Koreans love hiking. I think I’ve made this comment before, but we feel so unprepared and under dressed when we go hiking in Korea. Koreans wear technical multi-colored, matching hiking pants and shirts, hats, backpacks, and hiking boots, regardless of the difficulty of the hike. They bring hiking sticks, and if hiking alone or in a small group, they usually play classical music on their phones to motivate them while hiking. We hike with children and manage to fit everything we need into one backpack for the four of us, yet each Korean has their own backpack! The Seosan area is fairly rural with many mountains and hiking trails, but there is very little available information in English about the various hikes. To help anyone out who might want to visit these mountains, I will be more detailed than usual in these hiking posts.
Hwanggeum mountain is one of the destinations of the Arame trail in the Seosan area. It is situated very close to the sea near the Daesan refinery complexes. To get there, get onto Highway 29 in the Seosan region and head in the direction of Daesan port, Dokgot-ri region. There are brown signs in Korean and Latin characters pointing the way to the mountain. Currently, the road to the mountain is under construction, but just keep driving on the dirt toward the mountain until you reach the trailhead, which is marked by several pop-up restaurants, restrooms, and trail maps.
There are a few trail options, and I think we inadvertently picked the very hardest hike! The trail almost immediately splits from trailhead, and hikers can choose if they want to go up the mountain counter-clockwise or clockwise. We chose counter-clockwise, but then kept turning right and ended up on another mountain north of the main trail. It was a beautiful, steep hike- longer than we had anticipated, but enjoyable nonetheless. We plan on returning to do the other trails another day, which is plausible since it is so close to Samgilpo! One bonus of us going the opposite direction of most people is that the trails were relatively clear. It seemed that the trail around the mountain proper was much more busy than the trail we ended up on. One advantage of this circular route is that you can ascend and descend on different trails- making the hike less boring for kiddos!
Landon was so excited to hike in the car, and he’s usually a good little hiker, but today he was not feeling it at the beginning. He was stopping every few feet, digging in the dirt on the trail, sitting down, and not happy about the whole situation. Owen and I hung out waiting for Austin to retrieve Landon from the dirt so we could continue on our hike! I wore Owen on my back half the time, and Austin wore him for the other half and he did great with a few breaks for eating and getting some air.
Turns out the way to get Landon to hike was to tell him stories of his past hiking triumphs, and hold hands. Preferably both mom and dad’s hands at the same time. There were times that the trail was not wide enough to accommodate all of us, so just holding one of our hands was begrudgingly allowed. After years of refusing to hold hands with us for any reason, I found this sweet, enjoyable and sweaty to try to hold hands the whole hike! Landon recovered from his initial reluctance and walked virtually the entire way!
Korea seems to be in a constant state of preparedness against attacks from North Korea. All males serve in the military here, and they all learn Tae Kwon Do- so don’t mess with Korean men! We found several bunkers like the one above on the mountain. I wondered if they were for training purposes only, or if they were used in the Korean War. For the first portion of our hike, our main views were of the many refineries and chemical plants that are nearby. As we climbed around to the coastal side, though, the views changed to a gorgeous rocky shoreline. It was impossible to capture the unique color of the water- clear and very blue- from up above and through the trees. It is smoggy/hazy here a lot, I think it might come over from China!
There were tour buses full of hikers coming up the first part of the trail (especially when we were on the way down) but we only saw a few groups of hikers once we turned to head over to the northernmost trails. One group stopped to admire Landon and Owen at our first “summit” area- a helicopter landing pad, and then shared a Popsicle with Landon at the turn around point of the trail. I was really confused, thinking that there was an ice cream vendor down the trail, but no! Turns out, Popsicles are one of the things that Koreans have in their backpacks while hiking!
At the end point of the trail deemed safe enough for Landon to hike, there were great views of the rocky shoreline. There was a trail that went down toward the coast, but it was very narrow and steep with lots of ropes for support, so we decided to skip it this time.
In all, we were on the mountain about two hours, and we took rest breaks and snack breaks along the way (and had a three-year-old with us!) We only did the top loop on the trail map above, though, so doing all the trails in this area may take longer.The forests of Korea are so lush and green, it was a gorgeous hike from start to finish. Here’s to many more hikes during our stay here in Korea!