It’s no secret that hiking is a Korean national pastime. But, for Koreans, what is hiking exactly? Back when I was in the states, I imagined hiking to be super rugged and sparse with people.
Here, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most of everything else in this country, it’s just a sea of people. A mostly gently sea, but a sea nonetheless.
I have always wanted to take the cable car up to the top of Seoraksan in fall, or even partially hike just a bit of the way. I feel that I tend to view hiking a little big differently than others. I enjoy going slowly. I’m also cautious. This doesn’t make me the best hiker to have in a group eager to get to the finish line, but it gives me peace and perhaps even a few more meaningful photos.
I went with a group on a tour bus, and we departed at 11am. Excuse me for not remembering everything perfectly, but I was rather discombobulated (and freezing because I was so underdressed). I believe we started climbing around 2 or 3. Seoraksan has many different paths. We did not chose one with a particular “peak”, preferring lots of “star stops” to rushed hiking to get to the peak by sunrise.
If you look at this map below, You can see the red trail that we took. What was so great about this was that it was completed at a much more leisurely pace. We often stopped to just gaze at the stars, and it was incredible. We were able to reach our stop by sunrise for sure, but our hut that was supposed to be our final destination (our “peak” if you will) was pretty depressing. It was freezing, only squat toilets, no toilet paper, and you couldn’t really stay inside the little building because of COVID. Oh well, it was an experience, I suppose.
We didn’t stay long at the stop, and it was definitely a smart choice. I really liked how we left so early, even if it was in total darkness. Using a phone flashlight was all that was needed, and we really beat the crowds. Going down, however, was a different story altogether. The later in the day it was (think around 9 or 10 am here), the more hikers were there going upwards in the same direction we were going down from. One of my weaknesses is going down mountain steps. Part of it is because I have a bit of nerve issue in a toe, and I never know what step on what rock (big or little) will activate it. I actually thought going back down was best because the sunlight allowed for perfect photographs. It was still morning time, so there was a lot of gentle natural lighting to get some incredible fall foilage.
After about two hours, we were finally down. There were times it felt a little bit stressful because of the groups of hikers going up on the same rocks as we were descending, but overall, people were very pleasant and the hike down went very well. There were a variety of cute little cafes and restaurants to relax at and even sunbathe in the fall rays on such a beautiful fall day weekened.
Overall, I’m so happy I pushed myself to do this hike. It was my first time doing it in the dark, and I was a little nervous about it. But it worked out so well! I was with a small group of people that were very helpful and kind. They were like my little cheerleaders. I’m looking forward to get better at hiking and pushing myself to do more challenging trails in the future.
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