Seoraksan in autumn – Seoul Hiking Group

I love Seoraksan National Park, I hate early mornings.  3 am.  “I can do this!” I thought to myself.

Nope.  I give up, you win this round nature.  I closed my eyes. 5 more minutes was all I needed.  Then I would be ready, after all Seoraksan is famous throughout South Korea for its fall foliage.

The bus slowed to a stop and idle movement turned into shambling zombies slowly rising and departing half asleep.  I willed myself to get up, eyes still closed I peeked with my left.  There was Warren.  No wait.  He was on the other bus.  Gotta channel my inner Warren and get people ready to go!

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Dragging myself off the seat I grabbed my bag and headed into the crisp autumn morning.  Wait, this isn’t morning.  We are here well before the asscrack of dawn.  With any luck we’ll see dawn’s beautiful spectacle from the top of Korea’s 3rd highest peak, Daechongbong.  We started off in the darkness only to find hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Koreans with the same idea.  Never have I ever seen such a traffic jam on a hiking trail!

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Slowly the crowd thinned out as some of us ducked, dived, dipped and dodged our way through the line sneaking ahead only to find the crowd grow dense yet again at the next staircase.  Climbing ever higher the wind began whipping through the leafless trees (at this altitude in mid-October the leaves have already fallen).  A purple-orange hue crept over the horizon threatening to emerge moments too soon.   Forgetting the soreness in my legs I pushed ever onward, stopping only for the occasional traffic jam from 3am all the way until up 1708 meters to the top of Daecheongbong by 6:45!

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Crowded sunrise at the top of Daecheongbong

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My German buddy Peter giving the sunrise a hug from 1708 meters

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What a view!  Last time I tried this hike I was too sore and all too slow.  Yeah this was my second time summiting Daecheongbong but there’s something magical about watching sun rise over the ocean from nearly 2 kilometers up.  Slowly more of our 90 person group wandered to the peak.  We had about a dozen of us up here snacking and snapping away; I knew Jungcheong shelter was just a few hundred meters below and decided to skip a big breakfast at the peak in lieu of warmer conditions.

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Descending is a downright pleasant experience after turning it up to full throttle on Daecheongbong’s steep trails.  We strolled among the branches and rocks and were inspired by Dinosaur Ridge to our right when I suddenly became unsure if my knees would hold out for that exhausting finish.

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Pausing for photo breaks, a few snacks and a regular breather we crossed a river and made it to Huiungak shelter by 9:15 (10am was the latest we could leave if we wanted to attempt Dinosaur Ridge).  Warren and a few dozen of our hiking buddies were waiting and snacking when suddenly Warren told everyone to head to the first peak of Dinosaur Ridge for a picnic.  Up there we’ll have a magnificent view and an abundance of sunshine; the only advantage to Huiungak shelter was a water supply and the ability to buy ramen or canned tuna.

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The steep climb to Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak combines 2 series of rope climbs as we scrambled up the rock face.  In between these treacherous paths lies a narrow, flat, stony walkway.  Here we began to catch some glimpses of fall colors before getting to the final set of ropes.  Pulling hand over hand we ascended to a precipice with a handful of (mostly Korean) tourists and a stunning view.

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Posing at the top of Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak

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Dino Peak Panorama 2

Click for an awesome panorama from Dinosaur Ridge’s first peak

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Hiking Seoraksan’s Spring Valley with Seoul Hiking Group

In late Spring I headed back to Seoraksan National Park with Seoul Hiking Group.  My first hike took me on a 5 hour hike up Ulsanbawi before riding the cable car to another peak.  My last trip with Seoul Hiking brought me to the awesomely adventurous Dinosaur Ridge and this one would feature Daecheongbong (Korea’s 3rd highest peak) and the lush valley below Dinosaur Ridge.

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We begun at 3am with an incredibly steep incline up Daecheongbong.  Staircases followed rocks and yet more staircases as our legs begged us to stop.  We squeezed a few breaks in and just after sunrise arrived at Daecheongbong’s 1708m peak!  While there we took a lengthy break for some breakfast and photo ops.

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Contemplating our ascent up Daecheongbong’s 1708m climb



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Today’s journey through Seorakssan would be much more leisurely than my last daring climb of Dinosaur Ridge.  An hour after climbing down the other side of Daecheongbong we stopped for another nap at the ranger station.

 

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

View from the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

View from the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

At the top of Daecheongbong in Seoraksan National Park

The next leg was identical to my trek towards Dinosaur Ridge; a gradual downhill with Ulsanbawi, Dino Ridge and the gorgeous East Sea flanking the panoramic view.  After a long lunch we left the next ranger station in search of Seoraksan’s valley.  We were told there would be a marvelous flowing crystal clear river intertwined with pools and waterfalls.

Seoraksan

Seoraksan

View of Dinosaur Ridge from Daechongbong

View of Dinosaur Ridge from Daechongbong

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The verdant lining of our path framed each pool; the deeper ones taking on a magnificent blue hue that created Seoraksan’s natural necklace.   Sapphires pools set in copper or silver rocks surrounded by emerald leaves.

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On our way down what better way to enjoy than napping in Spring’s afternoon sun.  Another hour passed and each time my hiking buddies rotated through Seoul Hiking Group’s finest rookies and veterans.

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Refreshed from our nap the next thing on our mind was how sweaty the day had made us.  That grueling climb coupled with a beating sun made us begin the search for a cool pool to splash about in.  Luckily the path was lined with potential ponds and it wasn’t long before we picked the perfect one.  I jumped in with my hiking pants knowing they could use a cleaning and I could swap to my shorts after I finished.

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Moon rising over Seoraksan ridgeline

Moon rising over Seoraksan ridgeline

The last leg of our hike grew steeper downhill before coming to the base of the river.  Finally we met up with the rest of Seoul Hiking Group and joined in celebrating the nature-filled day with Dongdongju (a rice/corn fermented drink) and some pajeon.  After our quick meal we settled in at our pension just north of Sokcho for an beach bonfire!

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Check back soon for the rest of the excursion through Sokcho including a one of my first practical Korean usage at the fish market!

Playing with fireworks!

Playing with fireworks!

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Back to Seoraksan & Sokcho – A sneak peak

Yeah, I’m crazy enough to go back to Seoraksan only 3 weeks after my second adventure into this masterpiece of a national park. (don’t worry the rest of the pics from my first trip there with Seoul Hiking Group are coming soon!)  Thanks to Warren & Breanne for another awesome trip!  Enjoy this sneak peak of my journey up Daechongbong and skipping Dinosaur Ridge to explore the lush valley below.  After a long day of hiking we relaxed on the Sokcho beaches and perused the fish market where my Korean classes came in handy!  We ended with a trip to the DMZ border and got a glimpse into the reclusive North Korean state.

View of Dinosaur Ridge from Daechongbong

View of Dinosaur Ridge from Daechongbong

Seoraksan

Seoraksan

Seoraksan's lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Seoraksan’s lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Seoraksan's lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Seoraksan’s lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Seoraksan's lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Seoraksan’s lush valley beneath Dinosaur Ridge

Moon rising over Seoraksan ridgeline

Moon rising over Seoraksan ridgeline

Playing with fireworks!

Playing with fireworks!

Soon to be dinner at Sokcho's fish market

Soon to be dinner at Sokcho’s fish market

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peaking into North Korea along the East Sea

peaking into North Korea along the East Sea

An Autumn day in Seoraksan National Park

We woke up at Seoraksan Morning inn in Sokcho looking forward to a 2 kilometer walk to Seoraksan National Park.  The cute Korean couple who run the inn helped us find a local restaurant where Blaine, Katya, Masha, Varya, Nina and I ate some bibimbap before starting our stroll.

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The road along our 30 minute hike was packed with cars and buses; we made a few friends with the waving children as their parents asked where we were from.  Canada, America & Russia always got a laugh regardless of the order we mentioned our home countries.  I guess Koreans don’t expect us all to mingle.

Leaves shrouded the roadway and as we hiked onward the mountain view we first noticed at our hotel crept closer.  We passed a rocky riverbed and got our first real glimpse of the landscape. There were reds, oranges and yellows laced between the evergreens but an unfortunate number of bare trees too.

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Another kilometer up the road we came to the entrance of Seoraksan Natoinal Park and an overwhelming number of Koreans. We stopped briefly for some gimbap to take as a picnic lunch before buying our park tickets for ₩2500. Just inside the gate Nina and I stopped at a ranger station to get trail maps and determine the best way to spend our short day here.

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I was disappointed we couldn’t find a shorter route to the main peak, Daecheongbong (it was 6 hours each way) so I guess I’ll just have to come back again! The ranger mentioned a 2 hour hike to Ulsanbawi, a massive rock with a spectacular view, a 1 hour hike to the Biryeong & Towanseong Falls and the 30 minute cable car before a brief hike to Gwongeumseong, a “mountain fortress.”

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