Awoken by the lighthouse blasting unanswered calls into the misty haze that sat above the Eastern Coast, Molly and I were ready to leave our hotel – Hotel Memories – and take to the craggy rock faces that make up iconoclastic peaks of Seoraksan. Equipped with only shorts, a t-shirt, and a backpack, the two of us set out into the 50 degree weather in search of coffee, a quick breakfast, and a bus up into the mountains.
Getting there in the late morning, we were joined by a host of other hikers eagerly packing up on water, corn on a stick, dried octopus, kimbab, and alcohol. We skipped over the drinks, and packed kimbab and corn for our hike.
Reading the map was easy, since we decided to hike up the three-hour course, and not the ultimate peak. One of the specialties of our choice was that it was supposed to play host to over eight hundred steps to the peak.
In Korea, much like China from what I’ve heard from LZ, the hikes are hilly, aggressive, and full of stairs. Not stairs like you’d find in a stadium, but rickety old stairs that may or may not be attached properly to the side of a mountain. This is true for most of the hikes I’ve been on so far, and I can make an educated guess that most of the hikes I will go on will involve some stairs. Much different from the Appalachian Trail that I am so accustomed to.
Along the way, we wound up beautiful paths by temples, one of the largest Buddha statues I’ve ever seen in Korea, rivers, through magical little mountain huts offering relief from the sun and refreshments for the weary. All throughout the hike, Molly and I were both struck by how green everything was. It was as if Summer had forced every tree to show its true green colors, just for us on that weekend.
The whole trip made me realize how much I missed nature. Hiking, boating, just being outside and away from white noise seemed peaceful and refreshing. It was also nice to be sweating based on my own volition, and not because the AC wasn’t working in my office again. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city, but sometimes nature just calms me from within.
As we neared the final ascent, the stairs turned from gradual and intermittent, to straight up stairs to the top. The stairs were rust-red, and unclear as to where they attached to the rock – which ran straight up the side of the mountain. The whole thing might have been scary if we were the only ones there, but to our benefit, we had a nine-year-old guide with us, counting every one of the eight hundred stairs. “Mom, we’re at number 100!” He would call out. “231!” He squealed. “358” as he took a brief rest. I believe he stopped around 400 due to the fact that the stairs became unclear in nature, and rather just rocks to step on.
At the top, we were enshrouded in clouds. There was no view to be had, nor a sense of height, but it’s the journey, not the destination – right? The old men who were on their third or fourth bottle of local liquor certainly didn’t care that they couldn’t see for miles.
Either way, we looked forward to stopping at one of the magical mountain huts at the bottom to feast on local foods like mountain vegetable bibimbap, or acorn jelly.
Acorn Jelly is a specialty of this neck of the woods, and it’s delicious. The texture is really what you go for – a simple and rich jello-like substance with almost no real flavor. But to make this dish delicious, restaurants will top it with salty-sweet red-pepper paste, green onions, and green shreds. Served with raddish, kimchi, miso soup, and unfiltered mild and sweet rice liquor, it was a pleasant and well rounded way to celebrate the mysterious mountains, green foliage, and a weekend well spent – from the sea to the peaks. Thanks Sokcho.