Recalling our busy hike in Sobaeksan National Park only too vividly, when it came to hiking Seoraksan, arguably Korea’s most famous National Park, we hit the trail early. Low, grey clouds hung, threatening, over our heads, but we fought our pessimism and jumped in a taxi, fingers crossed that the rain would hold off.
It didn’t. The past few weeks had been a blur of sunshine and outdoor fun and now, as soon as we had a wonderful 5 day weekend, the so-called monsoon season of Korea seemed to be upon us. We’d already spent one wet night camping in Gangneun (not recommended), but thankfully spent our second night in the campsite in Sokcho dry and happy. But, at 7am, on the morning of the hike we had all been looking forward to, we weren’t so lucky.
Yet, we are not deterred easily and, after Kevin and I bought a bright purple rain mac each, we set off in the drizzle. Whether it was the weather or the time of day, we had those lower trails all to ourselves and it was glorious. The hike we had chosen was to Ulsan Bawi, a 3.8 km one-way course which seemed the best option in the rain. It’s a lovely hike that takes you past temples, along the river and up into the craggy peaks that this National Park is famous for.
When we first saw the ridge, like something straight from the Lion King, emerging through an eerie mist, we were jumping around with excitement. While Sobaeksan was a nice hike, it has nothing on the majesty of Seoraksan’s peaks.
Before we knew it we were at Heundeul Bawi, a tiny hermitage perched on the rocks. While all the locals where having a hilarious time pretending to push over the giant free standing rock to which the hermitage owes its name, Oli, Kevin and I were bowled over by the hundreds of Buddha statues housed inside a cave. Lit by candles and a soft orange bulb, with Buddhist prayer chants echoing along the walls, it was the most mesmerising place.
This is one thing I love about being an expat in Korea- you’ve never seen it all.
After snapping some pictures and taking in the peaceful ambiance, we settled in to clamber up the last hurdle. An incredibly steep incline mostly up an iron staircase clinging to the rock. It was brutal, but amazing to be climbing right into the cloud. Ulsan Bawi is less than 900 meters high, but with no reference points in that mist we felt like we were on top of the world.
Sadly, upon reaching the top, the mist had really taken hold and we could see nothing beyond the rock we stood on. Again, we persevered, we ate some snacks and marveled at the mist moving fast and slow all around us and soon enough it began to dissipate a little.
Seeing Ulsan Bawi reveal itself this way, slowly, and with so must mystery, almost made it even better than if the sun had been shining bright. My pictures don’t do it justice at all, but it was magical.
Seoraksan National Park is a must do if you love hiking as much as we do. Even if you aren’t usually much of a mountain goat, the views on the Ulsan Bawi hike may just convert you.
Which National Parks have blown you away? And have you ever ignored the weather and then been rewarded for doing so? Let’s talk in the comments below!
Update: Are you interested in taking your own amazing journeys in Korea? Our Korea Journey Handbook is now available on the Kindle Store for only £2.58!