Our ferry departed for Saryangdo at 7:30am which meant another midnight bus out of Seoul. This misty inslet was full of fishermen in the cool morning air as we embarked on the final leg of the journey to revisit my first Seoul Hiking Group excursion. We dropped our bags off at the pension and got on the trail shortly after arriving.
Saryangdo is a small island to the South of the Korean peninsula. A short ferry ride from Tongyeong its likely that we were the only foreigners on the whole island so it was no wonder that any time we ran into Koreans they were excited to see us. There’s a single road that loops around the mountain forming this gorgeous sanctuary. That series of peaks was our goal for today and after a 45 minute climb we were rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding seas at 281 meters above.
Leaving the first peak the trail switched between stairs and rocks with an awesome rope climb in the distance! Just beyond we would encounter a suspension bridge (the cables of which I decided to climb for an even higher vantage point). Seoul Hiking Group continued its tradition of making fast friends as our group mixed and mingled among the mountains.
I’ve really started to enjoy leading the trips and always look forward to seeing friends among the regulars but perhaps my favorite thing about Seoul Hiking Group is the acceptance that everyone shows towards new members. We inevitably have some first time hikers, some with fears of heights or other nature dangers and everyone bands together to become a weekend family!
We got lucky with the weather on this late fall afternoon. The morning mist cleared around us for jawdropping views. One of my favorites were the islands to the south still shrouded by mist in an optical illusion making us wonder where the sea truly began.
Pausing for a snack and photo break a few of the group decided to reenact Titanic. While waiting around another loving aspect of Seoul Hiking Group emerged. Sharing. Most of us are teachers and know that sharing is caring but that usually mean you to let everyone else eat your coveted Cheetos (which are super hard to find in Korea) or all that dried fruit & nut mix that you slaved together.
After enjoying our break the trek grew a bit more trecherous. The next peak climbed to 400 meters and was the highest on Saryangdo. The path was interspersed with stairs as usual but there were many times we trekked up loose rocks and around jagged edges. Okay so there often was an “easier” trail through the woods but I prefer to keep things interesting and enjoyed “spider manning” it up the ledges.
Nearly there we were stopped by a lovely Korean group who insisted we share some of their Makkeoli and kimchi. Not wanting to be rude a handful of us chowed down and chatted in broken Korean. Hikers tend to be good people and look out for one another but no where else have I encountered such generosity among strangers as in Korean mountains. A few hundred meters later my buddy Martin and I were stopped again and offered a delicious veggie ramen!
Finally at the peak we dilly dallied with some snacks and photo shoots enjoying our surroundings before crossings the vertigo inducing ridge. Last time I was here I admittedly went across on my butt. That was 8 months ago and I’ve been an avid hiker ever since gaining confidence in my legs and balance. Wait a minute, is there internet service up here? I took a moment and Skyped my brother, Ben, while shimming accross the half meter wide trail. To the right a sheer cliff, to the left a sharp decline followed by a sheer drop.
Luckily its only a short distance before you hurdle a gap and find yourself back among the trees. Before long a Makkeoli mountain man can be heard banging away with tables full of foreigners enjoying his homemade concoction. Just after he served us the delicious potion he went back to his drums for Pikachu’s big entrance! (video coming soon) Martin ran down the trail with Pikachu “ears” and an Austrian flag around his neck flapping like a cape! We sang happy birthday for 2 of our hikers and most of us even dared to try myeolchi (anchovies like fish).
I opted to skip the long hike this time and took a slick leave, laden trail straight back to the road and eagerly got back to our pension early enough to relax before dinner and the evening festivities began.