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Hikes In South Korea: Seoraksan Mountain Via the Osaek Trailhead

Basic Information

  • Name: Seoraksan Mountain via the Osaek Trail
  • Where: Osaek, South Korea
  • Distance: 16.8 kilometers
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • More Information: Korean National Park Service

GPS Map of the Seoraksan Mountain Trail

Narrative

South Korea is really not a place that comes to mind when people think of great places to hike in the world.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the image of South Korea is often affected by the threat from North Korea.  This often causes people to think of South Korea as some kind of war zone or country under siege.  I also think that the country’s manufacturing prowess also causes people to think of South Korea as some kind of polluted wasteland.  However away from the smog of the big cities South Korea has some amazing national parks.  My favorite is Seoraksan National Park in the province of Gangwon-do.

Being a avid hiker I am always looking forward to hitting the trails whenever I visit Korea. I really enjoy Korea’s scenic mountains, but also because I always seem to run into interesting people as well; this hike would be no different.

I started my day at 0430 in the morning and began hiking towards the summit of Seoraksan’s highest point, Daecheong Peak.  I started my hike from the Osaek Hot Springs Trailhead located in the southern section of the park.  Once at the summit of Daecheong Peak I planned to head to the Seorak-dong Village to meet up with my wife who would be waiting for me there.  The owner of the hotel we stay at every time I go to Seoraksan, the Hyundai Hotel in Osaek drove me to the trailhead that morning.  The owner is really nice guy who runs an older hotel, but the rooms are clean and only 25,000 won ($30). Plus every room has a tub which can be filled with Osaek’s famous hotspring water. The owner will drive you to the nearby trailheads and give you hiking recommendations and advice if you ask. So if in Osaek I recommend staying at his place.

osaek1
The village of Osaek.

The trail to Daecheong Peak had just recently reopened due to the fire danger and the damage to the environment by people leaving litter everywhere. The park authorities have put up banners, signs, and flags everywhere around the park warning people not to smoke, cook, or litter while in the park.

Picture from Seoraksan Mountain

It was really good to see the park trying to do something about the littering and smoking problems in the park because it would be a shame to see this great park end up like the Naksan Park and temple located nearby that received heavy forest fire damage due to probably someone throwing a cigarette butt out of their car.


Soraksan Mountain in the background ringed with clouds.

However, once I proceeded up the trail I found out the awareness campaign has had little effect. About an hour and half into the hike I reached Seorak Falls:

Picture from Seoraksan Mountain

At the falls I found evidence that some hikers had camped at the falls the night before even though the trail was supposed to be closed until opening on Saturday morning. They left trash, two soju bottles, and cigarette butts everywhere. I saw one area where you can tell somebody’s batteries died so they threw the old batteries on the ground and then the packaging for the new batteries was tossed right next to it. What lazy pieces of crap would just throw stuff like this on the ground in Korea’s most beautiful park?

Picture from Seoraksan Mountain

Unfortunately many people do just what these campers did every day in Korea’s parks. This is what frustrates me the most about Koreans. Pack up the trash you take into the park! Don’t leave it on the ground for someone else to pick up! I couldn’t tell you how much trash I have picked up in Korea’s parks, but I was on a 16km hike and didn’t have enough room in my bag or time in the day to pick up all the trash laying around like I usually try and do.

Anyway I proceeded up the trail and an hour and a half later I reached Daecheong Peak which stands at an elevation of 1708 meters and is the third highest mountain in Korea. The view was great, you can see all areas of the park, plus Sokcho, Yangyang, and other areas along the East Coast. There was still some fog covering some areas but all in all a great view.


Marker on top of Soraksan Mountain.

Here are a few pictures that shows the incredible view that can be see from the summit of Seoraksan Mountain:

Picture from Seoraksan Mountain

Picture from Seoraksan Mountain

On the top of the mountain I ran into a group of about 15 hikers who were very friendly and offered me some kimbab and oranges to eat with them. They were surprised to see a foreigner especially a GI up here on the mountain. They were even further surprised that I could speak some very basic Korean. These hikers were on a company bonding trip to the park. These types of trips are common in Korea. They were all employees of some pharmaceutical company in Ansan. They ranged in age from the late 20’s to 50’s. What was surprising was that the top manager on this bonding trip was a guy that was only 29 years old and was younger than 2/3 of his employees. This is an odd thing in Korea.


Descending from the summit towards a cabin that hikers can pay to sleep in overnight.

View looking towards the summit with the cabin in the foreground.

The hikers huddled around me and led by the top manager they gave me the usual interogation one receives when first meeting Koreans. How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a baby? Where are you from? How much do you make? Etc. Etc. I then asked the manager what time they left to reach the summit since they beat me here and I saw nobody else hiking up the trail. He told me they camped at the Sorak Falls and headed up from there. Aha! I found my litter bugs! He then said that they were going to camp at another location at the park Saturday night no doubt to litter that area too before heading down the mountain Sunday to go home to Ansan. Then one of the guys in the group threw the orange peels on the ground. I picked them up and put them in a plastic bag I had in my pack. He asked why I was picking up the orange peels. I told them that it is not right to litter a national park. Then I brought up the fact about all the trash at Seorak Falls. They said it was there before they ever got there, but they were clearly embarrassed and soon left. I think it is safe to say I didn’t win in friends in Ansan on this trip but maybe they will think twice before leaving their trash lying around on the mountain that night.

I then proceeded down the peak, but before I left a group of women came up the mountain wearing those huge visors that look like something you would see at a Donald Duck convention. Anyway the wind suddenly picked up and blew their visors off and they went flying off the side of the mountain. I think that is a sign that mother nature doesn’t like those visors either.


Trail descending down the mountain towards the east.

Anyway I went past Dinosaur Ridge down into the beautiful Cheongbuldong Valley. In the valley you begin to see more of your day trippers dressed in their hiking finest. People wearing the funny socks, expensive hiking suits, rucksacks with every accessory imaginable attached to it. One guy I saw had an ice axe! Another guy had crampon despite that fact that there was no snow left on the mountain.

Here is a couple of pictures of the incredibly beautiful Cheonbuldong Valley in Seoraksan National Park:


Many of the day trippers I met were very nice and friendly when I stopped at the mountain huts along the trail to sit down and drink some water before moving on. Some of them were amazed that I was hiking from Osaek to Seorak-dong in one day with such a small backpack. If I was wearing as much crap as some of those people were I probably couldn’t make it in one day either.

Anyway I did meet a really nice ajushi who was about 60 years old. He offered me some tomatoes and we talked for a little while. He gave me the usual interogation and then told me that he was from Pocheon which is a city in northern Gyeongi-do province that I know very well.   He also told me he was retired from a semiconductor company and was taking his grandson who was the over weight teenager with him on a hike of Seoraksan.

He then asked me if I liked Bush or Clinton better. I told him I liked Bush and he said he liked Clinton. He told me Clinton didn’t want war with North Korea and Bush did. Ironically Clinton was actually prepared to go to war with North Korea in 1994 when Jimmy Carter without White House permission went to Pyongyang and negotiated a settlement that Pyongyang would never live up to, but they did get plenty of free international aid anyway.

I told him Bush did not want war in Korea, but he doesn’t want to give free stuff to the Kim regime either. If South Korea wants to give them free money that is there choice.


Chosen Era Calligraphy Carved in the Rock at Biseondae
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I hiked a while with them and he moved really fast for being an older guy, but his grandson started to fall behind. I started to slow down but the ajushi kept going and said his grandson needed to lose weight. We then passed a group of hikers who were having a picnic on a rock in the creek. The old guy stopped and yelled at them because they were not supposed to picnic because the picnickers leave trash plus they were smoking in the park. I was beginning to really like this guy even if he is a Clinton fan. Maybe there is hope to protect the environment here after all. We reached the Biseondae Mountain hut and parted from there because he told me his grandson wanted to watch the women there. I’m sure the guy probably wanted to check them out too.

Biseondae is only a 2km walk from the park entrance so here you have all the Seoul weekenders. The place was packed with Gangnam beauties in high heels and designer dresses with their equally dressed up boyfriends. I couldn’t tell who wore more makeup the girls or the guys. Was I in the wilderness or at the club? We just needed some techno tunes and a dance floor.

I quickly made my way out of there and had a scare when I nearly stepped on a snake. Yes that is right a snake! Korea does in fact have snakes. It was sitting in the path warming itself in the sun. It was about 10 inches long and a greenish color. I remember hearing before that the small snakes in Korea are poisonous but I don’t know. So I quickly jumped back and skirted that area since I didn’t want to mess with him. I he slithered off before I could unpack my camera. I can’t stand snakes.

Conclusion

I finally made it to Sorak-dong at about 1PM and linked up with my wife. I covered 16.8km of mountain trails in 8.5 hours, met lots of people along the way, saw some ugly visors get blown of the mountain, got to see everyone dressed in their expensive hiking outfits, saw a snake, plus got to laugh at all the dressed up metrosexuals. If that isn’t a fun day in Korea I don’t know what is!

 

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

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