Last weekend we decided to (finally) head out for our first sojourn out of Seoul since moving in in August, and joined a tour of Seoraksan National Park, located on the eastern side of Korea. We got up before sunrise (a shocking 6 AM alarm, one of only three times we have been required to get up at the ring of an alarm in the last three months), and caught the tour bus.
When we arrived at 1 PM we were given the choice between an easy hike and a difficult hike. Daredevils that we are, we opted for the difficult hike, and set off with hundreds of other people, enjoying the sight of the tanpoong, Korean for the red, yellow, and orange autumn foliage.
The trail up was quite like a line at an amusement park, complete with foot-traffic jams that left us at a dead standstill on the trail. Every ten minutes or so, we would come across a large establishment of restaurants where hikers could unload and grab some food and alcoholic beverages before continuing on their arduous journey.
Early in the hike, we heard a helicopter far in the distance and saw two men running up the mountain with stretchers roped around their back. Soon after, the helicopter was hovering directly above our heads, moving only slightly for about ten minutes. By the time the helicopter left, all of the leaves were blown off the trees, and we were scrambling through six inches of leaves on the trail. Hopefully the person the helicopter picked up is okay. It is important to heed such advice:
The crowd started to thin out as the hike got steeper and turned into a pretty solid set of stairs.
The stairs were just attached to solid rock, barging their way straight to the top. I avoided looking down as the stairs were always shaking and vibrating with people going up and down, but the view was amazing.
We finally made it to the top, and could hardly see over the crowd crammed at the top. Vendors selling medals and pictures certifying one’s ascent of the mountain were crammed in with tourists moving to get a glimpse over the railing. We took one look at this bumbling crowd, I shoved my camera in the air to snap a few pictures, and promptly turned around and headed right back down.
Luckily we found small turn off with a slightly lower viewpoint off the mountain, much less crowded than the first, and got to take some time to appreciate the views of the surrounding mountains and the Eastern coast of Korea, stretching all the way to the Sea of Japan.
On our way back down, we got to grab some ice cream cones and relax a little before heading back down.
On the bus ride, we were sleepily waiting to get to our hotel when we heard “Ryan Dunn” from the seat in front of us. It turns out that Ryan’s friends coworkers were on the trip and meant to keep an eye out for him. We spent the night in a small mountain town playing cards, under the hostile eye of the hotel worker whose television program was interrupted by our presence in the lobby.
The next morning, we went on an easy walk through Jujeonggol Valley. The water was perfectly clear and the rocks underneath were differing shades of red, blue, green, and orange, making the river quite magical.
The trip was wonderful, and we’re hoping we can go again at a time that there are less people; this was one of the peak times of the year due to the autumn foliage, but hiking in general is just a busier affair in Korea than in the US. Even with all the people, Seoraksan was beautiful, and a nice break from Seoul.