Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak – Baegundae

Last summer I made the responsible (albeit disappointing) choice to skip mudfest in lieu of staying healthy and climbing Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak, Baegundae.  Leaving the following Thursday for an extreme trip through Vietnam  I knew that I didn’t want to fight a multi-day hangover or any bruised limbs from the alcohol supported escapades at one of the dirtiest festivals in the world.  As a result I offered to lead a hike up Baegundae with Seoul Hiking Group.  That’s how Brian and I came to meet some new hiking buddies, Heidi & Jason!

The Korean language barrier presented some difficulties finding the right entrance.  At first we ended up at the same entrance Brian & I had taken a few months back which was a 4 hour trek to the base of Baegundae.  This time we were searching for the 1.5 hour route!  Luckily my Korean was capable enough to buy a map and ask for directions so we quikcly found a cab and arrived at the Baegundae-Sogwicheon Information Center.

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When first stepping on the trail we had roughly 500m of vertical remaining in the 835m climb up Baegundae.  It began as rough cut stone steps and boulders surrounded by th_DSC6490e natural beauty of Bukhansan in the summer.  Green trees with the occasional flower flanked our path as the sweat rolled down our faces.  Jason, a first time hiker was soon converted to a naturalist and took regular breaks to get a full feel for mother nature’s splendor.

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A few minutes in we found ourselves at a “temple.”  It had none of the usual pizazz with a bland roof instead of the typical painted parapet.  We were greeted by two “mountain dogs” as a Korean woman approached.  There was a small antechamber for prayer with a spectacular buddha but otherwise this locale appeared to be the simple residence of these pleasant folk.  We played with the dogs for a few moments and said our thanks before continuing the trek.

 

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Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group 3.0

This weekend Seoul Hiking Group took our usual night bus to Saryangdo was pleasantly uneventful.  Little did I know but my 3rd trip to the island would be just as stunning as the first.   A true testamant to the natural beauty Saryangdo possesses.  We arrived at Goseong Dino Park at 5am for a quick hike to fossilized dinosaur footprints and a gorgeous sunrise among the islands.

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As the mist cleared we jumped back on the bus to the ferry terminal.  Arriving early we enjoyed a breakfast of muffins and fruit while watching the calm morning water as locals got to work on their boats.

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Waiting for the ferry

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Mountain rescue with park rangers – Wunaksan

 

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A day trip to Wunaksan was full of blue skies and cheery friends as the beautiful scenery slid by.  We climbed around bends, up stairs and enjoyed fresh mountain air joking about everything appropriate and significantly less so.  Naughty nicknames, dirty jokes and cries of awe made our trail the perfect place for a Sunday.

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It was a chilly winter day although not quite as frigid as my last winter hike.  Luckily hiking warms you up and we quickly took a few layers off.  Even so, before I knew it I was sweating so much that I attached my jacket to my backpack as the ice & snow began mixing into with our trail.

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Slipping and sliding along ironically someone ALWAYS fell when we discussed hiking boots, slippery spots or the necessity of crampons (spikes).  This brought about even more bouts of laughter when suddenly, the main peak came into view!  I scrambled up the rock for a better view while the rest of my party opted for the easier trail around.  We posed for a few GoPro selfies as I envisioned the beautiful panorama seen below.

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Wunaksan Panorama

The section ahead looked treacherous.  It was barely wide enough for one.  Fortunately a fallen tree acted as a handrail and the ice wasn’t too bad.  Suddenly I heard Warren shouting.

“SEOUL HIKING GROUP!”

“When I say Seoul, you say HIKING!”

We excitedly joined in when it abruptly changed to “1, 2, 3 SUZY!” (not her real name).  We followed along not quite sure why the change but shouted with him while hiking.  Moments later we found him in a panicked phone call.

“Can’t you just climb down?” “What do you mean you’re stuck?”

“1, 2, 3 SUUUZZZZYYYY!”

The worst had happened.  A hiker was lost and panicking alongside our fearless leader.  Warren’s stress level was rising, and the language barrier wasn’t helping.  I immediately took over. Continue reading

Top 10 Travel Photos of 2014 #5

2014 was my most traveled year yet.  I had the good fortune to bring in the New Year in the Philippines before returning to my job in South Korea.  Summer vacation was spent backpacking Vietnam and Chuseok (Korean thanksgiving) brought me to Japan.  I ventured to Shanghai before heading back to America for the end of the year holidays and all along these crazy adventures my camera followed me.  Tens of thousands of pictures were narrowed down to roughly 30 finalists before I selected my top 10 travel photos of 2014!

#5 brings us back to Korea with my favorite hike of 2014.  Dinosaur Ridge is a grueling trek through Seoraksan National Park.  We began at 3am with a steep climb to Daecheongbong’s 1708m peak before hiking along a cascade of peaks shaped like a stegosaurus’ back.  My legs were like jelly after 15 hours on the trail covering roughly 25km and nearly 3000m of elevation change.  I’ve never felt so accomplished and drained at the same time as the final hundred meters of decent into the valley and can’t wait to go back again in 2015!
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Check out #4 here!
Check out #6 here!