Dinosaur Ridge, the name alone tells me that Seoraksan’s main ridge will likely be my favorite hike in Korea. After a 3 am start I found myself at the first of MANY peaks just before lunchtime and suddenly wasn’t so sure. But there I go, getting ahead of myself again.
A few weeks ago I hopped another midnight bus with Seoul Hiking Group (Thanks Warren, Breanne, Tom, Ashley and the other helpers!). A few short hours later we awoke at 2:30 in Seoraksan National Park; gates opened at 3:00am sharp so we got in the line with 100’s of Koreans.
Yes, you read that right. At 3am there were literally 100’s of Koreans lined up to hike this amazing trail. The moon shone nearly full above and when the figurative bell tolled we “sprinted” up the steps. Okay, so maybe 100’s of people clamoring along rocky steps with an absurd incline isn’t exactly sprinting. It wasn’t too bad in the pitch black outside of the occasional ajusshi”forgetting” that their headlamp was on when they blinded you.
After a few hours of darkness we found ourselves on what we could only assume was the first ridge. The view below eerily brought images of the River Styx with dark clouds floating through shadowy valleys to my mind. Suddenly the moon came out from hiding behind the clouds. A little illumination was all we needed to begin making out the stunning greenery below. The muted colors pushed us onward promising a better view in the coming hours.
Stars and a magnificent moon provided enough light that we began switching off our headlamps. Or was that the sun creeping over the ridge ahead? Either way the scene kept growing around us as the climb settled down. The first push upward was rough but along the ridgeline the elevation changes were minimal.
Reds, and oranges crept over the Eastern horizon mixing with the deep blue above Donghae (동해.) The sun began illuminating what Koreans refer to it as Donghae (East Sea) while most maps label the beautiful body of water as the Sea of Japan.
We continued our trek as that orange glow spread through the mountains and trees before us. The trail shone wonderfully as a few small climbs created a small bottleneck. We welcomed the respite happy for a water break and a moment to enjoy the growing scene beneath us.
The sun now climbing above its first hand we soon found ourselves at the first rest stop. This lodge lay just beneath Daecheongbong, the tallest peak in Seoraksan. Gauging our time my group decided to save Daecheongbong for another day, we took a quick pit stop to refill our water before taking the fork back towards Dinosaur Ridge.
Back on the trail we caught our first glimpe of Dinosaur Ridge! Well, we thought it must be Dinosaur Ridge anyway. Now well into the morning hours the true beauty of Seoraksan presented itself for us to take in. Breathtaking views were all around us with endless mountains to the west, spectacular ridges, the East Sea and Ulsanbawi in the distance!
The trail now followed a downward slope along the ridge. We passed many hikers on their way to Daecheongbong. A suprising number practiced their English stopping to say “hello, where are you from?” and occasionally “Herro, where you flom?” The trail continued to promise breathtaking views while we inched closer to our goal.
The presently easy trail was wonderful on our legs. We made great time along this trail enjoying the fresh mountain air stopping occasionally for some trail mix or fruit. Thankfully everyone in Seoul Hiking Group loves to share and we had a great variety of energy foods among our small group of adventurers gearing for Dinosaur Ridge.
“Wait, if we keep going down, doesn’t that mean we have to go up again later?”
The views became obscured as the trail lowered us into the forest with an occasional clearing showing the pinnacle ahead.
Our downward climb began to worry me. My legs were a little sore already (even though it was roughly 10AM). Wait a minute, is that a peak I can climb? Second wind here you come! I gave my camera to my hiking buddy Darren and scampered up the rock to pose in front of Dinosaur Ridge.
Continuing downward we caught sight of our lunchstop. The lodge ahead is the last chance to veer away from Dinosaur Ridge. Perhaps it was just hunger but I was pretty certain that feeling growing in my stomach was excitement about climbing that stunning ridge. Hiking into a small valley we broke for lunch and decided who’s legs would prefer to continue downward into the valley.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I realize just how much this monstrous ridge will take!