I could get a parking place in the parking lot.

That, however, was last summer. This summer, I've gone a couple of times, and by 8am, I'm already having to park a half mile down the access road from the parking lot. And of course, the vast majority of people are headed to the 1.5 mile trail that leads to Sturdivant Falls, a popular picnic destination. However, why is the rec area so crowded? Koreans!

Yep. You heard me. Koreans. The parking lot is chock full of Koreans, who arrive as early as possible. The access road opens at 6am, and I'm sure that they are lined up, waiting to drive the three miles up the winding road to snag parking places.

Today, I tried to get up a bit earlier, at 6:30am, to see if I could arrive by 7:30, and get a parking spot. I got there at 7:35, and I was out of luck again. But, this time, I didn't have to park a half mile down the road. I was somewhat closer to the parking lot. And once again, as I set off on the Upper Winter Creek Trail, looping around to Hoegee's Campground, I lost track of how many Korean hikers I ran across. I would say that about 80% of the hikers are Korean, at that time of the morning. Of course, there's a reason why I'm there that early; it's summer. It's really hot, and under the canopy, it's really humid. Hiking in the middle of the day is absolutely brutal; 90 degree weather with humidity to match; not a pleasant hiking experience. And so, I share the morning trail with the Koreans.

Later in the morning, as I sat on a large fallen log near the Campground, getting ready to turn around and retrace my steps the 3 miles back to my car, a middle aged Korean man sat next to me. After exchanging greetings, I asked him what was with all of his countrymen (and women! More than half the hikers are women.) hitting Chantry Flat every Saturday. He told me that Koreans love to hike. He said that Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is surrounded by 6 mountains, all accessible by public transport, and all popular hiking spots. So, for Koreans in Southern California, hiking offers them virtually free exercise, a chance to socialize with friends, and it reminds them of their homeland. After a brief 10 minute conversation, he set off to go hike up to Mount Wilson, and I set off back to the ranger station, passing several Koreans along the way.

So, now I understand why they're there; I just wish they would save me one measly compact parking space for my Honda.

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