Garden of the Morning Calm – Seoul Hiking Group

After an exhausting day and faux-rescue on Wunaksan it was time to relax at Korea’s Garden of the Morning Calm.  This colorful light show reminds many foreigners of Christmas and is fitting to visit in the winter.  Multicolored lights adorn trees and bushes throughout the massive garden.  Its a popular spot for Korean couples who can be seen frolicking hand-in-hand and posing for romantic photos.

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They have everything from love-struck bow & arrows to giant mushrooms, butterflies and other crazy concoctions.  The brilliant display mixes a rainbow of colors with our imagination to create a fantasy wonderland.  Its best to go after sunset so you can get the full experience of tunnels & lighted pathways.  Give yourselves an hour or two to explore but you don’t need all night.  It really is the perfect way to relax after spending your day on the nearby mountains.


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Lake Jusanji & Juwangsan with Seoul Hiking Group

Friday night; might as well hop a midnight bus to Juwangsan with Seoul Hiking Group!  In the wee hours of the morning we arrived at Lake Jusanji to find a nearly full moon illuminating our path before us.  A short 30 minute hike brought us to the lakeshore where we found a light mist gliding over the surface of the lake.  A few of us broke out sleeping bags and napped as the chilly morning air combined with a slowly moving morning sun.  We lingered a few moments after the sun rose capturing the serenity of this picturesque lake featured in Korea’s famous film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring.  If you get to the bottom you’ll even find a fun video of the whole excursion!


Lake Jusanji


Lake Jusanji


Lake Jusanji

Next up was a short bus ride to the “long hike” through the waterways beneath Gamebong, one of Juwangsan’s sister peaks.  The flat path switched back and forth along the river as we splashed our way along.  Despite the pristine beauty surrounding us Juwangsan proved to be the emptiest Korean National Park I’ve been to yet.


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park

I ran across the other side to snap photos of everyone crossing when suddenly I heard a scream!  Turns out a member of our party happened upon a swimming snake; Warren warned us that they were likely venomous so we kept our distance.  Sort of.  A go pro on a selfie pole kept scaring it towards the rest of our cameras and it seemed particularly keen on heading in my direction.  Luckily we were able to keep our distance in spite of its speedy swimming and snapped some splendid shots!


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park – river snake. Anyone know the name of this snake?

Continuing along our trek we quickly came across another baby snake scooting along above the water.  He was much more timid and just hid in the brush as we passed.  The chilly river water flowed freely down the rocks creating a beautiful series of waterfalls.   It was tempting to take a dip but we continued onward eager to reach the summit and break for a snack.


Juwangsan National park


Juwangsan National park

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Son Doong Day 3 – The Garden of Edam



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.



Hiking from Watch out for Dinosaurs to Garden of Edam


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.


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.



Climbing into The Garden of Edam


Climbing into The Garden of Edam


Climbing into The Garden of Edam


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.


Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam


Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam


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!


Hang Son Doong – The Garden of Edam


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.


Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam


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


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!


Hang Son Doong Camp 2 just beneath The Garden of Edam


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!


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.


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


Hiking Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park

Hiking Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park


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

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.


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.


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.


Dusk in Seoraksan


1 ajusshi, 2 ajusshi, red ajusshi, blue ajusshi


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.


Sunrise in Seoraksan


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.



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


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!


Our first glimpse at Dinosaur Ridge!

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