Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trekking in Seoraksan National Park // South Korea cycling gets a rest // Winter Camping Micro Adventure // Gangwon Province

Micro Adventure // Trekking in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea // X Journal //
What is the perfect season in the Korean peninsula to hike and camp in Seoraksan National Park?  I went up to the park with my family, then returned for a single day hike and thought a full Micro Adventure would be worth further investigation. The park is 398 km2 (154 sq mi), which is the largest of the mainland peninsula national parks in South Korea. 

I decided to explore the park mid-winter, since the rainy coastal conditions at the end of January in Gangneung, Gangwon-do Province make cycling tough on components with salt and sandy roads. The mountainous area around Seoraksan National Park located west of Sokcho City is climatically equal to mid-winter conditions at inland locations across the Korean peninsula. The average daily temperatures hover around 5-10 degrees below 0 Celsius. Be prepared for the windchill which can penetrate outer layers in these mountains on any given winter day. If it's sunny, you can remove layers since the hike is vigorous - almost entirely climbing higher into these picturesque mountain ranges.
I met a number of Koreans who were hiking to Daecheongbong Peak over several days. There were college students, spouses, retirees, and a few soloists like myself. From the park's main entrance the route follows the 2-Day Course until Daecheongbong Peak. In winter, the trail is buried with up to 3 feet of snow pack and can be difficult to cross over buried sections along mountain slopes. Given the conditions, I was surprised at all the different age groups actively crossing the park on the 2 and 3 Day courses. 
If you are active and fit, either route is optional. 
There is public transportation from Sokcho City Express Bus terminal to parks main entrance to start the 2-Day Course which is the route I completed. There is also public transportation to the west of Seoraksan National Park to complete the 31km 3-Day Course, but the return-trip from entrance to Daechongbong Peak (대청봉) is quite challenging in mid-winter and advisable to stop at the surrounding shelters for a night, and return the same route back to the park's main entrance near the Sinheungsa Buddhist temple.

Best times to go?

Visit the park on weekdays year-round, Monday-Friday you will avoid the crowds. Winter is the low-season and it is likely the best for uncrowded walks throughout all parts of the park. If you can't visit on a weekday, the park is still an ideal location for trekking throughout the 4-seasons. Being prepared for camping is a good idea for all seasons, considering the length of the trails to the highest peaks. Daechongbong Peak (대청봉) of Seoraksan reaches 1,708 metres (5,603 feet). I read in forums the 2-Day trek from the main park entrance at Sinheungsa temple complex to Daecheongbong Peak takes 8 hours in summer conditions climbing up and 5 hours on the way down. 

How long does it take to reach the highest peak?

One avid hiker I met attempted the return-trip (2-Day Course) in 12 hours in mid-winter. However, he failed to reach the top in late January 2013, turning back 2 hours from the peak in attempt to return to the parks main entrance. Without carrying camping equipment, a soloist can put themselves at risk of injury or lack of shelter should something go wrong. Keep in mind that the trails are buried in snow and the trail is steep with long climbs on metal bridges and sets of staircases throughout the upper course to Daecheongbong Peak. Giving yourself 2 days in and 1 day out of the summer 2-Day Course is probably a good idea. The first shelter is damaged/permanently closed in winter and buried in snow, buildings were locked up. I slept under the metal bridge at this location after a late 1330 starting time from the parks main entrance. It's best to start early entering the main entrance of Seoraksan National Park (6-8:00am) to have ample time to reach your desired destination in the upper mountains during winter months especially.

Places to sleep or public accommodations?

Although there are shelters on this mountain in several locations, they tend to be crowded and noisy, albeit heated and comfortable using your own sleeping mattress/sleeping bag. They rent blankets for 1,000/won per night and these accommodations open at 6:30pm for 7,000/won per night. Bottled water in 2L containers are 3,000/won. They have a cooking room with stainless steel counters, standing room only. The sleeping area can provide accommodations for up to 30 people. Reservations are recommended for summer season, or advisable to carry your own tent and wild camp for your own convenience. In winter, weather conditions can change suddenly and the trek from the park entrance to  the upper mountain shelters can require 6-9 hours depending on your own speed. An avid hiker with a light pack and provisions can summit Daechongbong and return to the main entrance in 12 hours, approximately 24 kilometers return-trip. 
Trail conditions, Maps and Entrance fee?
The National Park information center usually informs visitors about current (winter) trail conditions located 300 meters after the ticket booth on your left. They provide basic photocopy maps of the parks main trail routes for free, upon your request. The entrance fee to the park is 3,500 Korean Won (February 2013) but this is a one-time fee to enter regardless of extra days spent inside the forests. Daecheonbong area Shelter (lower and upper) fee is 7,000 won/night, blanket rental 1,000 won/night, 2L water 3,000 won. Reservation only in summer, First come-First served in winter. Doors will open 6:30pm, arrive as early as possible. There is a 4,000 won/day parking fee for those driving to the national park. I would advise leaving your vehicle in Sokcho-si (City) nearby the Express Bus Terminal and buying a local coach bus directly to Seoraksan National Park. You can return to Sokcho the same way when you leave the park, and avoid paying additional parking fees.

Contacting the park for reservations or information?

Seoraksan National Park Office
- Address : 43, Seorak-dong, Sokcho Si, Gangwon-Do
- Tel : +82-33-636-7700,7702~3
- Fax : +82-33-636-7494
- E-mail :
- Website link for Seoraksan National Park (+ link to all other Korean National Parks)

My Micro Adventure Equipment list:
I packed light with a Summit 32 liter backpack complete with 2.3 liters of water supply, Goal Zero solar charger for USB (Sony TX10 camera and Cygolite 250 lumen), Cordura jacket with insulated liner/Kevlar foam inserts, zip-up Polyester jacket, Fleece hoodie (40th birthday present from Joyce and Steve, thanks-love it!), Ski goggles for storms, Goretex leather/rubber soled low-rise boots, nylon Gaiters, Thermarest Prolite regular insulated sleeping mat, set of fleece pants and top, base layer in merino wool (shirt and pant), camel wool socks, insulated polyester hiking pants,  extra wool socks, extra base tops (2), Cygolite 250 lumen torch light, butane gas, gas burner, ramen noodle packs 5, raisins, loaf of bread, digestive cookies, Snowpeak titanium pot and lid, 500cc can of imported beer. (Next time: I will bring tuna to mix with noodles, and instant coffee mix)***

3-Day Course (+1-2 days winter)

Daecheongbong Peak Course
  • Travel Time : 16 hours (summer estimate)***
  • Distance : 31 ㎞
It takes an hour to reach Gwimyeonam Rock after passing Biseondae from the ticket office at the entrance. After Gwimyeonam, you will pass Cheonbuldong Valley famous for the beauty of the changing colors of tree leaves in fall.
After passing Cheonbuldong, you will see Oryeon Falls, five waterfalls between the valley comprised of perpendicular rocks. 
Ten minutes’ walk from there, you will reach Yangpok Rangers Cabin, where you can stay overnight. After the steel stairs above Yang Falls and Cheondang Falls, a steep pass named Muneomi Pass will wait for you before Huiungak.
After the pass, the path on your right leads to Gongnyong Ridge and the left path to Huiungak Cabin. The stream flows in front of the cabin is the uppermost stream of Gayadong Valley. You should get some water here, as there is no potable water available until you reach Daecheongbong Peak.

2-Day Course (+1 day, My course for late January 2013)

Daecheongbong Peak Course
  • Travel Time : 11 hours 20 minutes (summer estimate)***
  • Distance : 16 ㎞
Starting from the ticket office at the entrance and passing the seated bronze Buddha and Geumgangchoronggyo Bridge, you will enter the Biseondae Path, a wooded forest path. Even the handicapped can go to Waseondae (containing a story of Mago who was lying on the platform) without difficulty. It takes an hour from Biseondae, where you can see many figures inscribed on the rock, to Gwimyeonam Rock. 
After passing Gwimyeonam, you will walk along Cheonbuldong Valley famous for the beauty of the changing colors of tree leaves in fall.
After the valley, Oryeon Falls will catch your eyes. There is steel stairs on the steep slope on the right. 
In winter, you should be careful about the danger of a snow slide. About five minutes’ walk from there, you will find Yang Falls Rangers Cabin on the right, where you can stay overnight and eat food. After the steel stairs above Yang Falls and Cheondang Falls, a steep pass named Muneomi Pass will wait for you before Huiungak Cabin. 
After the pass, the path on your right leads to Gongnyong Ridge and the left path to Huiungak. The stream flows in front of the cabin is the uppermost stream of Gayadong Valley. You should get some water here, as there is no potable water available until you reach Daecheongbong Peak.
An hour’s uphill walk along the steep path after crossing the steel bridge in front of the cabin will bring you to Socheongbong. From there, it takes 40 minutes to go past Jungcheongbong and reach Daecheongbong. The magnanimous scenery that spreads from Socheongbong to Daecheongbong will help you forget the fatigue in a moment. You can stay overnight at rangers cabin at either Socheong or Jungcheong. The scene of the sunrise you will see at Daecheongbong the following morning will remain long in your memory.
For the descent from the mountain, many visitors take the Osaek (southern Seoraksan) course. You can stay at Yang Falls Rangers Cabin on a first-come-first-served basis. No reservation is accepted. To stay at rangers’ cabin at Jungcheong, Huiungak and Socheong, you should make a reservation via the Internet.

1) Express Bus to Sokcho-si, Gangwon-do (from most major cities)
2) Driving directions from Suwon/Ansan/Seoul to SOKCHO-SI via Chuncheon/Inje or following the Express Bus route via Seongnam, Gwangju, Seoul via Wonju, Gangneung, Yang Yang, Gangwon-do Province. (Highway 50 East to Hwy 65 North/Highway 7 North from Gangneung City, Gangwon-do).

Hope you find this free information useful to start your next Micro Adventure in Korea! 

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About the Korean-World Author

Brian Perich was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lecturer for a decade, father, and adventure cyclist based in South Korea.

Previously, Brian has led Canoe adventures in Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada (1993/1999); led Grand American camping adventures (2000); lived at Paramahansa Yogananda's SRF Ashram for 5 months (see the film "AWAKE"), formerly worked in titanium welding at Agilent Technologies, formerly worked in Winery industry in Marin County with Kendall Jackson in California; Surfing and Meditation continued for several years in California, British Columbia, South Korea, Yoga training in California 1999-2000.

Between 1994-1998 - Brian completed his own adventures with motorcycles. His motorcycling marathons took him across the United States and central/western Canada, while traveling solo over an astounding 24,000km in 60 days! Brian endured 900 mile/1300km average days in the motorcycle saddle and apparently loved every minute of those adventures.

Today, he has given up motorcycle adventures altogether, but finds an outlet for his enthusiasm in outdoor recreation while bicycle touring and micro-blogging about those experiences on his mountain bikes.

While employed as an English teacher in South Korea, Brian has became an advocate for bicycle touring on his mountain bikes. The Korean-World blog originated from those small adventures in Korea, now expanded to cover his recent trek down the TransMongolian highway to the Gobi Desert, cycling 900km east through the Khentii grasslands and in 2012 crossing Mongolia in 45 days, 2500 kilometers 1553 miles. HimalayasX expedition Brian previously cycled across western China, the Taklamakan Desert, the northern Himalayas of East Turkestan Xinjiang/Uyghur Autonomous Region, the corrugated back roads and mountains of Kham Tibet. Brian successfully completed his 2011 mountain bike expedition with 3200 kilometers / 1988 miles unsupported, on/off road MTB adventure cycling.
Brian has completed his second mountain bike journey, MongoliaX expedition - Crossing Mongolia 2012, an unsupported mountain bike MTB expedition across 2500km of Outer Mongolia from Ulanbaatar to Altai Taven-Bogd National Park bordering China, Russia and Mongolia.

In 2013, as a sequel to a trilogy of cycle tours, Brian enjoyed a more leisure bicycle tour onboard his Koga-Miyata World Traveller seeing the northern tier of the United States and western Canada covering 3400 kilometers / 2000 miles in 30 days. This North American cycle tour was called Totherocktour. Enjoying the adventure of bicycle travel and every great conversation started while traveling on the road - has refueled his inspirations to cycle around the Earth. In 2013, while he cycled solo from the Great Lake State of Michigan, United States to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. He weaved through local communities and reconnected with friends, family and community after spending almost a decade in Asia.

Brian is now supporting several non-profit foundations through expeditions: IDEAS Foundation of Canada IDEAS is the acronym for Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society which supports the IBD community, those suffering from IBD-inflammatory bowel disease, also known as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.

The second non-profit foundation is ETE.ORG - Education Through Expeditions, UK which supports educational outreach programs inside schools around the world. ETE connects explorers with students in the classroom, through an interactive online program in development (Beta).

Brian is researching support for a 18000 kilometer bicycle expedition across the Americas: North, Central and South America - ONE -Arctic to Argentina
Please contact him if you are interested in helping out.

Twitter: Cycleagain
Location: Gangneung, Gangwon-do, South Korea or southern Ontario, Canada.

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Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

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