Climbing Seoraksan, South Korea (Part1)

12 October 2013

This was a day of many emotions, all packed within 24 hours. A day filled with awe, irritation, peace, frustration, euphoria, fear, calmness and fatigue.

0530 The House Hostel at Sokcho

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The garden patio at The House Hostel
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Entrance

I woke up at an ungodly hour of 5.30am and managed to drag my big butt and equally big backpack down to the kitchen for some sustenance in the form of toast and coffee and decided to cook four hardboiled eggs for some a la Korean style camping food.

Slowly the kitchen started to be crowded as daylight began to break through the ominous grey clouds.

“Dear, do you think we need to bring water for the trek?”

(You are not a camel, right?)*

“Oei, you want to bring the packet ramyun or cup ramyun?”

(I’m impressed by your confidence in getting hot water to cook your noodles in the mountain. Pretty sure there will be hot water dispensers along the trail.)

“I wear 2 layers enough?”

(Well, you seem to have an additional layer of natural insulation so you’ll be fine I suppose.)

“Will it rain? Must bring umbrella?”

(Of course it would rain since you mentioned it. And the brolly would probably come in useful as you try to balance your way up the stairs and slopes of the mountain, and poke an eye or two of your fellow hikers while you are at it.)

*My inner devil thoughts

Shaking my head at the noobs (you should know by now that they are Singaporeans), I heaved my loaded back pack to the living room.

Tip # 1 – Pack light

My back despaired at the heavy load and it sent a quick protest to my brain. So I decided to unload stuff, a lot of stuff, and it was a decision that I was thankful for 6 hours later. Just in case you are wondering what to pack for the overnight hike, here’s the list of items I managed to stuff into the back pack.

  1. Water-resistant and wind-proof hooded jacket (packable)
  2. Long-sleeved synthetic top + t-shirt
  3. Sweat pants
  4. 2 pairs of thick socks
  5. Inner wear
  6. Water (2 litres)
  7. Mobile phone, charger and extra battery (in water proof Ziplock bags)
  8. Sunblock
  9. Toiletries and wet wipes
  10. Sports towel
  11. Food and snacks (kimchi, bowl ramyun, canned tuna, eggs, bread, muesli bars, chocolates)
  12. Plastic bags

Together with my fellow hostel mates, we waited in the bitter cold at the bus stop, craning our necks every five minutes to see if the bus (or any vehicle in fact) was coming along the street. It was a 25 minute wait and a 30 minute ride before we arrived at the parking lot of Seoraksan National Park.

0710

Tip #2 – Always start the climb early

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Entrance to the National Park

I was pleasantly surprised. The mountain was empty! Not an ahjumma or ahjussi in sight!

Walking past the huge bronze Buddha and a nice bridge overlooking a pebbled stream, I stared at Ulsanbawi and its 900 red steps all the way to the top and decided to conserve my legs for the long 11 hour, 20 kilometre hike to Daechongbong.

The walk started off deceptively easy along Biseondae Path which was a shaded tree-lined path along the river. I was the only one on the path, accompanied by the occasional chirping of birds and the sound of my footsteps on the gravel.

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Then, I heard deep breathing and quick steps stomping across the gravel and dry leaves and I instinctively started to walk much faster.

An ahjumma decked out in fluorescent pink hiking gear (the colour of the season apparently), zoomed past me, walking at twice my speed. She was the prelude to the hiking prowess of the Koreans, an ominous foreboding of the fate that awaits me a few hours later.

After about 30 minutes, I reached the waterfall and saw some Chinese inscriptions on the rocks across from me. It was the start of the Cheonbuldong valley which is known for its autumn colours.

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Didn’t understand

0800

Tip #3 – Eat whenever you can

My stomach rumbled, triggered by the wafts of cooked ramyun in the air. Who the hell was having ramyun in the mountain at 8am?

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View from the ramyun jip

Two elderly gentlemen apparently, and they started to wave wildly at me and beckoned for me to come join them on a rice and ramyun breakfast. What I didn’t realise was that there were F&B establishments right in the middle of the valley with tables and chairs lined up along the river and menus boasting all the MSG-laden food that Korea can offer.

I plonked on a red stool beside the two friendly ahjussis and with barely an hour into my hike, I’m slurping ramen and eating riceballs.

Ahjussi #1 peeled an egg for me and plopped it into my bowl and Ahjussi #2 told me repeatedly to eat up as it would be a longgggggg walk ahead, stretching his arms as wide as possible to emphasise his point. I nodded vigorously and slurped my ramyun happily, chugging down an iced cold sikhye to finish the meal.

The ahjussis stood up and I bowed to show my heartfelt gratitude for the meal, and in return, I presented them with bars of Snickers. Both of them patted me on the back, gave me some leftover riceballs and then proceeded to point out to me, the direction of the toilets.

How considerate of them to take care of all my physiological needs.

0900

Tip #4 – Take it slow

Energised by the ramyun (there is just something about MSG that makes you happy), I hiked confidently through the slopes, stairs and uneven paths along the valley, appreciating the autumn colours of the trees. I even ventured out into the middle of the river and sat on a rock while chewing on gummy bears, contemplating the meaning of life as I watched the water gush by. (Actually I was just thinking if I was eating too much.)

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Contemplating the meaning of life

Soon the river disappeared and I was facing a cliff (yes a cliff) of stairs. Hey, the brochure didn’t say anything about this!

This was just the start of many more steps to come for the next 10 hours.

I start the climb, huffing and puffing while dexterous chipmunks ran up along the side. They would stop from time to time, looking wide-eyed at me, as though despising me my lumbering mode and lack of speed.

“Just go ahead and leave me alone!”

Great, I’m starting to talk to animals.

1130

Tip #5 – Don’t give up

You know that feeling? That you are about to get a leg cramp then it disappears and it returns to haunt you in that cyclical manner?

I figured it would be a good time to take a break and munch on some riceballs while contemplating on the meaning of life. (Actually I was having an internal debate on whether to turn back.)

Amy #1: Let’s go. This sucks.

Amy #2: Hey, you’ve so far (and ate so much). Might as well carry on. Hwaiting!

Amy #1: You’re cramping up. Let’s go and find a sauna back in Sokcho.

Amy#2: What about the ridges and the sunrise tomorrow?

Amy#1: Let’s just watch the video on Youtube and google for pictures.

Amy#2: It will be worth it!

I closed my eyes and decided to use the best way to decide on what to do.

Heads, carry on. Tails, turn back.

It was heads.

Damn.

seorak-eng-Daecheongbong2(0)Information: Seoraksan National Park

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