Little did I know, a surprise side-trip adventure was waiting for me. As the plane started to descend at the Chinggis Khaan airport in Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi desert greeted me. At the arrival, it was the cold weather’s turn to say hello. I already had my winter jacket on, but it was freezing!
It was that time of the year again to reflect, restart and refocus and the place I called my second home, South Korea, was the choice of destination.
I went back to South Korea to restart my life button and experience Fall. Without a full itinerary on hand and only listed 2 activities, the rest was unplanned and unexpected.
What better way to breathe and free your mind than to be one with nature.
That’s what I did last October 2015. I hiked Seoraksan and Dobongsan mountains to experience Fall Foliage and I was not disappointed.
Seoraksan Fall Foliage Photos:
I hiked Seoraksan twice back in April 2014 and last year October 2015 (see my previous post here), the expectation of the level of difficulty was known as I had done it before, while Dobongsan was harder to climb because of its rocky hiking trail according to the reviews I’ve read.
Dobongsan is located in Bukhansan National Park and very accessible via subway train (Dobongsan Station). It’s one of the most popular hiking trail for locals, so if you hike during weekends, this hike is pretty busy with local hikers.
Despite the level of difficulty I headed my way to Dobongsan and began my Fall Foliage journey.
I was never fully geared (wore my favorite running shoes) for hiking, except the hiking stick I bought at one of the stores along the way. Thank goodness, I read somewhere that hiking stick is a must so I bought because I don’t really know what to expect, and true enough the trails were far more difficult to climb.
There were a lot of local hikers when I started, but in the end the crowd went by and I was left alone traversing the trail and enjoying the different fall colors.
As I went farther and farther, exhaustion and frustration nearly got in my way. The rocky trail made it so difficult to reach the peak, although I had lots of rest in between (and some cursing) and my 1.5-liter bottle was nearly empty not even half-way through the journey. But after a while, the weather seemed to hear my rambling and the wind got cooler and somehow eased my discomfort as I moved on.
After almost 2-km and more than an hour hike, I’ve reached the first resting spot, Madangbawi Rock, with an exquisite panoramic view. This was not even the peak and the view was already breathtaking. The pit stop was crowded by hikers. I joined the rest of the hikers and sat down for half an hour, ate my gimbap, having second thoughts whether to continue to Jaunbong Peak or not.
Since the goal was to really go on top, I decided to continue the journey. And glad I did. As I made my way to the top, the Fall Foliage was absolutely stunning. If only I can sit down and enjoy more of the scenery, I will spend more time just looking at the maple tree leaves glittering from the rays of the sun. But time is running out and still have not reached the peak and I need time to descend as well.
With my aching feet and arms and after another hour from Madangbawi Rock, I was damn shocked that I still have to climb (almost vertical) while holding on to the rustic steel bar drilled on the rock to reach the top.
I sat down and watched as the hikers made their way up and down to and from Jaunbong Peak. I was observing the other hikers how they climb up and when I was comfortable enough, I mustered the courage to try myself. I finally reached the peak with relief and awe on yet another stunning panoramic view.
I thought the trail going up was hard enough that going down will be easier, but I was TOTALLY WRONG. As I went down the rock, the footholds are wide apart making it more difficult to go down, obviously I don’t have long legs to reach one foothold to another. I slid down slowly on the foothold while hanging on to my dear life.
It took me almost 1.5 hours to descend from the mountain following the same route. I was exhausted, my arms were so tired, my legs almost collapsing, I reached the ground after a very long almost 5-hour hike.
That was it for the day! Headed back to the hostel, ate my dinner, cleaned up, had my face mask and slept soundly through the night for the next day adventure!
Somehow hiking clears my mind and makes me refocus to what is more important in life. While on top of every peak, it is as if I am closer to God, and I always whisper how grateful I am for all the blessings He has given me over the years. Forever grateful for being able to witnessed such beautiful creation.
From my previous post, South Korea – Hiker’s Haven (Seoul Fortress Wall), I cited that hiking in Korea is one of its main attractions, however some travelers may not be keen to explore as it may require some level of physical fitness to be able to reach the highest point.
Korean mountains trails vary from one to the other. Definitely the experience and fulfillment is different as every hiker traverse the slopes, ridges and unending stairs (It’s for real, Koreans probably love stairs) to the peak. There are also levels of difficulty from easy to difficult climb, which beginners (like myself) can consider. Some mountains can be a day-hike or multi-day hike, depending on your endurance, you can climb different routes in one go. As for me, I am taking it slow and one at a time.
After my first ever hiking adventure in Seoul, I headed to my next journey.
When I was researching for mountains to hike in South Korea, Seoraksan was on top of the list. Seoraksan is located in Sokcho, Province of Gangwon-do. It is about 3-hour bus ride (either from Seoul Express Bus or Dong Seoul Bus Terminal) from Seoul.
Despite my apprehension to travel outside Seoul City for the first time, I enjoyed the 3-hour ride. A very refreshing, calm and green scenery delighted my way as I traveled to the province.
I stayed in House Hostel for my two trips in April 2014 (Spring) and October 2015 (Fall). I highly recommend this hostel because the place is cozy and the owners are friendly and hospitable. You can book the hostel in Hostelworld.com.
I climbed Seoraksan twice, and I plan to do it again. The adventures I had were totally different but the admiration to its breathtaking view is as if seeing its beauty for the first time.
As you enter Seoraksan National Park, the surrounding gives you a positive vibe and gets you excited to continue the journey.
At first, I did not really consider going to any mountain peak as from the reviews I read at that time, Seoraksan is a “difficult” level. I was supposed to hike the Biryong Falls or Bisondae Cliff course, but these two trails were closed when I went. I hesitated to climb Ulsanbawi Peak. But in the end, I decided to head on and started my journey.
I was no longer surprised to see stairs as I am already used to seeing them in Korea and quite relieved that the trail is not as rough and difficult as what I expected. Similar to Seoul Fortress trail, the national park is well-maintained except for a few rugged ridges and slopes, but still able to pass through.
I was delighted to see the Fall Foliage in Seoraksan during my second visit in 2015.
As I continued my journey, there were also pit stops where you can take a rest and enjoy the amazing view of the Ulsanbawi peak as the overwhelming excitement kicks in.
Giving up was never an option, the mantra I kept telling myself. As I got nearer to the peak, the trail gets steeper and steeper and more stairs to climb.
I am acrophobic and imagine the struggle I had to endure in order to reach the top.
The struggle is for real but the breathtaking panoramic view awaits those who made it to the top.
I did and it was so surreal!
It was so rewarding to be able to be on top. It was my first time to hike a real mountain.
After staying for few minutes at the peak, I headed down with a smile on my face, exhausted but fulfilled. The view made it all worth it.
After the exhausting hike, I went straight to a restaurant and enjoyed my bibimbap and ice cold soda to refresh and went back to the hostel to rest.
I can really go on and on with how amazing South Korea is and still can’t get enough of its beauty.
When I was there the first time, my plans absolutely changed. My itinerary was literally thrown to the bin as I wanted to go to so many places, which are not even on my list and I know I will eventually regret if I don’t go. I told myself there’s no way I can go to all these places given the limited time to spend. But I tried anyhow.
One of the many things I want to do in Korea is to climb and hike the Korean mountains. The exquisite and breathtaking mountain view is one of the unique attractions that Korea offers to travelers apart from the famous sightseeing destinations like palaces, temples, shopping places and themed parks.
Korea is generally a safe place to visit even for female solo travelers and mountains are very safe to hike as most of the national parks are well-maintained and the hiking routes are well-trodden and crowded by a lot of local hikers. I am no professional hiker but I survived my first ever solo hike.
Seoul is unquestionably a modern city, but the people also tried to preserve its tradition and one can witness through its remnants of the fortress wall built many centuries ago. In 2014, I started my first hiking journey with Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan. Bugaksan is one of the mountains that can be climbed by beginners in the middle of Seoul and is a 342-meter high granite mountain.
It is a one-day hike, so not so bad. The night before, I slept early in preparation for my first hike.
I got up early, had my breakfast, took the train and then took my first bus ride and headed my way to the park.
(Important Tip: Most buses do not have English Translation, except for major or tourist destination stops, so it’s best for you to print your itinerary with Hangeul so you can refer to your notes vs the bus stop map)
Although I am a self-declared as someone who has no sense of direction, I was able to reached my destination – Waryong Park, where the hiking journey begins.
Follow the signs and trail to Malbawi Information Center where you will need to show your passport and register.
There are 3 possible courses: Course 1: Malbawi Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.3 km) Course 2: Sukjeongmun Information Center – Sukjeongmun Gate – Baegakmaru – Changuimun Information Center – Changuimun Gate (2.2 km) Course 3: Changuimun Gate – Changuimun Information Center – Baegakmaru – Sukjeongmun Gate – Malbawi Information Center (2.3 km)
So I took Course 1, I presented my passport got myself registered and my visitors ID and started my way.
The Bugaksan Trail is manned by security guards and you are not allowed to take pictures as the area is close to “Blue House” or the President’s House.
With rest in between, aching feet and some sneaky photo taking, the view is really worth it.
The hike is not about the peak or the highest point, but all about the scenery and history embraced and weathered by the fortress wall. However, the view is only witnessed by those who climbed and walk the trail.
This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a lot of stairs (in my whole life) and I have no choice but to traverse the unending stairs to reach the destination. I walked leisurely and followed the well-maintained path while continuously rambling, “Almost there! Just go for it”.
Almost! But… I was only able to climb until 293m or maybe I got lost and did not find my way to Bugaksan peak (342m). Well, it was my first time and there will still be next time.
I sat down for few minutes, photo taking is still not allowed in this area. And after a little while, I decided to go and probably call it a day!
Little did I know that another unending stairs waiting on my way down… Imagine if I took the route from the other side (Course 3), I will be going up these stairs to where I started and no way I could have survived, or maybe I will, but who knows.
After the unending stairs, you will reached Changuimun Information Center, where you need to surrender your Visitor’s ID.
My first hike is over and done! Off we go on the next hike adventure in Sokcho, South Korea to climb Seoraksan. Stay tuned for my next blog update!
You can find more information about Seoul Fortress Wall of Bugaksan here.