Monday, January 7, 2019

Seoraksan National Park

A visit to Sokcho City in Gangwon Province at the east coast of South Korea in autumn season is not complete without a visit to Seoraksan National Park. Seoraksan or Mount Seorak is popular for hiking especially when the leaves change colors.

Directions to Seoraksan from Sokcho City
From Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, walk 100m towards the traffic light on your right (when facing the road), cross the road, turn left 20m to the bus stop and take bus #7 or #7-1 (1400 won; 45 minutes) to Sogongwon Entrance bus stop 설악산소공원 (the last stop).

Admission Fee
At the entrance of Seoraksan National Park, one must pay the admission fee of 3500 won.

Activities in Seoraksan National Park
Hike, hike, hike!!! Seoraksan National Park covers a wide area and have, therefore, many trails. In the eastern portion of Seoraksan National Park called Oeseorak or Outer Seorak (a portion of which is a part of Sokcho City), there are a variety of trails from short 1-day (few hours) hikes to 2-day and 3-day hikes. The 1-day hiking trails at Oeseorak are:

  • Biryong Falls Course – 2.4 km, 50 minutes one way, trail grade C (bit of slope, low difficulty level)
  • Geumganggul Cave Course – 3.6 km, 1 hour 40 minutes one way, trail grade C
  • Yangpok Course – 6 km, 3 hours 50 minutes one way, trail grade C
  • Ulsanbawi Rock Course –  3.8 km, 2 hours 20 minutes one way, trail grade B (slope is relatively severe and takes a long time)

If one doesn't like hiking, don't go to Seoraksan! Just kidding. At Oeseorak, there are less strenuous activities, too. The easiest activity, and most popular of all, is to take the Seoraksan Cable Car to Gwongeumseong. From the upper cable car station, it is just a 15-minute walk to the Gwongeumseong Fortress. The roundtrip ticket costs 10,000 won. Other activities are strolling around the park near the entrance and visiting Sinheungsa Temple, just a short walk from the park. And if one gets hungry, there are restaurants and cafes in the park and at the lower Seorak Cable Car station.

How I Spent My Day in Seoraksan National Park
The bus deposited me at Seoraksan National Park a little after 7AM, and before commencing my hike, I sat on a picnic table outside a restaurant (still closed at this early hour) to eat my convenience-store-bought breakfast. It was too cold outside, but, with a long hike up ahead, filling my stomach was more important than finding warmth. While I was eating (and shivering), an elderly man came up to me and remarked that it was too cold out and invited me in to the restaurant so I could eat my breakfast in warmth. I obliged and thanked him for his kindness.

Since it was too early to take the Seorak Cable Car (operating hours is from 9AM to 530PM) to Gwongeumseong, I didn't dillydally and started my hike to Ulsanbawi Rock. I figured I would take the cable car when I returned from my hike—if I still had time and energy by then.

The hike started easily through tree-lined pathways, across a bridge, and passing by a towering Buddha and three temples: Sinheungsa, Anyangam, Naewonam.




Then it was through the woods, where the path was clear in that it was a steel pathway over boulders switching to a plain old rocky pathway then to steps fashioned from rocks then transitioned to steel staircases. Some trees were already going bald, but some had just turned their colors. I even spotted a squirrel along the way.

A squirrel!

It was quite an easy walk and after about an hour, I reached Gyejoam Grotto. According to the information board, Gyejoam Grotto was built in 652! There is an hermitage built in the cave. And there is also a Logan or rocking stone which doesn't fall when pushed (maybe because it is too large and too heavy to be pushed!).

Gyejoam Grotto

Logan or rocking stone

Looking up from Gyejoam Grotto, I could see Ulsanbawi. Looks like I'm near! A signpost happily (if I signpost could) confirms and points the way to Ulsanbawi: 1 kilometer!

Looking up from Gyejoam Grotto, I could see Ulsanbawi

Almost there!

What the signpost did not tell me was that it was one kilometer of steep stairs. Whether steel or stone, it didn't make any difference—it was all steep and I huffed and puffed and stopped and caught my breath and huffed and puffed and stopped and caught my breath and on and on. Yup, the stairs were breathtaking, but so was the view. And the latter was what made me push myself to take another step (and the fact that it was too late to turn back).

I asked myself "Why am I here?"

I asked myself again and again...

...and again

The views made me push forward

Are we there yet?

I thought the stairs would never end. An ajumma overtook me on her hands and knees! She was crawling on the stairs but was way faster than me! I never did catch up with the ajumma, but in the end, we both reached our goal: Ulsanbawi Rock! (It was an easy climb in the sense that the trail was mostly stairs, but difficult in that it was a lot of stairs!)

Zoom in: Ulsanbawi

Zoom out: Ulsanbawi

I reached Ulsanbawi at 10AM (2.5 hours after I started). The sun was out, the sky was blue, there were clouds here and there, and the wind was blowing. Hard. The wind seemed intent on turning me into an ice cube! I had my camera with me but I whipped out my phone to take photos (and selfies) to send home...but in a few minutes it died. Stupid battery could not take the cold—it was probably close to 0°C whenever the wind blew.

Sokcho City as seen from Ulsanbawi

I went to every platform and observation deck available at the peak, and whenever the wind blew, I scuttled behind rocks. It wasn't long before I, myself, could not take the cold and decided to descend the mountain.

In two hours, I was back down at the trail head and made my way to the cable car station, where I saw an announcement that the next available ticket was for 2:35PM—and it was only 1PM! I didn't have anything else planned for the day and went ahead and bought myself a ticket. I killed time by having lunch at the restaurant in the cable car station, then roaming around the park, and, ultimately, just sitting and resting my tired feet.

Admiring the trees around the park

An hour and a half rest re-energized me (but not my cellphone's battery) and I was raring to go. The quick 5-minute cable car ride to the upper station afforded me a view of the mountainside awash in the pretty colors of autumn.

Cable car to Gwongeumseong

The view on that quick 5-minute cable car ride

Pretty autumn colors

The view from the upper cable car station

After that long and steep hike to Ulsanbawi, the 15-minute hike to Gwongeumseong Fortress from the upper cable car station was a breeze! When I got there, I forgot it was a fortress and forgot about looking for ruins. Instead, I was captivated by the sight of nearby peaks and the sun rays that squeezed their way in between.

Gwongeumseong Fortress

The sun tried to penetrate the thick clouds

My ears perked up when I heard some ladies speaking in Cebuano (my language). One said (in Cebuano), "Oh! It's so beautiful here! And that was an easy hike! I want to be a mountaineer when I go back home (to Cebu)!" And, thinking of my hike to Ulsanbawi earlier, I chuckled and thought: "Be careful what you wish for, friend!"

Sokcho+Seoul+Gwangju, Autumn 2018
Itinerary and Expenses: 10D/10N Seoul and Sokcho
Sokcho, Gangwon-do
Sokcho Accommodation: With U Hotel & Guesthouse
See Sokcho
Seoraksan National Park (you're here!)
Seoul Accommodation: Hostel Tommy
Finding Solace in the Midst of Seoul's Urban Jungle
Art Museums in Seoul
Food for the Seoul
Unhyeongung Palace, Cheong Wa Dae, Jogyesa Temple
Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do
UNESCO World Heritage: Namhansanseong Fortress

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