Sometimes a place you visit makes you realize how majestic this world is. When you stand on the peak of a mountain and feel the cool mist of clouds wafting across your skin. When you look out over a rugged and savage vista and, for just a moment, you feel like an eagle priviliged to look down upon Nature in all her glory. Or when your fingers trace the stone and touch the root of a tree burrowed stubbornly into an inhospitable surface; reaffirming your belief that life is brave and wild and tenacious in its will to survive. Some places just make you feel alive. I found a place like that this weekend at Seoraksan (설악산) National Park.
My friends Courtney, Mary, and Roman invited me on an epic trip up Highway 7 on the east coast of South Korea to the northern region of Gangwan-do Province, maybe 30 km from the North Korean border. It was one of Korea’s most popular national parks and the site of the nation’s third tallest mountain, Seoraksan. Just north of Yangyang and west of Sokcho is the entrance to the park, where you pay a modest parking fee (about $4) and an even more modest entry fee (about $2.50) to get access to the park.
From there, there are many options available to the ambitious hiker. On Saturday, we chose to hike up Ulsanbawi (울산바위), which consists of around 4 hours of solid hiking and 888 steps. Many are up the side of a cliff face on a metal stairway bolted to the mountain. It’s a great hike, not too difficult, but not very easy either. The last stretch definitely makes your calves burn, but once you get to the top you can get a great view of some awesome rock peaks! Unless, of course, you have our luck and do the hike when the cloud cover is so low and thick you can barely see 10 meters. We really have the best luck when it comes to that kind of stuff! Despite the lack of a view, it was a great hike, though we were very tired.
That night we camped for free at the park campground. It wasn’t SUPPOSED to be free, but we can’t help it if there wasn’t anyone at the desk either day! Snooze they lose, eh? It was only 2,000 won ($2) a person, so we weren’t too concerned about the cost. Still… free is nice. We camped, cooked, and had a merry time with each other and Courtney’s family, who are visiting her for a few weeks. Hear that Mom and Dad? Other families are coming to visit…. *hint hint*
The next day I rose at the crack of dawn (literally up before 6… on my own… no alarm. Shocker) and hiked a Big Rock-sized hill behind the campground. There was no path, so it was pretty tough going, but it was nice to sit for a while, clear my mind, and relax. Sometimes an hour or so alone with your thoughts is the best thing for a soul. After I made it back and everybody else woke up, we had a tasty communal breakfast and went back to the park. We took the easy way up Gwongeumseong Mountain in the form of a cable car. The clouds were mercifully absent today, and we marveled at the beauty of the Taebaek Range as the wind strove to blow us from the summit. Growing up in Washington State, I have a deep love for the mountains and a sense of awe never ceases to fill me when I stand at the top of one. While Korea’s mountains aren’t as big as Washington’s, they are impressive and awe-inspiring in their own way; and I love it.
Top of the world
Click here for a video Roman made about the trip. And check out the photo slideshow below!