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Published: October 22nd 2010
As I write this blog my body has only just recovered from the trauma that was Seoraksan, and that was four days ago now…
It’s autumn time in Korea and in the true, unique nature of Korean people; everyone pulls on their spandex, jumps on a bus and heads east from Seoul to Seoraksan National Park, home of the third largest mountain in South Korea. To say that the trail was crowded would be an understatement. To illustrate further my point we faced pre-sunrise traffic jams (on foot!) and were frequently bashed by the bandana clad, pole wielding Koreans who seemed to have left their usual friendly demeanours back in the city.
We met up with the Seoul Hiking Group and local celebrity/ kook/ all round nice guy Warren at 11pm and drove the three hour journey which was our only allotted time for sleeping. (As if that wasn’t gruelling enough, we had already faced a field trip with our kindergarten students to Lotte World, a busy children’s theme park, earlier that day). Stepping from the bus in our hiking gear into the dark and blisteringly cold night at 2.30am was tough, and it didn’t get any easier! We
switched on the head lamps and got going up the steep wooden stairway that was the beginning of the trail. Even at this ungodly hour, there were so many people around that the trail resembled a scene from the famous New York blackout. Despite the crowded scene, we were immediately treated to the first of what would be many beautiful sights on our journey. Looking up at the star studded sky was truly a novelty - the first time we had seen stars since being in Korea, away from the ambient lights and smog of the Neon cities. The sky was as clear as could be and we were staring into the night, millions of shining stars glaring back at us! We take it for granted that such a scene is always above us, but when viewed in all its splendour, it never fails to take one’s breath away.
The stairways became less and less and the steep trail wound around trees and boulders until we reached a V shape between two rocks requiring a shove up the bum to scale. We often could not distinguish our immediate surroundings due to the darkness but four hours later, dawn broke
as our legs tired and we could finally see beautiful Seoraksan.
By 8am we reached the first mountain shelter, Jung Cheong, and were welcomed by a note tied to the sign post that Warren had passed almost two hours earlier (this proved to be a “rough guess” by Warren based on the position of the sun and apparently a poor guess, I was pleased to hear). True to form I rushed straight to the bathroom to use the facilities and, cold and weary, I found a crowded bathroom with pushy users, a noisy pooper and no running water. But at least they weren’t squatters! No, they came later… Inside the shelter were large, bunk-bed like structures for sitting around and communal napping, so we naturally obliged, shivering in the draft trying to snatch half an hours sleep while we could.
Awake again and back into the wind, we continued the trail towards Hui-un-gak shelter which was rocky and often varied between hiking up and down. From this trail we could see right into the valley, across the whole of the mountain range and, to our left, the North Korean ranges. We took time for the necessary “I’m on
top of the world” photo-op’s and spent energy scaling cliffs, which I would regret in hindsight when these Bambi legs of mine started to struggle.
Since dawn and the misty sunrise, the scenery around us had been stunning but from the summit, we were provided with breathtaking views of craggy mountain ranges dressed in autumn colours and the clouds below us: it was worth enduring the biting cold to rest a while and take it all in. From Hui-un-gak shelter, where we passed and settled for a picnic and another, awkwardly situated nap on top of rocks and foliage, we began a steep descent into a valley (Yang-pok) where the temperature started to rise and the wind-chill had much less of an effect, making for a much more pleasant hike. It was deep in this canyon that the yellows, golds and orange leaves became accented with a brilliant red. We passed continuous waterfalls and streams through the gorge, the freezing water a relief for our aching feet. Looking up at the path behind us from which we had descended I could hardly believe that we’d been at the summit hours earlier.
We reached the finishing point of our
hike, Bi-seon dae Rock, by 5pm but there was still another 2.5kms to the park exit, but at least it was flat and leaving the park we passed a giant stone Buddha. We waved him goodbye as we walked for our bus which would take us to our Hostel in Sokcho where it was time to shower, eat and enjoy a twelve hour sleep.
Next morning we all awoke to aching muscles but felt surprisingly well rested so we spent our final few hours before the (longer than usual thanks to traffic) journey back into Seoul, at the beach which is apparently lined with barbed wire (although we could not see it from where we sat) to keep out the North! Not one to disappoint, Warren even put on a show and took a dip in the water before we left; rather him than me!
Overall, the route we took through Seoraksan was a considerable challenge at times, for me at least, with my dubious legs and barely existent body strength, especially considering our early start. But by the end, although I was in more pain than I’d have cared to admit at the time, it was a
wonderful experience up there in the fresh air surrounded by the stunning views, with good friends and best of all, my lovely Daddy (a hiking fanatic) who was visiting us in Korea.
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