Taebaeksan’s Winter Wonderland – Seoul Hiking Group

Taebaeksan National Park boasts a startling 1567m of vertical making it among the highest mountains in South Korea and crowning Taebaeksan as the 5th highest national park.  More importantly its known for being full of snow-capped splendor, a key reason we were happy they got fresh snow the night before!  Seoul Hiking Group set out for another sunrise hike and we were immediately rewarded with the best night sky I’ve seen in Korea.

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Taebaeksan is remote.  Like really remote.  So frigging remote that our bus driver only took 2 hours to get to the region and was rewarded with another hour and a half of weaving through mountain roads.  Luckily that meant a few hundred meters of elevation that we didn’t have to climb oh yeah and we were hundreds of kilometers away from the city lights.  The starlight reflected beautifully off of our snow carpeted path as each branch was illuminated by its snowy coat.

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Donning crampons almost immediately we began the steep climb.  Each step brought out a warm sweat in spite of the frigid temperatures.  The first 2 kilometers were well sheltered; I found myself unzipping my jacket and alternately removing & replacing my hat in a futile attempt to keep from sweating.  Winter hiking can be stunning but if your clothes soak through things can take a sudden turn for the worse.  Hypothermia & frostbite are no joke and you shouldn’t mess around so be prepared with layers.  To keep my temperature down I took off 2 of my 4 layers before reaching the top of the main staircase.

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Our trail looked more like a ski slope than a path and for better or worse the temperature dropped the higher we got.  It meant I didn’t have to worry so much about sweating and kept the layers but my toes and fingers were less ecstatic.  Another kilometer later we caught our first glimpse of the red sun beyond the valley creeping over the mountains in the distance.

It was 6:30 AM, we had another 700 meters of trail along with a decent climb ahead as the clouds rolled in bringing more snow and minimal visibility.  Knowing that the sun wouldn’t rise until nearly 7:30 we were happy to slow our pace and give our legs a rest.

Koreans bring massive plastic bags to protect them from the wind

Koreans bring massive plastic bags to protect them from the wind

Frozen brush at the top

Frozen brush at the top

Moments later we reached Janggunbong, the summit most famous for Cheonjedan, the “altar of heavenly fires.”   A handful of Koreans had beat us there and were set up with tripods and doing their best to stay warm with a chilling wind whipping around us from all directions.

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As more of our group reached the summit the clouds persisted at the peak and prevented the stunning views we were promised.  I was debating between heading down for a lower potentially cloudless view when an faint orange glow appeared amid “ooo’s” and “aaaah’s” mixed in with my “holy shit!”  Over the next 30 minutes we would witness a handful of cloud partings.  Just enough for me to capture a short video and snap a few photos.

Sunrise from Taebaeksan!

Sunrise from Taebaeksan!

This guy sold ramen & other goodies near the top.  What a lifesaver!

This guy sold ramen & other goodies near the top. What a lifesaver!

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Taebaeksan Panorama

Panorama (clicky!)

 

Realizing that I already wanted to come back to this park I decided to head back down to warm up at the temple with some ramen.  Over the next few hours we trekked down the slopes slipping and sliding with childish enjoyment when we noticed a handful of Koreans using massive rice bags as a sled.  I giggled and stole a quick video before the ajjushi came over and handed me his bag!

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I jumped on at the next clear path and started what was by far one of the best experiences I’ve on a mountain.  Sledding down the trail I couldn’t have been happier!  We took turns on a few different trails breaking the language barrier and becoming instant friends!

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Sledding! (video coming soon)

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Sledding! (video coming soon)

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Just before our dreaded staircase descent we found them sledding again and were offered a second bag.  Us foreigners promptly joined kids & grandparents for this youthful adventure!   Truth be told this was one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable times I’ve ever been frozen solid and I can’t wait to come back!

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Continuing down the trail we were in awe at the natural beauty of Taebaeksan.  It was hard to believe how we’d missed this on the way up but then again the midnight stars stole our attention and only give off so much light.

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We ended the day eating some traditional Korean food, hanging out at the sauna (jimjilbang) and with a few hours in Taebaesan’s winter festival!  I can’t wait to head back to Taebaek, hopefuly the clouds will behave next time.

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Nothing like a delicious kimchi jiggae to warm you up!

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This is my new favorite winter hike, what’s yours?

Pyeongchang Winter Festival – Seoul Hiking Group

Last weekend Seoul Hiking Group went up to Pyeongchang Winter Festival.  In addition to the festival Pyeongchang is the 2018 Winter Olympic host at both Yongpyeong and Alpensia resorts.  We hit the slopes all day Saturday before some of us opted to spend Sunday at the winter festival instead of hiking or going back up the lifts.  I got to taste octopus, Korean mystery candy.  I even beat a Korean at curling and wandered through an ice sculpture garden with fellow hikers. Enjoy the video of this chipper celebration!

Korean Delicacies

Who doesn’t love food?  Eating is a primary reason for many people to travel and Korean cuisine happens to be incredibly diverse with hundreds of dishes to try!  The best part is that each meal comes with a handful of 반찬 banchan (sides) that accompany whatever you order so you always get to taste a few treats.  Living in South Korea for a year I’ve sampled the lot but still have tons more to try.  Have you tried any of these, which was your favorite?

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Soy Sauce Crab Stew ( 간장게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Actually I don’t know what this is. Its an internal organ based on what the vendor was saying and my Korean coworker insists its from a fish. You can find it at Kwangjang Market (광장시장) and let me know!

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Kimchi Baby Crabs ( 김치 아기 게) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi Banchan/Sides 김치반찬 ) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Kimchi (김치) at a North Korean style Restaurant in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried Squid (Ojingo 오징어) in Sokcho (속초)

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Dried & fermented school of jogi (조기/yellow croaker) at Kwangjang Market (광장시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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Fresh Crab (게장) at Sokcho’s Fish Market (속초 수산 시장)

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Busan’s fish market with Seoul Hiking Group

After regrouping at our Busan hostel from a cultural day at the Yonggungsa Temple it was time to head to Busan’s famous fish market.  A quick subway ride brought us there and the seafood aroma overwhelmed our senses before we even entered.  Once inside you could see dozens of stalls with fresh 해물 (seafood)!

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Every stall had a Korean barking promotions about their goods as you walked past tanks filled to the brim with crabs, shellfish, flounder and fish of all kinds.  After a quick walk through we discussed what we were going to eat and Warren did some master haggling.

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During the negotiation fish and the like were tossed into and pulled out of our basket.  First we had 2 octopuses and countless shellfish then suddenly an octopus was swapped for a 4 crabs running around.  She quickly reached in and swapped the crabs back for the octopus and a flounder and then again grabbed the octopus and traded for some other fish and a sea-slug. It was enjoyable to watch even though I had no idea what anyone was saying.  The exchange went on for about 15 minutes before he finally came back and let us know it would be ₩20,000 each ($20).
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Most of the meal ended up as hoe (회) pronounced, “hway”, or raw fish.  I tried sea cucumber, oysters, clams and some unknown entities.  It was good but my favorite part was the steamed crabs!  These small delicacies were so full of juicy flavor that you almost forgot about the soju we had with it.

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After dinner we went for a “hike” through Gamcheon Culture Village to an overlook of the city.  Gamcheon reminds me of pictures of Rio’s favelas with bright pastel shades and apparently low class housing.  Walking between the houses we found the streets to be pretty empty.  The few locals we saw were busy in their gardens likely gathering the evening’s dinner.

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After an hour or so of uphill we finally reached the top.  The panoramic view of Busan encapsulated the beauty and draw of the city as a top vacation destination in South Korea.  You could see the beautiful beaches lined in Miami-esque style with tall skyscrapers and our foreground of Gamcheon Culture Village.

Cooking class at a hagwon

I teach cooking class to these little munchkins 5 times a month.  At the beginning of every month I am given a recipe to review and then I work with each of the K6 classes.  Before each class I remind them the importance of washing their hands before cooking & eating.  Then we don our cooking hats & aprons and dive right in!

My first month we made “sweet potato balls,” the cafeteria staff prepared the potatoes and a cake crumble topping.  We added some honey and a little salt before molding them into different shapes and covering them with green tea, chocolate or vanilla topping.
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In October I learned how to make gimbap.  This was my favorite class so far because it was really useful for me too!  Gimbap is similar to Japanese sushi but with vegetables and cooked meats instead of raw fish.  We lay out a sheet of seaweed and cover it in rice before adding a long strip of each filling and rolling it up.  This time we used yellow radish, carrots, crab, spinach, ham, & egg.  I’ve tried gimbap with everything from tempura pork & shrimp to kimchi and anchovies inside.  It was really fun to make and I look forward to experimenting with different versions at my apartment.

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