A midnight bus trip, wake up for a 6am ferry ride before hiking the entire ridgeline of an island? Sign me up! In early March I joined my first Seoul Hiking Group (shout out to Warren and his helpers!) outing to Saryangdo. We had a bus full of hikers, some veterans and some beginners with one thing in common; a love of the outdoors!
This was my first trip south out of Seoul and it turns out we were about as far south as you can go. The 5 hour bus ride was spent with what I’ll dub the “beer snoozes” (a well thought out plan of mine) before we enjoyed a sunrise from our ferry.
Upon arrival we broke out some of Warren’s secret fruit stash (Warren was our guide and amazing trip organizer). The roughly 60 foreigners gorged ourselves on apples and bananas as we strolled up the road and along the grassy path to our “pension.” A “pension” is a type of Korean lodging that consists of 4 walls and a floor. We needed 3 to house everyone along the algae ridden bay.
Dropping everything off with roughly 7 per room we knew we’d be sardines later. No one cared. Friendships would be built on the trail; for that is the best foundation of all! What everyone did care about was our amazing new mascot (I named him Polar). He stayed white for at least a few hours and loved us almost as much as we adored him, but I digress.
Uphill was our goal and man was it steep. The stony path weaved through the forest for a few hundred meters of vertical climb before we found the first of many stunning views!
As you relive this fantastic trip with me imagine that you are in fact hiking through each picture. At times it was hard to believe the “trail” that we followed which seemed more like rock ledges precariously placed to tease us. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself again. Our next obstacle was a set of steep staircases. Climbing at a fast pace I reached the first peak on Saryangdo’s ridgeline in less than an hour.
Pulling ourselves away from the spectacular scenery was only achievable by thinking of what lay before us. The 360 degree view gave a vertigo inducing sense of nature’s beauty and a sense of how small this mountainous island truly was.
It all began as a leisurely stroll along a wide path with a few bridges and rope climbs in the distance. Up and down we went climbing a few rocks at an easy pace and before we knew it it was time for a little monkeying around on the bridge before we were off again!
The stairs kept us climbing up and down in traditional Korean fashion. When would the crazy bouldering start?
We didn’t have to wait long before having the chance to find every nook and crannie for hand and footholds. Sauntering up each incline was no easy feat but I loved it nonetheless!
Suddenly the heavy duty bouldering turned into, yep you guessed it, more bouldering! Up and up we climbed to meet our friends, old and new. Once at the next peak we broke out some trail mix and snapped away, bracing ourselves for the rocky ridge ahead.
Now, I’ve done some pretty intense hikes before. The V-Canyon in Bukhansan and Angel’s Landing in Zion come to mind and well, this was just as ridiculous! We shimmied along the thin ridge with minimal footroom hopping rocks and ledges. Everyone ignored my advice for the “fastest way down” but in a place like this you can’t help but look down!
Towards the end of the ridge we met our first true hurdle. The gaggle of Koreans! Pushing their way along in the usual fashion we were sporadically surprised when they pulled a fellow foreigner along but easily stunned at their nimbleness on such a precarious precipice.
Before we knew it the rocky path had turned into a forested wonderland devoid of leaves yet somehow full of laughter. Could it be? Did we arrive at a joyous fairy’s home? Nope, it was just my new best friend the makkoli man! This guy brews his own makkoli (a traditional Korean hiking beverage somewhere between a beer and wine). He sells it for an absurdly low price to travelers along the ridge, provides you with anchovy like snacks and the occasional musical number on his drums. Definitely glad we did the ridge BEFORE the makkoli.
After enjoying a leisurely siesta I opted to continue to the end with a handful of hikers while most took a shorter path home. Turns out our multicultural group not only had too many cameras but that I was the only one who didn’t understand German. Cordula, an Austrian chatted away with Darren a Canadian professor, Eva my new Hungarian friend, Cayte a Korean with perfect English after living in Canada and Lauren, a German finishing out an internship. They kept apologizing as I joked in English but there was something soothing about listening to the German.
Regardless of language we enjoyed the last few hours on the trail weaving in and out of the bare white branches along the ridge. The ocean views continued to amaze as we reached peak after peak.
Our legs and feet sore from the days journey we were relieved to a sudden lack of island in front of us. Climbing back down through the forest we were elated to finally see the road! An hour later and some crazy seafood stores later and we were back at our pension for a barbeque, assorted drinks and a beach bonfire!