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Published: March 9th 2010
We don't want to make it seem like we don't do any work around here, but we had the last week in February off school so we decided to make the most of the week (well, half of the week - the first half we spent watching Olympics at every possible moment - which was difficult with a 17hr time difference, but we managed to see most of the important things!) and rented a car for a little 5 day road trip with 2 friends, Eric and Moiz.
We left on Wednesday morning in our shiny new Kia Forte Hybrid ready (and a little worried - I mean, Korean drivers?scaryyyyyy!) for the road ahead. We packed the trunk with all our hiking gear and hit the road with Eric and Mike alternating driving as they were the only ones with International Driving Permits. Despite our fears of driving amongst some of the crazy Korean drivers the whole trip was relatively simple and we had no problems navigating the roads or the other cars! We stopped for lunch halfway in Wongju then arrived in the Seoraksan National Park area of the Gangwon province just after 3:00. Korea is vying to host
Korea is vying for the 2018 Olympics
In PyeongChang so there are signs everywhere!
the 2018 winter Olympics in a city called PyeongChang in Gangwon-do, so we passed plenty of signs promoting this small, hole-in-the-wall city...we'd be surprised if the city wins the bid - it has small ski slopes, but that's about it!
After driving around trying to find maps and tips from Tourism offices in the towns around Seoraksan we finally got our hands on a rough map and decided which route to take to the peak. The woman working at the office tried to tell us we shouldn't go because the snow was waist deep and it was slippery and cold, but pfff, we're from Canada, that's nothing!!
We drove to Yangyang, a small nearby town to stock up on food for the hike and grab some pizza for dinner (some of the best pizza we've had in Korea, by the way, and from this small little mom and pop joint). then found a cheap hotel near the start of the trail. Because it was mid-week and winter, the village around the trail, which is usually packed, was virtually free of any tourists and we were the only guests at our hotel! The cool owner, who spoke awesome English
and had a sweet Corvette parked in the hotel lot gave us the biggest room in the entire hotel for a mere 40,000won (about 40 bucks)!! It had 2 beds, a futon, a couch, a huge tv, computer and tons of floor space to top it off!
That night we watched, what else, the Olympics, trying to get as much in as possible before our 2-day hiatus during the hike! Thursday morning as we set off for the trail, the hotel owner told us that they were forecasting rain and storms for that day but we brushed it off. Not 10 feet from the hotel and we feel the first rain drop...should we go back? Heck NO! When we arrived 10 minutes later at the gate to enter the park, the ranger told us not to pay. We're not sure why but guess it was one of 2 reasons: a)he didn't want to deal with foreigners or b)he didn't think we'd make it very far before turning around and coming back. We'd show him!!! haha
The rain was picking up slightly so we all put the rain covers on our packs. The first part of the trail seemed
pretty simple, just a stone pathway with a slight incline. That didn't last long tho and before we knew it were climbing a never-ending set of the steepest stairs ever! And these weren't only steep stairs, they were trickster stairs because when you looked up, it seemed like you could see the top where they stop, but then when you get up there, the stairs just curve and continue their upward climb! The farther we got into the trail, the more the snow and ice started to appear and the harder the rain was falling. The trail was mostly void of people except for the odd Korean hikers on their way down the mountain. Every single time we passed a hiker, they would look at our hiking boots, notice the lack of crampons (metal spikes you attach to your boots to grip in the ice) and try to tell us not to continue by making an X with their arms and saying "dangerous" and "ice". Of course we did not listen to them, as at this point the ice patches were of a manageable size and just scattered here and there.
We hit the halfway point (2.5km, 1000m altitude)
in about 2 hours so we paused for a snack break before finishing the second half of the climb to the peak. At the 3/4 way marker we still weren't seeing this "waist deep snow" the woman at the tourism office told us about so we figured she was crazy. As we neared the peak the rain became much harder and the height was taking it's toll, mostly on me (Danielle). It was a battle of wills - we didn't want to take break because we just wanted to push on to get out of the crappy weather, but on the other hand, without proper breaks, I had to pause more often. It wasn't long before Eric and Moiz were well ahead of us. With much encouragement from Mike, we finally made it to the peak at 1708m (more than double the highest peak we have ever climbed!), only to realize that the worst of this rain storm had been blocked from us by the mountain! It was so windy and rainy, almost freezing rain - it was miserable! So much so that we didn't even pause to enjoy the peak we had just conquered! We just kept right on
walking, as we had another km to go before the shelter! Luckily this next km was mostly downhill so it wasn't as difficult, but the intense wind and rain more than made up for that!!
We arrived at the first shelter just after 1:00 that afternoon, soaking wet, freezing cold and tired! These shelters are very basic structures for hikers to stay in and cook food. After a quick discussion with the rest of our group, we decided to try to continue on to the next shelter, about a km further so that we were that much closer for the following day (the second day was a much longer hike!). The only problem was, the second shelter was only available on a first come first serve basis so we risked getting there and there not being any rooms. To avoid unnecessary trekking, Eric and Moiz went ahead to the next shelter and called us when they found there was room and we went to meet them there.
We were so excited to get to the shelter, to get our wet clothes off and warm up, that the disappointment was big when we found out that the shelter had
Careful on the rocks!
BY this point, every Korean we pass on the trail is telling us to go back because we won't be able to make it...pfff, we're no wimps! Danger makes us stronger! lol
no heat! It was ice cold in the main room area and the floors were cement which meant every time we had to go anywhere, we had to put our sopping wet hiking boots back on - not a good feeling! We paid 7,000W each for a space to sleep that night and were delighted a few hours later when the ondol flooring kicked on and we were able to somewhat dry the clothes we had to wear the next day. The ondol heating (heating through the floor) saved our butts big time that night! All four of us were crammed in this little room with just enough space for 4 sleeping bags and a little floor space to lay out the wet clothes.
At first we were the only people in the shelter but an hour later a group of 4 Korean men arrived as well. We had brought ramen noodles and hotdogs to cook for dinner that night and were pretty satisfied with our choice until we saw them pull out package upon package of steak, pork and veggies. They had a feast! They had 3 burners for the 4 of them and they had to have
been cooking for 4 hours!
We were told that the electricity in the shelter was only on until 9pm so we played a few rounds of cards after eating and retired early, just as the lights went out. With the help of the ondol flooring, we managed to sleep a few hours that night in between snoring bouts from those around us!
We woke on Friday to a wonderful sight - the storm had passed and the clouds had somewhat gone away. What I mean is that we could see for miles in the distance, but all we could see were peaks of mountains and the top of the clouds! We were above the cloud line!! It was such an amazing view and feeling to realize how high were were, especially after the anti-climactic view at the peak yesterday! However, the storm left it's mark in the form of icy trails so we actually debating going back the same trail we had come on rather than continue on the new trail because the old trail was shorter and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. In the end we decided to go on because the trail should
be less steep, and it was a good decision!
Full of energy and determination we hit the trails but it wasn't long before we were slowed down by the icy hard snow. We were being passed frequently by other hikers, fearless with their crampons, shaking their heads at us, telling us we should not continue...well what else were we supposed to do!??! We had to get down! This one nice Korean man saw us struggling and offered me an extra crampon that he had! Even though it was only on one foot, what a difference it made! He probably saved my life that day if not just making my trek a little more manageable! When we reached the first peak that day (slightly lower than the main peak, but stunning nonetheless) the man was waiting there with another extra crampon in this hand! I decided to give it to Moiz because his shoes were not very grippy and we were both so thankful for his kindness! We told him we would give them back at the bottom of the mountain, but we were unsure if we'd be able to find him once we got down...we could only hope!
Like I said, that crampon probably saved my life, because the trail was "waist deep in snow", just as the woman at the office had warned us! This caused a few problems: Firstly, the posts and rope lining the trail which are a big help on a steep descent were mostly covered in snow, and secondly, "post holing" (where you take a step and the snow gives out under you and you go down deep) was very common! It wasn't long before we turned this into a game (ie next person to post hole buys a round tonight!). There were some parts of the trail so steep that we simply sat on our butts and went down toboggan-style.
Once we reached the clouds, it was very misty and damp, but we saw one of the coolest winter sites ever!! In the wind storm the previous day, the wind was gusting so hard that the snow and rain froze on the trees in their blowing state. A tiny pine needle on a pine tree would have a long tail of frozen ice all along the length of it!! It was something we had never seen before and served to remind
us just how windy it really was the day before! As we neared the main valley along the trail, we expected the level of snow to decrease, but it never did! We did come across some beautiful waterfalls, however, and I can only imagine how beautiful this part of the trail would have been had we been able to see more than 20 feet in front or above us (ie on a clear day!). The trail wound back and forth over the river, and among the trees, always in a mostly downwards direction - much less fatiguing than yesterday, but really hard on the toes and knees!
We finally reached the end of trail around 5:00 - and we'd been hiking since 9! We were relieved to find that the last 3.5 km of the trail was a simple walk along a road, as this was part of the heavily toured area in the National Park. Satisfied and proud of ourselves for a long, difficult hike, we were wandering around Seorak-dong village trying to figure out how to get a bus back to our car when a man ran off a bus to say "This bus to Sokcho. Get
Trying to warm up with ramyon
A group of Koreans sitting near us were having a full-out feast...I swear they were eating for 4 hours they had so much food! Our little ramyon and hotdogs didn't seem so great in comparison!
on!" Seriously, how did he know that that's where we needed to be??? Turns out, he was the man who lent us the crampons! It was just luck that he happened to see us and we were happy to be able to return his crampons to him along with a small gift in appreciation of his kindness!
Finding our way back to the hotel, we crashed there (in a much smaller room than the suite we had the first night), anxious to get some dry clothes on and some warm food in us! We ate cheegay, a spicy stew-like soup with tofu and cucumber and had grilled pork to go along with it. By that time, we had missed the results of the Canada/Russia hockey game as well as the women's figure skating, so we spent the rest of the evening catching up on the Olympics and watching KBS (korean broadcasting system) play over and over and over Kim YuNa's gold medal performance. We all passed out pretty early that night!!
Happy Birthday to Dano! Saturday was my birthday and I woke up feeling sick from the wet and cold hike and the most sore my legs have
EVER felt...it hurt to just walk and stairs were simply out of the question! haha
Our plan for the day was to drive along the east coast and stop at a few cities along the way. Had the day been sunny it would have been an amazing drive, but the clouds masked that a bit. It was still surreal driving along the coast because the entire coastline was covered in barbed wire fence to prevent possible North Korean invasions! What's more is that at certain intervals were little huts where the army would hang out to shoot at potential invaders, should the situation arise, but in some of these bunkers they had put in dummy men and guns to make it appear as though they were actively guarding the country!!
The first place we stopped was called Jeongdongjin, a small city with little to offer except a few unique attractions. First, they hold the Guinness Book of World Record's record for the train station closest to the sea. Woopie. It just looked like any ol' train station, except for the hordes of people crowded in trying to watch Korea lose to Canada in speed skating on the big
View in the morning
Once the storm ended, it was breathtaking up there! We were above the clouds!
screen tv....hahahah... We also saw a giant hourglass that was used in a few popular Korean soap operas and movies. Then came the cool things! The US navy donated an old naval ship to Korea and so that is on display for touring, which we did! It was cool to see the rooms where the different people slept, the galley, the control rooms, except it lost it's credibility a bit with all the fake plants and flowers that had been set out throughout the ship!
Set beside the ship is a North Korean submarine that had crashed into the coast of South Korea. The story goes that the commander killed the 11 crew members after the crash, burned half the sub to destroy some important documents and tried to escape ..and failed. The sub is really small, hard to believe that some 15 or 20 people crammed in there, but it was interesting to see. The guide book said "You can still see the room where the commander burned the documents" which seemed intriguing..except the room has the charred "look" achieved through paint and such...who knows if it's the real burnt room!
Probably the most interesting thing was this
small wooden boat that we actually walked passed initially without giving it a second thought. It seemed like a plain boat, nothing special. The cool thing about this boat was that 11 North Koreans built this boat in secret, over the period of a year, to escape from North Korea! They managed to get out undetected and it took them 4 days to sail to this city in South Korea. They arrived in Korea on September 29, 2009, meaning that we were here when it happened!! We were surprised that we hadn't heard about it in the news or anything!
We made a quick stop by a Korean War Memorial of an airplane and a statue of some soldiers and took a quick drive by this unique resort - it looks like a cruise ship and it's sitting on the top of a cliff on the edge of the coast! We stopped for lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant that seemed to be out of all the food we wanted to order, but the best part was the big screen TV broadcasting the Olympics! Of course they were showing speed skating, because that's what Korea excels at (they got
13 of their 14 medals in speed skating!). However, for the 3 races we watched (and cheered against the Koreans in) Canada came out on top every time! Go Canada Go!
Next we made our way to Samcheok, where we had arranged to meet Mara and Drew for dinner, as they had just spent the day in Samcheok. We decided to splurge on a big hotel room, giving the excuse that it was my birthday, but really, we all knew we wanted the big room because it had a large TV and we wanted to watch the Canada/Slovakia hockey game that played earlier that day but that we had yet to hear the results of! In true Canadian fashion, we ordered pizza and beer and sat in the hotel room to watch the game! Moiz, a die-hard soccer fan, had a lot to learn about our love of this sport, and he got his fair share during this 5 day trip! After some delicious pizza (the last thing I wanted for my birthday dinner was Korean food!!haha) we enjoyed a great chocolate cake courtesy of Mara and Drew! Luckily Canada won the hockey game, and we all fell asleep
that night happy!
Sunday was our last day on our roadtrip and we fit a lot in that day! Our first stop was the Hwanseon Cave, the largest limestone cave in all of Asia, and large it was!! They had walkways throughout the cave that totaled 1.6km on top of a 1.3km uphill climb just to get to the entrance of this cave (and my legs were stilll soooo sooooreeee from the hike, so this 1.3km felt closer to 10km!)! There were all kinds of different formations made from the way water drips, flows or ceases to flow in the cave. Some of the formations are thought to be the only ones of their kind in the world! The pathways wound through the cave, lined with neon lights, through areas with names such as Desire Falls, Love Way, Devil's Den and Bridge of Confessions. On the Bridge of Confessions, it said to throw away your sins so that you could live happily ever after - wow, what a great deal! haha. There were tons of water falls in the cave, including one body of water that they had no idea the actual depth of!
After the cave exploration
we made our way to Haeshindang Park just outside of Samcheok for an interesting tour of what is popularly called Penis Park. No, that's not a typo, it's a park filled with statues of penis. But there is a reason for this! There is a legend in the area (this is in a fishing village) that one day a young virgin was lost and sea and died. Following this incident, the supply of fish for the fisherman dropped sharply and no one knew why. One day a man "relieved himself" into the water and the fish miraculously started to return. Their conclusion? The (dead) virgin was killed having never been satisfied by a man, so she was keeping the fish from the village. Once the man released his fluid into the water, she was fully satisfied and allowed the fish to return. Obviously. Isn't that what you would think too????haha So anyways, for a couple years they held a penis festival in this village, including a penis carving contest, much of which can still be seen today at the park, in addition to penis benches, fence posts and even wind chimes. It's really hilarious to see the creativity some people
had when carving these wooden phalluses. This culture really holds nothing back at times!!
One of the funniest parts was this family who had a couple little kids with them because the parents were having a riot getting the kids to touch these statues and stuff, while these poor innocent kids were oblivious to what they were touching!! Check out the pictures of it to see how cute the kids were!! Besides the park, this village was also on the coast and it was gorgeous! The water was blue and green and there were lots of rocks everywhere!
Finally we were beginning our journey back to Yangsan, and because Monday was a holiday, we assumed traffic would not be an issue. We couldn't have been more wrong! First we had to pass through this town that was having a huuuuuge crab festival resulting in tons of traffic tie-ups, then every road was busy, so we got back to Yangsan too late to return the rental car. It actually turned out to be a good thing because with a few hours extra with the car, we were able to make a run to Costco having the luxury of a
trunk to cart things! After getting lost a couple times we strolled into Costco at 9:45, 15minutes before closing time, got our fix of cheese and wine and we home just in time to get 3 hours of sleep before waking up at 4am to watch the USA/Canada gold medal game in the Olympics!
After a great hockey game, we went back to sleep then prepared the dreaded return to work on Tuesday! We have been so spoiled these last two months, barely working, so the prospect of 20 weeks with no long weekends at all isn't overly appealing!!
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