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.