After camping on the beach for free in Namhae and having our first outdoor BBQ in Suncheon we were feeling well and truly summery despite June still being a few weekends away. And not wanting to let go of those feelings we jumped straight into another weekend of camping and sunshine the next week.
Being only a couple of hours from Uiseong we set our sights on Sobaeksan National Park and made our way there on the motorbike straight from work on Friday night. A little research and the help of the Korea National Parks website led us to Samga campsite which was luckily on our side of the park- we managed to have our tents up and food on the stove before the sun went down.
That week my co-teacher had asked me whether I get really tired after all our weekend exploring and, despite the long journeys and random beds and strenuous hikes, I honestly told her no. As soon as our nerdy headlamps were on and our Trangier was cooking up some delicious Ramyeon, we felt completely relaxed and oddly ‘homely’. Getting away from Uiseong and doing the things we cannot do in the week make the weekend seem like a real ‘break’. Funnily enough time goes so much slower on those weekends than when we are relaxing at home.
And samga was a lovely place to break away to. Nestled at the bottom of the Sobaek mountains the camp ground sits amongst the trees with a lovely little (manmade) stream running through the center of it all. That night we were lucky to pitch up in an empty space with no hassle, but the next morning we were soon packed on our way as the place was fully booked for the Saturday night.
It seems that camping has become quite the craze in recent years, meaning from the end of May to early September available camping in Korea is as hard to find as a good cheese. It also means that the tents around you will be monstrous and filled with everything AND the kitchen sink. I’m pretty sure it must have been Korea who first started the glamping trend- we even saw a water filter in one tent and friends have reported seeing projectors too.
Our friend Ben did just fine though in his kids Iron Man tent!
With no place booked and the other campsite, Namcheon, closed until July we intrepidly strapped everything to our backs and began our hike up to Birobong with the hopes of finding a place to rough it on the way.
Not wanting to leave our little camping haven too soon though, we found ourselves amid the late morning rush- a sea of rainbow sports gear, hiking poles and makgeolli breath. Cursing ourselves for dawdling we tried to push on ahead of the crowds, often succeeding but too often coming face to arse with more and more people on the steep ascent up the mountain.
Hiking in Winter was a delighful surprise but hiking in Summer? Almost not worth it.
I usually don’t let things like this get to me, I mean if I want to go hiking on a nice sunny day I can’t lament everyone else for wanting to do the same. However, in Korea it really does feel like EVERYONE sometimes. Hiking up steep, uneven rocks isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do and is even worse when you are having to stop and start all the time because you physically cannot move for people.
As Oli said, it kind of takes the fun out of it.
But I also did say it’s almost not worth it. We love hiking and Sobaeksan has some great trails. The day was only just too hot and the last of the spring flowers were littering the floor and falling from the sky. And the view wasn’t half bad either, if little dusty…
Generous Ajjusshi’s with Japanese beer are also bound to make these waygooks smile.
While the long spidery ridge trails were seducing us, we realised we had no where near enough water with us for the heat of the day and a long nights wild camping ahead. Heading down toward Cheondong, it took us a good hour to finally reach a natural spring, meaning heading back up to do more hiking was a little out of the question.
But a well positioned little restaurant and makgeolli house lifted our spirits, as well as this awesome tree:
Having spotted many signs warning us that camping was frowned upon we hung around until the last straggles of people left before setting up camp. I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on the idea upon seeing what the boys thought were appropriate camping spots and being shooed away by the park rangers, but when we finally found a lovely piece of flat ground next to the stream and the bored guards headed home I couldn’t have been happier to rough it..
Waking up in the middle of the forest, albeit very early, and washing our faces in the icy fresh water was amazing. We packed away quickly but hung around for a slow breakfast, laughing as the early rising hikers pointed at us in utter confusion.
The last part of the trail, down from Birobong towards Damyang was lovely and we stopped often to play in the river and at the gorgeous Darian falls.
I’m not sure how much more hiking we’ll do over the Summer as the crowds and heat increase, but we are glad we got to have this weekend with some of our closest friends, lots of Ramyeon and a couple of thousand brightly coloured Koreans.
Have you been to Sobaeksan? Do you like hiking in the winter or summer best? And how about camping, isn’t it awesome?!
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