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.

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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.

 

Son Doong Day 3 – The Garden of Edam

 

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Hiking from Watch out for Dinosaurs to Garden of Edam

Son Doong’s Garden of Edam peeked through the next passage like a half moon keeping a wary eye on foreign travelers.  Hiking once more in the dark, our headlamps illuminated bulbous calcite deposits left by a millennia of rainy seasons carving its way through this ancient waterway.  In another million years our passageway will likely be sealed by this natural cave evolution._DSC7659

_DSC7660Sending Deb and Mr. Ky ahead as our models, we made use of the vantage point provided by the calcite domes. Setting up the photograph wasn’t too difficult with such natural beauty.  The tricky part was accounting for the clouds that kept rolling in.  At first I thought they would bring some stunning contrast to the shot but quickly realized we would have to wait for them to clear.

 

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Hiking from Watch out for Dinosaurs to Garden of Edam

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Climbing into The Garden of Edam

Finally the clouds dissipated with a resounding “ooo, ah!” and “holy f*ck!” from us white folk.  Snapping a shot of the Garden of Edam’s lush entryway with white stalactites completing a scene that will be ingrained in my brain forever.  Eager to join the jungle’s chorus (or at least get a closer vantage point) we went out once again.  Climbing down the calcite stalagmites proved to be a simple task. As we reached the left wall. a dried up riverbed lead the way among boulders as we headed straight for the doline’s base.

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Slick, but not as fickle as Watch out for Dinosaurs’ red carpet we were able to make the ascent as a group.  Of course Thanh, Carla and I trailed for some excess photography.  By the time we reached the mouth of Son Doong’s second jungle (that former watchful eye) everyone was relaxing on a vine-laden outcropping while a misty cloud surrounded us.  We joined for a water break and some friendly banter about the differences between British, American, Canadian and French Canadian English.

 

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Climbing into The Garden of Edam

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Climbing into The Garden of Edam

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Climbing into The Garden of Edam

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Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam

Garden of Edam’s lush overgrowth was littered with all stages of life.  We found dozens of crushed snails, many as big as a baseball!  Monkeys descend the treacherous walls of this doline from the deep jungle outside, especially when it rains.  Once down below they smash these snails for a quick snack.

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Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam

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Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam

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Looking back at our ascent

Massive trees loomed 30 meters above while Thanh pointed out 3 stages of a gorgeous mystery flower. It bloomed by sprouting a pink stalk that eventually fanned out for a peacock like display.  We climbed over downed banana trees and every moss or fern you can imagine as a cacophony of birds and bugs echoed from nearly 300 meters above!

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Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam

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Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam

The heat & humidity climbed the further that we did.  Coupled with the thought of our next feast being prepared by Mr. Tu and the porter team, we were convinced not to dwell up here for too long.  It took about 30 minutes to get through three doline where we could barely make out the campsite below. At first on our right was an archway massive enough to house a skyscraper!  Howard let us know that passage was sealed off although the river previously flowed through it. Within the last few million the calcite formations grew too large and diverted the river.  That very change in course created the cavern we had just passed through and rewarded us with a wonderful vantage point after a brief climb.  The river is apparently now creating a 3rd path since ours was nearly stopped up and may be impassable in a few hundred million years.

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Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

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Desending to Hang Son Doong’s Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

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Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

Moments after arrival Mr. Tu and the porter crew laid a new feast before us.  It was impossible to predict that fried chicken & french fries would be freshly made this deep into the jungle but they were just as delicious as the Vietnamese stir fry that accompanied tonight’s dinner.  After eating we switched over to Vietnamese card games and challenged the porters managing to walk away a little cleaner than the night before.    The bad news was that we walked away cleaner because of a new penalty, we still lost 9 out of 10 games and were delivered rice wine and kneeling penalties which meant you had to kneel on the hard rocks until you won a round!

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Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

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Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

 

After the sun set we went into overdrive setting up a night shot of the campsite surrounded by the green mouth of the doline.  Thanh, Mr. Ky and Chris hiked partway up the boulders and used our headlamps to illuminate the scene.  Half of the remaining crew lit the foreground while Carla and I snapped these once in a lifetime pictures of the entrance to Son Doong’s 2nd doline.

 

When Howard brought the BBC reporter to this very same location he approached from the darkness behind us.  They rappelled down the Great Wall of Vietnam (which I would get to see tomorrow); upon turning the corner the commentator saw The Garden of Edam and exclaimed “Fuckin’ Hell!”

“Cut!” shouted his director.  BBC is family friendly so they had to reshoot the entrance a few times before finally managing “Fffffreaking hell” which was usable.  Howard’s anecdotal stories like this were a great addition to the trip.  ONe of my other favorites was his adventure to Coral Reef, 18 hours beyond the Great Barrier Reef; well maybe the camera man he brought to Son Doong who accidentally burned Howards hand and then forced him to carry all the equipment in a climb after nearly breaking his “good” hand.  If you want to hear them the best thing is to head to Phong Nha and join one of these trips!

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Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam

 

Seoraksan – Dinosaur Ridge

A 3am Seoraksan hike warranted a long lunch break, unfortunately we were on a tight schedule and left for Dinosaur Ridge after refilling water and a few quick bites.  Shortly after departing the shelter the real climb began.  There was one small forested valley before we were pulling ourselves up the first of many crazy cliffs.

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We had now idea how grueling our trek would be, luckily the first peak was the most difficult ascent.  Even more lucky was the spectacular blue sky we had above us.  Some of our companions have been on this trail 4 or 5 times but today was their first cloudless blue yonder.

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By now the sun was high overhead.  We had roughly 6 hours to tackle Dinosaur Ridge and Devil’s Ridge beyond.  If we took too long it would be a long walk or a pricey taxi to Sokcho and our pension (like a hostel without beds).  Thinking mostly of the gorgeous nature beneath us and not the pain in our legs we trekked onward.  The path was mostly inclines and declines with a few level paths mixed in.  These were often barely wide enough for 2-way traffic!

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The second peak was a “mild” one.  Well, that is to say we were already pretty high up and only descended about a hundred meters before having to climb back up.  I found myself trailing our group between my regular photo stops and water breaks on this grueling endeavor.

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Hiking, okay fine, climbing Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park

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Hiking Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park

Hiking Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park

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The second peak turned into a beautiful plateau before quickly giving way to another spectacular climb.  At least there wasn’t an insane downhill this time too! Continue reading

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