Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Legend of the Fall: Seoraksan

I've loved fall for a long time, as I wrote in 2008 and even in 2003. I've had football, playoff baseball (albeit not in the last few years) and running to enjoy this season, but living in Korea adds one more dimension. Coming from Canada, at least, I feel like fall is long, mild and very pleasant here. Of course, I enjoy (this is not sarcasm) the harsher weather we get in Canada, such as impromptu flurries or weather below-freezing in October, which isn't to be found here.

I went hiking twice this weekend, to Seoraksan on the east coast and to Bukhansan in northern Seoul. Seoraksan (~1700m) is about a 20km hike that takes 10-12 hours, which I did last year from midnight to noon and really wasn't eager to repeat. Instead, we settled for a short and simple hike to Ulsan Bawi, a massive wall of rocks near the base of Seoraksan. Seoraksan is a great place to go in the fall for the colourful leaves and its intricate, jagged peaks, and I'd only ever been in the summer or the late fall.

The top of Ulsan Bawi is only 800m high and it's about a 4-hour roundtrip from the city of Sokcho. We lucked out and picked a hotel suited to the Ulsan Bawi course than a course that goes to the top. Alternatively, if you want to go to the top, don't stay in Sokcho. If you do go this month, you'll be in time for spectacular views of colourful leaves all over Seoraksan from Ulsan Bawi.

From the park entrance, it's about an hour to the bottom of Ulsan Bawi. From here, you can see much of the higher peaks of Seoraksan as well as the East Sea. From here, you climb a nerve-wracking stairway suspended in the air half the way, before negotiating a rocky, winding course to the top of Ulsan Bawi. Looking north from there, you should be able to see the sea as well as Geumgangsan in North Korea, though on this day it was cloudy (and very crowded) to the north.

To the south, the peak of Seoraksan is visible above the clouds.

Ulsan Bawi is a good course if you want to see the beauty of Seoraksan but don't want to do all the work getting to the top. The views of the top are better than the views from the top in my opinion, though I don't think I've ever been at the top in something resembling clear weather, so this opinion doesn't count for much. It's not a very hard hike, but there's enough thrill climbing the staircase, at least for those scared of heights like me, that you'll see both adults and small children (some under 5) at the top.

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