Filed under: Korea
Short Version: Last weekend, we trekked up to Seoraksan National Park with 4 friends and a dog. Long roadtrip, the smell of campfire, high hills and hiking, beautiful fall colors. SATISFYING!
Early last Saturday morning, Eric and I met up with two friends from church and two coworkers at a sleepy corner Starbucks. The six of us plus a tiny dog named Bailey piled into a modern-day hippie van to trek up to Seoraksan National Park, which we thought was about a 5-hour drive away. With five of us in actual seats and one in a blanket-nest in the back, the dog sprawled across laps, we spent the morning hours eating gummy worms and listening to everything from the latest Derek Webb album to classic eighth-grade hits like “Summer Girls” by LFO (she said unashamedly).
Seven hours later, after a few u-turns, stretch breaks, and slow hauls up mountain switchbacks in the overloaded van, we made it….to the largest limestone caves in Asia. With our cramped legs, we hiked up to 2,600 feet and got into the caves just before closing. They were incredible. We walked through huge caverns, saw beautiful rock formations, and even passed a bridge over “Hell Canyon,” complete with skeletons which offered the forgiveness of all sin. Oh, Korea. That said, the caves were really unique.
After another few hours in the car, we made it to just outside of Seoraksan Park. In the light of headlamps and headlights, we set up some borrowed tents, gathered damp firewood, and made dinner. Jen had made some amazing chili, which we heated up and followed with s’mores and her homemade apple cider. It was a BEAUTIFUL night – compared to the high-rise smog of Busan, to breathe fresh air and to see stars for the first time since coming to Korea was really refreshing.
We woke up the next morning to fall colors and high hills. We ate a quick breakfast, packed up, and headed to the park…along with hoards of others. We were made to park about a 20-minute walk from the park’s actual entrance, and we all walked en masse towards the mountains, passing vendors selling steamed corn on the cob, boiled silk-worm larva, and morning tea. Even the walk to the park was beautiful though. Seoraksan is right next to the ocean, so the elevation is anything but gradual. Hills over 1,000 feet high just shoot up out of the ground; there are strange rock formations, and gorgeous fall trees everywhere.
We chose to hike up Ulsan Rock, and it took us about an hour before we reached the sheer rock face of the mountain.
There, we set out to climb over 800 steps, fixed seemingly precariously to the rock. I won’t lie – I’ve never been afraid of heights, but after climbing about 300 steps straight up, with shaky legs and white knuckles on the cold metal railing, my stomach felt like it dropped 2 feet down.
Pausing frequently to get our breath back and to shake out our legs, we made our way toward the top, even seeing a real-live moutain goat on the way – our first wild-animal sighting in Korea! At the top, the wind was COLD, so we bought a hot chocolate from the vendor at the very summit (kind of killed the nature aspect, oh well). The view was incredible. To the right – the ocean. To the left – layers and layers of rocky peaks.
We stayed up there for a few minutes before heading down the kind of incline where you just sort of want to let go of control and jelly-leg run down the bottom, crashing in a heap, rather than using your muscles any further to go down step after step.
We stopped to eat a lunch of sweet-potato pajang before trekking down and out of the park. With weary feet, we piled into the van once again for the long drive back. We rode the freeway until we arrived home to Busan around 1 a.m.
Despite being exhausted the next morning, it was one of the best weekends and experiences we’ve had in Korea. Our eyes had their nature need satisfied, and it was good for our souls to do something OUTSIDE.
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