I've been talking about going to Seoraksan for over two years now, but finally over the long weekend this month I finally got to go. We took the bus Saturday afternoon (we were stuck in Seoul on Sat. morning for a wedding) and got to Seokcho, the largest city outside of the park around 6:30. There are many places to start hiking, but we decided to sleep in 설악동 (Seorakdong) so that we could start hiking early in the morning from 소공원. It took about half an hour to get there from Seokcho on the local bus #7. We stayed at a small minbak (home stay type accommodation) for 40,000 won for the night and explored the "town" around there. There was about 6 or 7 restaurants and a few minbak and that was about it. Finally we settled down on some benches had had some 옥수수 막걸리 or corn flavored makkoli. It didn't taste bad and seems to be all the rage lately in Gangwon-do province.
Before retiring for the night we looked at the stove and found that the host of this minbak had fried up some 메뚜기 or crickets as an anju for beer. She encouraged us to try some and while the boyfriend was brave enough, I just photographed the experience.
We woke up early and started hiking just before 7 am. Right at the start of the trail, we passed through this temple called 신흥사, Sinhungsa, with an enormous Buddha. We didn't spend a lot of time here, though, because we wanted to hit the trail.
We stopped for some breakfast of 산재비빔밥 or mountain vegetable bibimbap. This kind of bibimbap is always quite popular in mountain areas around Korea.
The trail provided all sorts of exciting sights. Like these rock climbers scaling up a huge rock face.
Speaking of rocks, that's probably what makes Soraksan so amazing. It's got such amazing views of rocky peaks and cliffs. I've never seen a mountain like it here in Korea.
Shelters like this were vital to our survival up here. There was nowhere to fill up on fresh water for free (except for the temple, but that wasn't until later) and so we had to stock up on our water supplies at each place. It is also possible to sleep in these shelters, but most need reservations ahead of time. The one we stayed at is first come first serve, though, but I'll talk about that later.
천당폭포, Chongdang waterfall
Finally after 7 hours of hiking, mostly up, we arrived at our shelter 소청대피소, Sochong Shelter. We were a little concerned about getting a place to sleep as sleeping arrangements are first come first serve, but we had no problem arriving at 3 o'clock and getting a spot. Some folks arrived around dusk and found they were out of luck. Our back up plan if we couldn't sleep here was to go down to 봉정암, Bongjongam temple because they also offer simple accommodations there.
We walked down to Bongjongam temple for dinner (I'll make a separate post about this later) and came back up in time to catch sunset over the mountains. It's a fantastic place to watch the sunset, and it's less than an hour to the highest peak. Many people get up at 3 am to catch the sunrise up there as well.
Our accommodations were simple to put it lightly. They had about 20 people jammed in this tiny room. It might not be the best place for tall people as our feet were constantly brushing up against the people sleeping across from us and we're abnormally short people. ...But, then again, for only 4,000 won for blanket rental and a place to lay your head down it might be worth the discomfort for only one night... personally I'd do that rather than lug a heavy tent up the mountain.
Koreans hiking, particularly hiking overnight, are really amazing. Clearly, the term "roughing it", at least when it comes to food, is not something they've ever heard of. At every shelter, Koreans crowd around tables, blankets, benches... basically anywhere with a flat space to sit and cook, pull out their cooking stoves and not just cook something simple like ramen, but pull out three course meals full of samgyupsal, jjigae, and any panchan you can imagine. I when I look at the packs that they carry up the mountains... even for day trips... I marvel at the size and always wonder what they could possibly need for a few hours or even one night. But then when the bottles upon bottles of makkoli, containers full of panchan and meat of all varieties come out it all makes sense.
Now myself and the boyfriend... are not that Korean evidently. The night before leaving we deliberated for a while what we would bring to eat. We were assuming kimbab would make the most sense, but bringing ice packs along is extra weight that we didn't want and so that wouldn't be a solution for food for day two. Then suddenly a genius idea came to me. The most basic of American food, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just what we needed. The boyfriend, not ever having heard of this invention, was a little skeptical, but went along with me for once and we got some bread, peanut butter and jam in a squeeze bottle and packed up for our trip. We also brought along a few apples, crackers, cup ramen (bad idea without any hot water on the mountain), and cookies.
But the boyfriend was really impressed by the peanut butter and jelly. Lightweight, no need to keep cold, no mess (as long as your careful) it's really the best thing we could have brought. We laughed at all the ajummas and ajosshis with their huge packs while ours was full of such light things. But, we were also a little jealous as they were eating their dinners of samgyupsal as we ate half a peanut butter sandwich each.
We hit the trail around 6 am the next morning, we were one of the last ones out of the shelter. Many took off at 3 in the morning. I'm not sure how you can see at that time, but maybe they have lanterns with them. We got to the highest peak, 대정봉 (daechongbong), before 8 am. We were rewarded with beautiful sights. And as we found out later, people find it very impressive if you tell them that you climbed up to 대정봉 people will think that you're really amazing and you'll get a lot of "ooh!"s and "Ahh!"s from your Korean friends. Most people aren't so hardcore and just do easy 4 hour hikes.
It took us another 5 hours to hike down. On a path that should have taken 3-4 going down. I've been having some knee issues lately and while going up was no problem, going down was sheer agony. Not sure what my problem is. But, whatever. We finally made it down and rewarded ourselves with a big order of 산재정식 and they brought out bowls and gochujang so we could make our own 비빔밥. It felt amazingly good to eat hot food and something other than bread and crackers.
Our recommended trail: From 설악동, we went up to 천불동계곡. From there we went up to 소청봉. We stayed at 소청대피소 which is 20 down the trail from 소청봉. In the morning we hiked back up to 소청봉 and continued up all the way to 대청봉, the highest peak on the mountain. From there we took the trail that leads down to 오색. While you do need a little endurance, I wouldn't say this trail is too hard. It took us about 7 hours to hike up on day one, then another hour hiking up in the morning and 5 more to hike down (going very slowly). That was with lots of breaks too. Folks more in shape than us could do it faster. When one ajosshi asked us where we had started from around noon time he kind of laughed and said... "Well, you must have taken a lot of breaks, huh?" which made me feel a little embarrassed... This is certainly not the only course you can take, but it was nice and there weren't many people on the trail at all. Nothing like the horror stories I've heard in peak season when the mountain is attacked by leaf peepers. I think June was a really perfect time to go. Weather was really nice, not too hot, not cold, not crowded etc.
Getting to Seoraksan: Take a bus from any of the bus terminals from Seoul (Dongseoul is the fastest) to Seokcho. From there take a local bus to your starting point of departure. You can take bus #7 or 7-1 from across the street from the Seokcho Bus Terminal to Sorakdong. Other starting points would require you to take different buses. Taxis are also readily available and often line up at ending points to bring tired hikers back to the city. From 소공원, So park near Sorakdong there is a cable car for the folks less inclined to hiking, too.