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808 Steps in 45 Minutes

That’s how the climb up Ulsanbawi, the most famous rock outcrop in Seoraksan the most famous National Park in South Korea is billed. Can’t say we were looking forward to the challenge but if this biking and hiking tour of the ROK is to be complete then the climb is a ‘must do’ pinnacle of our hiking efforts.

The queues at the cable car were 2-3 hours long as the lazier tourists opted for that means to view the spectacular autumn colours that this time at Seoraksan offers. So there was no easier alternative available – the climb it would be.

Half way towards our goal and for the first time on our visit the weather turned inclement. A thunder storm and accompanying wind and rain drove us to shelter beneath one of the massive boulders en route. Could this be the easy way out? Would the weather provide the excuse for us to turn back? Unfortunately it started to clear and our own pig headedness to knock this one off, got the better of us.

So up and up we climbed. My thoughts turned to the 318 corners in 11 miles of the Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride on Smoky Mountain in North Carolina that we’d set as a goal ealier this year -and wished we were doing that instead. It sure would be easier on the knees.

Finally to the top and I’d like to say the most surreal view you could imagine. But the smog and the storm put paid to any notion of that. Together with a hundred other Korean hikers – some as old as my Mum (I’ve concluded earlier that Koreans are stark raving mad climbers and hikers – and that goes for all ages) – we crowded atop the rock pinnacle in the gale force wind.

Of course as you’d expect there is a coffee stall up there – sherpa-like carriers transporting the full water coolers, 4 at a time on their backs up the mountain at about 3 times the speed we could manage carrying as little as we can.

The sense of achievement was just reward and we forgot about the knee-jarring 808 steps that we would now have to descend. We’d beaten the storm and our own inertia to conquer Ulsanbawi.

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