Located 135km east of the Korean peninsular, and two-thirds of the way to the disputed islands of Dokdo/Takeshima (depending on your point of view), is Ulleungdo. It’s the top of a volcano and is a rugged, tree covered landscape with communities tucked into flatter areas on the coast.
The boat from Gangneung on the coast of Gangwon Province takes around three hours to get to Ulleungdo and arrives in the little port of Jeodong-ri. From there, a path to the neighbouring community of Dodong-ri hugs the bottom of the cliffs. Much of it is man-made, with bridges spanning stretches of open sea, and there’s a spiral staircase at one point that takes you from just above sea level to the top of the cliffs for a higher-level section of the route.
Gates have been placed that can close the path if the sea conditions make it unsafe but there was no danger of this on Friday; instead, more turquoise seas gently lapped the rocks under a clear blue sky. What were you doing on Friday?
The highest point in Seoraksan National Park is Daecheongbong, 1708 metres, the third highest peak in South Korea. It’s a long hike from the eastern entrance to the park, and it’s traditional for people to stay overnight at one of the shelters one the approach to the peak so that they can be at the summit for sunrise.
We didn’t attempt to get to the top, but the trail on the lower slopes is quite special. The most direct approach follows a river, set at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, with rock faces towering above. Huge chunks of rock have fallen over time and lie at the bottom of the cliffs. The route is only made possible in many places by the addition of long flights of steps and bridges.
One of the highlights of Gangwon Province is Seoraksan National Park, full of forested hills and high rocky outcrops. This is Ulsan Bawi, not far from the eastern entrance to the park and, with the summit at 873 metres, a demanding climb. Once you’re above the trees there’s a long series of stairs up to the top. The photos give no indication about how windy it was on Tuesday; at the summit, people were crouching or sitting in the gusts, or hanging on to the railings to have their photo taken next to the Korean flag.