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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Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group 2.0 (with Panoramas!)

Our ferry departed for Saryangdo at 7:30am which meant another midnight bus out of Seoul.  This misty inslet was full of fishermen in the cool morning air as we embarked on the final leg of the journey to revisit my first Seoul Hiking Group excursion.  We dropped our bags off at the pension and got on the trail shortly after arriving.

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Waiting for the ferry to Saryangdo

Saryangdo is a small island to the South of the Korean peninsula.  A short ferry ride from Tongyeong its likely that we were the only foreigners on the whole island so it was no wonder that any time we ran into Koreans they were excited to see us.  There’s a single road that loops around the mountain forming this gorgeous sanctuary.  That series of peaks was our goal for today and after a 45 minute climb we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding seas at 281 meters above.

Saryangdo Panorama 1

Leaving the first peak the trail switched between stairs and rocks with an awesome rope climb in the distance!  Just beyond we would encounter a suspension bridge (the cables of which I decided to climb for an even higher vantage point).  Seoul Hiking Group continued its tradition of making fast friends as our group mixed and mingled among the mountains.

Saryangdo Cable Climb

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

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I’ve really started to enjoy leading the trips and always look forward to seeing friends among the regulars but perhaps my favorite thing about Seoul Hiking Group is the acceptance that everyone shows towards new members.  We inevitably have some first time hikers, some with fears of heights or other nature dangers and everyone bands together to become a weekend family!

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We got lucky with the weather on this late fall afternoon.  The morning mist cleared around us for jawdropping views.  One of my favorites were the islands to the south  still shrouded by mist in an optical illusion making us wonder where the sea truly began.

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Pausing for a snack and photo break a few of the group decided to reenact Titanic.  While waiting around another loving aspect of Seoul Hiking Group emerged.  Sharing.  Most of us are teachers and know that sharing is caring but that usually mean you to let everyone else eat your coveted Cheetos (which are super hard to find in Korea) or all that dried fruit & nut mix that you slaved together.

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After enjoying our break the trek grew a bit more trecherous.  The next peak climbed to 400 meters and was the highest on Saryangdo.  The path was interspersed with stairs as usual but there were many times we trekked up loose rocks and around jagged edges.  Okay so there often was an “easier” trail through the woods but I prefer to keep things interesting and enjoyed “spider manning” it up the ledges.

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Nearly there we were stopped by a lovely Korean group who insisted we share some of their Makkeoli and kimchi.  Not wanting to be rude a handful of us chowed down and chatted in broken Korean.  Hikers tend to be good people and look out for one another but no where else have I encountered such generosity among strangers as in Korean mountains.  A few hundred meters later my buddy Martin and I were stopped again and offered a delicious veggie ramen!

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Saryangdo Jump

Martin you’re my favorite photographer!

 

Finally at the peak we dilly dallied with some snacks and photo shoots enjoying our surroundings before crossings the vertigo inducing ridge.  Last time I was here I admittedly went across on my butt.  That was 8 months ago and I’ve been an avid hiker ever since gaining confidence in my legs and balance.  Wait a minute, is there internet service up here?  I took a moment and Skyped my brother, Ben, while shimming accross the half meter wide trail.  To the right a sheer cliff, to the left a sharp decline followed by a sheer drop.

Saryangdo Panorama 8 Saryangdo Panorama 9

Luckily its only a short distance before you hurdle a gap and find yourself back among the trees.  Before long a Makkeoli mountain man can be heard banging away with tables full of foreigners enjoying his homemade concoction.  Just after he served us the delicious potion he went back to his drums for Pikachu’s big entrance! (video coming soon)  Martin ran down the trail with Pikachu “ears” and an Austrian flag around his neck flapping like a cape!  We sang happy birthday for 2 of our hikers and most of us even dared to try myeolchi (anchovies like fish).

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I opted to skip the long hike this time and took a slick leave, laden trail straight back to the road and eagerly got back to our pension early enough to relax before dinner and the evening festivities began.

 

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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Seoraksan – 3 Germans, a Finn and me

11 months ago I jumped on a bus for the first time and headed to Sokcho; Seoraksan was on my mind.  I was told Seoraksan National Park was the best place to go during Korean Autumn sporting a natural medley of colorful foliage.    This time I was invited to join some European friends and happily agreed to join in.

We stayed at Smile Guesthouse for ₩20,000 ($20) a night and I highly recommend it.  The staff spoke great English and helped us plan the trails, call taxis, recommend restaurants and more.  Definitely the best hospitality I’ve seen in Korea.  After arriving Friday evening we decided to wake up early and hit the trails right away!

First stop for anyone entering Seoraksan at the main entrance is the cable car line.  Tickets were ₩9,000 ($9) and the line seemed absurdly long but only took about 15 minutes.  We left at 9:00 AM with a 2:10 PM time slot giving us enough time to hike Ulsanbawi and stop for lunch beforehand.  Of course anyone who enters at the main gate makes their first “ooo’s” and “aaah’s” at one of the world’s largest Buddhas!

Enjoy this autumn photo walk of our trip up a dreadful amount of stairs to the top of Ulsanbawi, back down towards a cable car for a ride up Gwongeumseong Fortress culminating with a riverside stroll to the magnificent Biryeong and Yukdam waterfalls in Seoraksan National Park.

 

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Big Buddha

Big Buddha

Big Buddha

Big Buddha

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Heading to Ulsanbawi

Ulsanbawi!

Ulsanbawi!

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Korean Oktoberfest on Namhae Island – Seoul Hiking Group

Namhae, a gorgeous island of the southern coast off South Korea hosts a German Oktoberfest every year.  We arrived in the wee hours of the morning after enjoying Jinju’s lantern festival and I happily awoke to a beautiful harbor with some adorable graffiti painted along the wavebreaks.

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Our pension was a mere kilometer away from the German Village; we enjoyed coastal views and some authentic brews as we walked to the top where a small town center awaited us._DSC3228

Traditional German red rooftops reminded me of my grandmother’s hometown Dahn, a quaint German village tucked into the south-eastern Bavarian hills.  Namhae’s German Village mimicked the German style after an influx of immigrants turned it from touristic to authentic.

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Before the parade began we happily joined some German men for a barbecue in their backyard.  Homemade brats and buns were certainly a highlight of the day, second only to the ongoing party at the top of the hill.

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knickknacks were for sale in every shop and even at a few garage sales. Most of them were German trinkets but I liked these elephants the best 🙂

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