Around 10 AM the Icy/Hot-scented traffic jam began. The probing walking sticks clacked and the Gortex shoes softly thumped. Swollen feet and supine bodies littered the path as well as the banks of the adjacent stream. The quantity of people swelled even more near the rowdy sleeping huts where many hikers spent the night dining and drinking. Considering the amount of hikers and the aroma circulating from the outhouse, the grounds resembled a well-heeled refugee camp.
After ascending the final few steps, the autumnal view from Socheong-bong was beautiful. It was too late in the day to make it to the highest peak (Daecheong-bong) so instead of retracing our steps back to the eastern Seorak-dong entrance, we continued down and west towards the Yongdae-ri exit. In the midst of a quiet descent a deep whooping sound ricocheted down the valley. The source, a supply-bearing helicopter, gradually appeared overhead for the second time that day.
Further down we passed the Bongjeong Temple with its’ teal roofs peering out of the multicolored leaves. Nine hours into our hike I felt the ache of muscles I had never known I possessed. At this point my legs were on autopilot and I was too tired to interfere with their plans.
In the distance smoke rose from behind a Buddhist Temples’ small radish field. Coaxed with free noodles and a hunger brewing since we ate our last grape, Barret apologetically cued up while I waited (I am allergic to noodles). The steam barely had time to rise before the bowl was emptied, rinsed and returned to the makeshift outdoor kitchen. Barret left money under a stone and charged briskly ahead for the next and final hour while periodically tossing encouraging remarks over his shoulder. “You are doing a great job! I am proud of you! You haven’t killed me yet!” The cheek.
How to get there: Buses depart hourly from Seoul Express Bus Terminal (in the center of town) or from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (in the east) for Sokcho. Once in Sokcho, bus 7 or 7-1 drops you off at Seorak-dong- the main entrance to the park.