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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Virtual Hiking Saryangdo’s Jagged Ridge Trail again

We just got back from my 3rd trip to Saryangdo with Seoul Hiking Group.  The 1st time got me hooked on Seoul Hiking Group which lead to dozens of other outdoor adventures.  In the fall we went back and I realized this place was my favorite hike in all of Korea.  Last year’s panoramas and videos inspired this trip and I hope yo enjoy the new video with a daunting perspective of the Jagged Ridge Trail.  Photos are up too!

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?

Virtual Hiking Saryangdo’s Jagged Ridge Trail

Okay so maybe its not a virtual hike but enjoy this video I put together from the weekend’s excursion with Seoul Hiking Group to Saryangdo Island!  After a quick Google I’m pretty sure the trail is called Jagged Ridge Trail.  We’ll certainly go back to Saryangdo but until then you’ll just have to enjoy this video!

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.

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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.