A step-by-step guide on one of Seoraksan’s most popular trails.
Ulsanbawi is 3.8km from the entrance of the Seoraksan National Park in Sokcho. The trail begins past the Sinheungsa temple, and takes you past trickling streams into dense forests. It starts off fairly easy, with lots of flat ground and minor inclines. Labeled as one of the hardest courses in Seoraksan, this trail is no easy feat but beginners are more than able to complete the course as well. If you’re up for the challenge, the end result; beyond rewarding.
After about 2.8km into the trail, you will reach Gyejoam Temple and Heundeulbawi, which is that gigantic boulder sitting on top of a flat rock. People have been attempting to push it over but it is said that even with a group of people, it will hardly move at all. This spot is a good pitstop to catch your breath before the real challenge begins. I also noticed a couple of hikers that made this their final stop and had a little picnic on the flat rock.
What i didn’t realize was that up until this point, the trail had been moderately easy. There was still another 1km to go, and my first thought was “i thought this trail is supposed to take 2hrs? i made it here under an hour and i’m almost near the end”. Well joke’s on me cause the next part made the 2.8km start feel like a walk in the park. The trail just kept getting steeper, and from stone steps to staircases, my thighs were on fire. You can start to see the peak clearly, and though the final leg of the trail is a little daunting (especially when you see that last staircase. i didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry), its just a case of mind over matter. And lots of unglamorous panting, in my case #noshame.
The climb up is truly exhausting and after what feels like a never-ending staircase (i jokingly said it felt like the stairway to heaven to another hiker and he agreed hahaha), the moment i reached the top and laid eyes on what was cast before me, all that pain went out the window. I had seen pictures of Ulsanbawi but no words could describe how i felt seeing it up close. The rock formation is so breathtaking that i stayed up there for a while, despite the wild winds whipping at my face. Sometimes its just mindblowing (pun intended harhar) how much of an amazing architect nature can be.
Going down is supposed to be easier but don’t get carried away. Because of the varying heights in each stone step, some of them extremely steep, there is a considerable amount of pressure exerted on your ankles when you descend. Your legs are already tired from hiking up so its only natural that you let the force of gravity aide you. Try to avoid this and go slow, landing lightly and putting as little strain on your ankles as you possibly can. I know its easier said than done (based on my own experience) especially when your legs have been through stairmaster hell. Hold onto the railings if you need to, and don’t be too concerned about holding up the people behind you until you put yourself at risk. Just be sure to keep to one side – experienced or fast hikers will easily overtake you without any fuss so don’t worry!
As with every outdoor activity, check the weather conditions before making your way there. It was pretty warm in the city so i decided to leave my thermal behind and arrived to extreme and intense winds! Thank goodness i had packed my Uniqlo blocktech parka because it was definitely a life-saver on that day (especially those zippers on the pockets). Also, always, always remember to pack enough water and snacks as well as a first aid kit. With all that rock and rough surfaces, scraping yourself by accident or tripping over uneven stones will be anything but fun.
I was there on a weekday, and while there were multiple groups of tourists at the base of the national park, the trail itself was relatively quiet and extremely serene. I did this hike on my own as well so i went on my own pace, which is considerably slower than everyone else because i stop every few minutes to take a million photos (otherwise you wouldn’t have this amazing post hah!). This has been the highlight of my entire trip and i would strongly recommend this, more so because you get to experience a different side to South Korea outside of the bustling city life, breathe a little fresh air, be one with Mother Nature and if you’re lucky, meet some amazing people along the way.
Also, just in case you were wondering, i did not bring my dslr with me because it will only serve as an unnecessary weight, durable as it may be. All photos were taken with my new Fujifilm X-T20 (i may have bought it using this trip as an excuse heh #sorrynotsorry).