Every New Year we find ourselves doing the same thing: staying out late into the night, usually with a group of friends, and counting down to midnight. Recently, however, I found out that Koreans have a totally different tradition to welcome in the New Year. On January 1st, many can be found hiking up the nearest mountain just before dawn. They camp out at the peak in the dark, cold, early morning and await the first sunrise of the year.
Hiking really hasn’t been on our radar recently as the cold windy weather of our coastal city has driven us to stay indoors. However, we did make it out on Christmas for a short hike with our friends, John & Mara. So, I thought that I would ask if they were again game for another hike, the first one of the year. Mara agreed and John begrudgingly relented after a bit of pestering. We were still planning on going out and counting down the New Year at midnight, after all.
So, at 6am we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed toward the base of Gobongsan Mountain which is near our apartment. There is a New Year’s Sunrise Festival on Dolsan Island nearby that we assumed most people would be attending and therefore we thought we would have this mountain to ourselves. As we approached the trailhead, however, we saw a crowd of people surrounding a popup tent. We were soon greeted by several volunteer workers who were serving the early morning risers with tteokguk, a hot soup with pork and glutenous rice cake, and coffee. Most Koreans eat tteokguk on the Lunar New Year and it is said to cause everyone to age another year. Yes, Koreans age differently than we do. It can be rather confusing, so we won’t go into the specifics in this post. We were running a bit behind so we ate the hot soup as quickly as possible before falling into line with the other hikers on the way to the top.
Gobongsan isn’t very tall, but it offers 360 degree views of the city and the bay that just can’t be beat. Why we thought we’d be the only ones there is beyond me. Many of the other hikers were people who looked like they had stayed out all night at the bars and came on a whim to the mountain, still wearing leather loafers, slacks, and peacoats. Not the best hiking gear, but they made it to the top all the same. However, I do think we were a bit warmer than they were!
Over a hundred other people crowded the top of the mountain, shivering against the freezing cold winds that were coming in off the water. We found a spot to stand at the back of the crowd, which is fine since we are fairly tall and still had a clear view of the horizon. Unfortunately, there was a thick line of clouds that blocked the initial first glimpse of the sun. Not wanting to wait around for thirty more minutes in the cold, we snapped a few pictures of the colorful skyline and headed back down for round two of tteokguk and a healthy post hike breakfast of McDonald’s and coffee followed by naps.
Although it was a great experience and the view from the top was spectacular, we all readily agreed that this was likely the only time we would do such a hike unless in a much warmer climate!
How did you bring in the New Year? Are there any interesting traditions in your country? We’d love to hear from you!