Walking through Seorkasan’s midnight forest we glanced skyward at glimmering stars when suddenly a bright light streaked across the sky! Our hiking crew let out a cry of joy as a second shooting star ran across the heavens. I know that was a god omen for my second trek along Dinosaur Ridge in Seoraksan National Park.
Getting to Seoraksan National Park from Seoul
Go to Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon Station of Seoul Subway Line No.2, Exit 4)
Take a bus bound for Sokcho
First bus at 06:25, last bus at 23:00 ~ Runs 49 times daily
~3 hour busride
Take a taxi or local bus 7 or 7-1 to Seoraksan National Park
I thought back to the previous spring’s excursion on Dinosaur Ridge and remembered promising myself never again. This 3am hike broke my body last year; I was sore from the grueling trek and I could barely walk the flight of stairs to my classroom all whole week. So why was I doing it again? Insanity? Perhaps. Maybe its because Warren convinced me to join him again. Nah, it must be my own desire to get outside and see the beauty that mother nature hides from most people!
Where to stay in Seoraksan National Park
The National Park has dozens of hotels, hostels & pensions by the entrance.
Reservations should be made ahead of time during high season.
You can also stay anywhere in Sokcho
I recommend booking a tour from Seoul with one of the many meetups (Bangawoyo & Seoul Hiking Group are my favorite)
After an hour and a half of grueling climb in the pitch black we were rewarded with the first of many beautiful landscapes. The sun rose over the East Sea (or Sea of Japan depending who you ask). As the orange glow shone between leaves and branches it quickly illuminated the magnificent landscape of today’s journey.
It was now 6am. We’d been on the trail for 3 hours, seen sunrise, climbed 1000 meters and the day was just beginning when we passed a group of Koreans snacking on some kimchi & makkeoli (rice wine). They were quick to offer both to curious foreigners and I obliged setting a record for my earliest kimchi and rice wine yet. The path looped in and out of the trees offering views of Dinosaur Ridge’s challenging road.
One foot in front of the other and before we knew a map proclaimed “You are here” at the base of Dinosaur Ridge. The “expert” ranked climb threatened dehydration and exhaustion without any water sources. I should have been more strict about enforcing a 2L minimum for joining but knew a few of us had extra and we would make it work. Stopping briefly for a more western snack we re-energized and were off into the glorious green mountains!
Dinosaur Ridge gets its name for its likeness to a dinosaur’s spiked back. It provided for a majestic scene but also an awfully difficult up and down repetition throughout the trail. Whenever someone asked what we were going to do I’d say “well its roughly up 100 meters and down 100 meters. Repeat that about 8 times and you’re done.”
Some paths took us all the way to the peak while others came just shy of it offering a free climb for the best views. I tried to explain all this while we straddled the first few peaks along the ridge-line but the best way to understand it is to actually hike it.
Nearly midday with the sun high in the sky it was abundantly clear that we picked the perfect day at the end of May for this trek. Scattered clouds offered some shade while blue skies shone brightly illuminating the valley below. Our “short hike” companions were somewhere down there now. Short hike doesn’t do their journey justice though; they started at 3am with us but weren’t crazy enough to attempt climbing along this titan’s back. Instead they enjoyed a day full of sparkling rivers and dancing waterfalls while we dreamed of reaching those pools in time to dip our feet in.
Jumping back to reality we stared into the mountains lost in mother nature’s splendor when we came to a bottleneck. I often danced around the poles and ropes trusting my feet on this well trodden path but ahead of us was the first of a handful of passes that required a vertical climb along those poles.
Finally at the top we could see what would be our most taxing section of the trail. We ventured down into the valley before climbing up to over 1300 meters for Dinosaur Ridge’s highest peak. You can follow the trail below as it weaves in and out of the trees and eventually slumps just shy of the peak. Most travelers are too exhausted to attempt that summit. I was last time but today I was simply bursting with energy and the free climb rewarded the bravest of us with an unbelievable panorama of the entire park!
The wind whipped around us at the summit of this beast as I got a crazy idea. I pulled out my phone and checked. Yep, still got service. Korea you crazy in the right ways (sometimes). I logged into Skype and jumped into a video call with my family back in NJ. Following my lead Erik (one of my new hiking buddies) grabbed his phone too.
Suddenly aware of how long we delayed up here we all agreed that it was time to descend. There were still a few peaks before we left Dino Ridge and could refill our water at the shelter. We decided the views weren’t going to get any better than that and hiked with a little more haste hoping to enjoy a more leisurely stroll once we got to the waterfall filled valley.
Up and down the trail went as we continued along these stunning landscapes. Up stairs, down stairs. Over boulders and logs the path continued with occasional ropes to assist our journey when suddenly we looked up to see another oddity. Sitting just above the treeline was a horizontal rainbow! I shouted to the group and succeeded in getting the attention of a half dozen Koreans who immediately turned into a pack of cell phone photographers.
One last push I kept telling myself. By now my legs were exhausted, my body was drained and soon my water would be dried up too. Surely the rest were in similar shape. I glanced around as we ascended Dinosaur Ridge’s penultimate peak. Pausing for a breather I glanced down at my watch and realized we were slipping behind schedule. If we took too many more breaks the bus might leave for the pension (hostel) without us.
Pushing onward. Literally pushing hands on my legs with each step we inched closer. It felt like hours climbing up those final meters. Finally arriving I waved farewell to Dinosaur Ridge. In spite of promising never to tread on you again I came back and already felt a twinge in me thinking how lovely it would be covered in fall colors. No Mike! Don’t do it. You can barely move and you’ve still got a 5 hour trek down through the valley ahead of you.
I put the thoughts out of my head as we passed a pack of napping adjussi’s. That’s strange I thought, one of them is covered from head to toe and its sweltering out. Oh well Koreans are hard to explain. Onward!
“I know that sound” Rodrigo said. “Its a helicopter! Where’s it coming from?”
(Rodrigo is a Brazilian traveler who I’d spent an inordinate amount of time chatting about our travel websites with in the past 9 hours. His wife, Nikki, pointed out his love for helicopters when we saw one in the distance a few hours ago)
As Rodrigo tried to guess where it would cross our mountain I reminisced about my first time seeing a helicopter rescue in Jirisan and started to recount the details for Rodrigo when the churning grew too loud to chat. Suddenly the helicopter jumped out from the peak directly above us! Rodrigo and I were like school boys as some of our more sensible companions got low and tried to keep moving.
Looking up I noticed the passenger was waving at us. How nice I thought snapping away. Oh duh. He’s coming in and needs us to move. Seconds after I started descending hurricane force winds shot in all directions. Trees bent nearly breaking as dust, leaves and debris swirled around us. If not for my sunglasses I might have been blinded but lucky for you I wasn’t! Okay I guess that’s lucky for me too. Probably lucky for my bank account and the rescuers not needing another body to take care of.
We watched a park ranger descend from the heli as I used my broken Korean to ask what happened. I pointed to my leg asking if the adjussi hurt his. The reply was a hilarious “no” with what looked like a swigging motion. Alcohol!? I was shocked and gladly met with another no as he pointed to my camelback (water).
2 liters is a must on Dino ridge. Ironically my water ran dry while descending that last peak. It was a 30 minute stroll to the lodge where we refilled and then made our way down into the valley. Short on time we didn’t get to enjoy any nature naps or splashing around in these picturesque waterfalls. Gotta leave something for next time right? Oh and our pension for the weekend is a 5 minute walk to the beach so I wasn’t too distraught.
Thanks for reading. If you made it this far congratulations you are among the few, the strong, the brave enough to hike Dinosaur Ridge! Let me know what you think about the new post & website in the comments or tell me about your favorite hike!
Stay tuned for panoramas & a video of Dino Ridge in my virtual hiking series!