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!

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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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

Seoraksan: getting to Dinosaur Ridge

Dinosaur Ridge, the name alone tells me that Seoraksan’s main ridge will likely be my favorite hike in Korea.  After a 3 am start I found myself at the first of MANY peaks just before lunchtime and suddenly wasn’t so sure.  But there I go, getting ahead of myself again.

A few weeks ago I hopped another midnight bus with Seoul Hiking Group (Thanks Warren, Breanne, Tom, Ashley and the other helpers!).  A few short hours later we awoke at 2:30 in Seoraksan National Park; gates opened at 3:00am sharp so we got in the line with 100’s of Koreans.

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Yes, you read that right.  At 3am there were literally 100’s of Koreans lined up to hike this amazing trail.  The moon shone nearly full above and when the figurative bell tolled we “sprinted” up the steps.  Okay, so maybe 100’s of people clamoring along rocky steps with an absurd incline isn’t exactly sprinting.  It wasn’t too bad in the pitch black outside of the occasional ajusshi”forgetting” that their headlamp was on when they blinded you.

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3am start in Seoraksan

After a few hours of darkness we found ourselves on what we could only assume was the first ridge.  The view below eerily brought images of the River Styx with dark clouds floating through shadowy valleys to my mind.  Suddenly the moon came out from hiding behind the clouds.  A little illumination was all we needed to begin making out the stunning greenery below.  The muted colors pushed us onward promising a better view in the coming hours._DSC2949 _DSC2924

Stars and a magnificent moon provided enough light that we began switching off our headlamps.  Or was that the sun creeping over the ridge ahead?  Either way the scene kept growing around us as the climb settled down.   The first push upward was rough but along the ridgeline the elevation changes were minimal.

 

 

 

 

Reds, and oranges crept over the Eastern horizon mixing with the deep blue above Donghae (동해.)  The sun began illuminating what Koreans refer to it as Donghae (East Sea) while most maps label the beautiful body of water as the Sea of Japan.

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Dusk in Seoraksan

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1 ajusshi, 2 ajusshi, red ajusshi, blue ajusshi

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We continued our trek as that orange glow spread through the mountains and trees before us.  The trail shone wonderfully as a few small climbs created a small bottleneck.  We welcomed the respite happy for a water break and a moment to enjoy the growing scene beneath us.

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Sunrise in Seoraksan

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Dusk in Seoraksan

The sun now climbing above its first hand we soon found ourselves at the first rest stop.  This lodge lay just beneath Daecheongbong, the tallest peak in Seoraksan.  Gauging our time my group decided to save Daecheongbong for another day, we took a quick pit stop to refill our water before taking the fork back towards Dinosaur Ridge.

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Korean Sunrise over Donghae 동해, the East Sea (or the Sea of Japan) in Seoraksan National Park

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Hiking one of Seoraksan’s ridgelines

Back on the trail we caught our first glimpe of Dinosaur Ridge!  Well, we thought it must be Dinosaur Ridge anyway.  Now well into the morning hours the true beauty of Seoraksan presented itself for us to take in.  Breathtaking views were all around us with endless mountains to the west, spectacular ridges, the East Sea and Ulsanbawi in the distance!

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Our first glimpse at Dinosaur Ridge!

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