Monday, February 23, 2009

Hwanseongul... the 2nd Largest Limestone Cave in Asia

I figure it's time to start blogging again since I've been back from vacation for two weeks and have had the same post up here for over a month now. Actually, I kept it up because it turned into a great discussion of what prospective teachers in Gangwon-do's EPIK program can expect.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, Tom Cruise, our favorite of all the teachers at our school, invited us to go with him to Hwanseon Cave. Hwanseongul is the closest thing we have to a tourist attraction out here near Dogye, and as one of the largest caves in Asia, it's a pretty decent draw. Scientists have mapped out over 6km of it, and there's still more they haven't gotten to. All of the large caverns are accessible to tourists, and for scope, if nothing else, it was quite impressive.

The hike up to the entrance is only 1.6km long, but at an average grade of over 15%, it was trying (and tough on the knees on the way down). This whole area is quite beautiful, and the valley the cave is situated in is a nice example of that. Here's Melanie posing in front of a waterfall on the way up:

The beauty of the hike was tempered by awful music being played at stupidly-loud volume all the way up. Here's a little sample... try to catch the lyrics. ;)

I guess the water flowing into the cave is flowing too fast for stalactites and stalagmites to form, so instead there are lots of "flowstones," which look largely like curtains. Here's nice formation that was called something like "Shapely Woman Flowstone:"

And another one that was supposed to look like a statue of the Virgin Mary. I thought the semblance was striking.

Here's a picture of Melanie and I in front of one of the myriad caverns:

And a heart-shaped formation that made for an awkward moment. Melanie is leaving next week; we've decided to go our separate ways. But when we came to this formation Tom Cruise said he would take a picture of us in front of the heart because "Michael and Melanie love forever."

Melanie really wanted a picture with Tom Cruise, but thought it might be awkward to ask for it. So instead, she told me to point the camera at them with the flash ready, and she would get him to smile for the camera. And it worked:

All of the formations and constructions had names like "Melting Turtle" and "Palace of Dream." There were also two bridges, "Bridge of Heaven" and this one:

The "Bridge of Hell" was actually really wobbly, and quite scary with a many-hundred foot drop beneath it. Beneath that was a water pool so deep scientists haven't been able to determine its depth. Scary, but well worth the fear to be rid of our sins.

And finally, back down near the start of the hike:

The rock pinnacle in the upper-left corner of that last picture shows how dramatic the mountains can be around here. Many, if not most, are unclimbable (for me at least) because they're too steep to be hiked and too covered in dirt and trees to be climbed. Awfully good for looking at though.

It was well worth our time to visit the cave, mostly since it's less than half an hour away. We had a good time with Tom Cruise, who has decided to quit the teaching job that's obviously been making him unhappy for the last fifteen years to "follow his dream." He's a smart, caring guy, and we sure wish him luck in finding it. Thanks Tom Cruise, for being our one friend at Dogye Elementary School.


Kelsey said...

Looks like a really nice trip!

Alex said...

Great story,

It's sad to hear that Tom Cruise is leaving too (as well as Mel of course).

My brother and I went up to Hwanseongul pretty much exactly a week before you guys and found it really good too. It's just a bummer that it's so hard to take decent photos in a cave :) All up it took us about 2.5hrs to hike up to the cave and look around. Did you guys end up catching the train into the other cave as well? Just wondering because it was closed when we were there (given, it was 5 and the park closed at 6).

The cave in Donghae is really good too (much smaller but they have really pretty lights - and small walkways) and it's only a 5 minute walk from the new bus station at the stadium.

hesbon kerongo said...

hope it was a nice trip,