That evening we planned our assault on Seoraksan over some fiercely spicy dalk galbi. After stocking up on more ramyeon, nuts, chocolate, biscuits and oranges we got an early night, after packing the bags. My bag probably weighed about 10kg (our sleeping bags and mats, spare clothes, wet weather gear, cooking equipment, flip-flops, other sundries like a knife, first aid kit etc.), and Sam's probably around 6kg, maybe 7kg with full water, (food, some utensils, her wet weather gear). While I'm aware that splitting gear this way is considered bad backpacking strategy, in Korea it doesn't seem to be as crucial. Civilization is not only always in close proximity, but the way to it is also so well sign-posted, and there's always someone, usually a lot of people, nearby to send for help if it's needed. It would be remarkable bad luck bordering on almost impossible to die in one of Korea's national parks outside of winter.
|On the way to Biseondae|
|Cliffs at Biseondae|
After lunch we had a some difficulty trying to locate our trail, which appeared to be closed. Originally we had planned to follow this route, but, we were told, the trail to Suryeomdong shelter was closed, inaccessible. This was more than a little worrying, as I didn't want to have dragged the kit up here only to have to go back to a motel that night. Part of the original motivation in going to Suryeomdong was that it was out of the way - along with Yangpok shelter it is unreservable, operating on a first-come-first-served basis - and it also meant a nice easy hike down into the valley of inner Seorak after a morning of climbing. So we weighed up our choices. At the time, neither of us knew which shelters were booking only and which one was a possibility; our Korean ability didn't stretch to finding out either. So, looking at the map by the trail we decided to get across the Gongnyong ridge. The sign said it was 5.1km, so it couldn't take that long, we reasoned. That didn't quite turn out to be the case, and it's worth pointing out here some of the failings of the - for the most part impressive and useful - English website for Korea's national parks.
|Gongnyong ridge. Back centre is Daecheongbong, the tallest peak in the park|
|Disappointingly, it never looks as steep in a photo|
Consequently, our walk ended up looking more like this one, though with a slightly different middle and ending. The ending, the next day's hike, would take us from Yangpok shelter to Daecheongbong (대청봉), then descending to Osaek (오색), the path to the right of the one marked in blue on the map. The different middle was due to our attempt to find shelter. After going on ahead, I found out at Huiungak shelter that Yangpok shelter was our best bet for a bed for the night. I waited for Sam at the Gongnyong junction and then ran off down the gorge to see if I could find a bed. The weather had been closing in during our time on the ridge, and neither of us fancied being out in the rain again.
In reality though, I was happy enough to travel down to the shelter. The walk through the gorge and past the Oryeon waterfall (오련 폭포) and its aquamarine pools was spectacular, if slightly disheartening knowing that we'd be going back up that way the next day. It didn't rain either. After finding friendly staff at Yangpok shelter at just before four o' clock, and, more importantly, two berths in dorm for the night, we set about eating lots of ramyeon and other carbs.
By the time we'd eaten, washed up and laid out our bedding it was six o' clock and nearly dark. Most of the other folk using the shelter were getting into bed, so we did as well. We had been lucky: there were maybe six people who got beds after us, and we had a corner pretty much to ourselves.
It was a markedly different experience from the shelter I stayed in on Jirisan, completely lacking any corresponding atmosphere of the carnivalsesque. The dorm was unisex as well, also unlike on Jirisan, and several families were bunking down with their kids in tow, who were mercifully some of the quieter of the peninsula's children. There was of course the orchestral snoring that you find in any dorm, and the almost constant shuffle of somebody going to the bathroom. On the whole though, and probably because we had worn ourselves out, we slept pretty well.
|Sam waiting for me, about to climb back up through the gorge|
Huiungak shelter, damp and covered in hanging cloud, was a different story, much more like my experience at Yeonhacheon on Jirisan. People abounded, the air was redolent of kimchi, huge pots of rice and various jjigae were cooking, fish and meat were being fried, from the vast culinary stores that had dragged up the mountain. It was noisy and chaotic, so we stopped only long enough to drink and refill our water and have a quick snack before pressing on, upwards again to Jungcheongbong.
Clouds were rolling over the trail constantly at this point, though the rain and damp that we had started the day with had largely gone. The air was chillier as we climbed higher, but the paths remained busy - it was a Saturday, I suppose - wherever we were. It was a nice surprise to see all age groups represented on the mountain: groups of teenage boys jostled with folks who would soon be drawing their pensions on the narrow paths.
|View on the way up to Jungcheongbong|
There was very little else to do apart from the short walk to Daecehongbong, at 1,708m asl the highest pint not only in the park, but also in the whole Taebaek mountain range. Unsurprisingly, the summit was crowded and blustery, so we took a few photos and started the descent towards Osaek.
Going down took about two hours, the slamming downhill working our knees and ankles pretty hard. The trail was pretty and the sun was out, making it a nice way to finish. We got to the exit and walked down to the touristy village of motels and restaurants and shops selling tat. We were there at about two-thirty.
After toying with the idea of getting a bus we splurged on a taxi, with the faint idea that we could get a bus to Seoul and the return to Mokpo that day. By the time we'd got back to Sokcho, thirty thousand won poorer form the ride, we decided to stay the night and head off early the next morning. It turned out to be a good decision. The six-and-a-half hour journey the length of South Korea would have been miserable had we done it that day.