Pink Mountain, Bamboo forest & Macro Photography on Goeje Island – Seoul Hiking Group

The other weekend I was supposed to join Seoul Hiking Group at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.  This famous festival is flocked to by foreigners and Koreans throughout the country.  Too bad I missed the bus in the morning and missed Jinhae entirely!  Ronda and I scrambled to book another bus only to discover they were sold out until 5:00 PM that evening.  We opted to take a bus directly to Goeje island where we could meet the group for dinner and enjoy some coastal hikes.

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That turned out to be incredibly lucky for us because the buses got stuck in a torrential downpour.  In Korea a downpour means traffic.  Remember how the whole country was converging on this festival?  Well that combined with  confusion about a new pickup and how to handle the rain turned a 6 hour bus ride into a grueling 10 hour trek.  Most of the group still managed to snap a few choice photos at the festival but it certainly ruffled a few feathers which nearly led to a mutiny by some unhappy hikers.  Truth be told I’m not sure what revolting against the volunteer or bus driver would do but I’m glad that a few other hikers quashed this idea before any blood was shed.  Unfortunately there was an aftermath of drama worse than the prom king & queen’s breakup dividing the grade in twain.  Maybe I’ll write about that after all this macro photography goes up.

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So imagine all this action on a 10 hour busride while Ronda and I are stuck in a rainy stroll around Goeje.  We were definitely happier and focused on minute details around us to capture these memories before heading to a 찜질방 jimjilbang(Korean Spa) to warm up.  We enjoyed some riverside bird-watching with our artistic photography instead of the landscape & landmarks you are all used to seeing from me.

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At last the the call came in.  Buses were heading from Jinhae to Goeje but it would be at least an hour and a half so we weren’t in a rush to find a taxi.  We grabbed a bite to eat, stocked up on booze at the local 7-11 and jumped in a cab.  Swerving around the mountains with an ocean cliff below reminded me of the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam only this time I wasn’t on a motorbike and didn’t trust the cabbie on the slick roads.  It was easy to see how our buses got lost on the dark winding roads and delayed the meal until after midnight!

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When the group finally arrived our regular dinner BBQ ensued.  Rumor has it a handful of the revelers started playing spin the bottle which may have divulged into some even more risque acts as most of us hit the hay.

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The next day promised more confusion as some saw the schedule say depart 10am and others saw 830 hike along the coast.  Volunteers were told the first hike was optional but that most people should do it because its awesome!  Diana went around every door and knocked finding some of them locked (a detail that many complainers failed to find relevance in).  The itinerary was clearly stated and everyone on the trip was a mature adult.  If they wanted to sleep through or not even set their alarm then they would take the 10am bus or figure their own way out.  Unfortunately for us the already upset travelers jumped on this delay as another reason to hate us all.  First because we were leaving people behind and then after stopping to check if anyone who wanted to leave wasn’t on the bus and then because we were now behind schedule.

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Luckily that’s where the drama seemed to die out.  A handful of unhappy hikers took their own route home and missed the beautiful cliffs in Hallyeohaesang National Park and a wonderful afternoon that brought us to a bamboo forest and pink azalea covered mountain!  Enjoy the rest of these awesome photos. 🙂

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Moral of the story?  Goeje island is wonderful.  Seoul Hiking Group is for adults who can handle themselves and flexibility on a family-style, budget trip.

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I’ll refrain from calling out any of the specific drama that is apparently still swirling around this weekends faux pas.  There were certainly some organizational concerns and a tempers flared.  I wasn’t present and for that I can’t help but feel slightly responsible.  Well, not really.  I’m a volunteer and there’s no guarantee that my presence would have changed anything.  It certainly wouldn’t have stopped the rain, traffic, or personalities on the bus.

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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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Top 10 Travel Photos of 2014 #1

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!

#1 brings us back to Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, the deep in the jungles of Phong Nha Quang Binh National Park, Vietnam!   Its no surprise that my favorite photo of 2014 comes from the most amazing adventure I’ve ever taken.  The photo comes from deep within Son Doong in a section of the cave known as Watch out for Dinosaurs; a doline (collapsed ceiling) allowing light to pour in resulting in the spectacular jungle.  Cave formations are covered a splendor that can only be found in Son Doong are seen in the distance as the jungle’s heat mixing with cool cave air generates the cloud just slightly obscuring the far wall.

I hope you enjoyed these travel shots!  Stay tuned for some honorable mentions that barely missed the top 10!

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What is your favorite one of my photos from 2014?  How about your own favorite shot?

 Check out #2 here!

 For the best of 2013 go here!

Top 10 Travel Photos of 2014 #4

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!

#4 comes from Hang En’s glorious campsite.  After a half day trekking through the jungles of Phong Nha Quang Binh National Park in Vietnam we came to the entrance of the world’s 3rd largest cave.  The following day we would make it to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong but first it was time to relax in these lush pools and enjoy some rice wine!  If you ever have the good fortune of visiting Vietnam be sure to check out Oxalis Adventure Tours and this world class adventure.

 

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Check out #3 here!
Check out #5 here!

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!