In the winter of 2016, myself and a couple of friends decide to join a day trip to the Taebaek San Snow Festival and sunrise hike up the mountain.
We went on January 23rd and actually caught the bus at 11 p.m. the night before. It was about a 4-5 hour drive and we arrived at Taebaek San 태백산 at about 4:00 a.m. to start our hike. The goal was to be at the peak for sunrise. Needless to say, it was frigid at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was a struggle to wear enough layers, but also not too many to avoid sweating too much and getting even colder. We got these little ice pick strap on toe grips (like crampons) from the Hiking group we went with and they were great. We, however, did not bring a headlamp not realizing we would need one. So we had to stick close to groups that had a light so that we could see our way up the icy mountain. It took us over 3 hours to get to the peak, and when we finally arrived it was still about 30 minutes or so until sunrise. It was beyond cold at the top with a strong windchill and the shelter/shop was not open for us to go into to get out of the weather for a bit. So there was an unheated bathroom to hide in to get out of the wind-chill at the top.
We took some pictures at the peak and waited for the sun to come up. It was very hazy that day so it wasn’t much of a sunrise, but still wonderful to look out over the sprawling mountain range. My friend decided to go down with the others in the group down a different trail, but nobody was really sure of how long it would take or the exact route. So myself and a few others decided to take the option of going back down the same way. I ended up leaving the other people because they were way too slow and I was freezing. I honestly can’t remember a time I have truly felt that cold. It took me way less time to get down, even with going slower because of the ice and steep sloops. Once I got down they were just starting to get things set up for the Snow Festival for that day. I went to the jjimjilbang 찜질방 (a Korean bathhouse) where the rest of the bus that wasn’t hiking went to sleep. It was so nice to get in the hot showers and pool for a bit to defrost and then I went to the common room and slept for a bit.
After a few hours, I found my friends and we headed to the Snow Festival and to find a bit to eat. At the snow festival they had ice sledding, huge snow sculpts, and a real-life igloo cafe complete with ice seats and tables. So we went there to get a hot cocoa and enjoy the novelty of it. After that, we went around to look at all the huge snow sculptures the had made of various designs. There were probably about a dozen of them and some were so detailed there was an Avengers sculpture, one of PSY, an elephant, etc. It was really fun to see the different ideas and character they turned into massive snow sculptures. After a while of looking and taking pictures we got a bit to eat down in the town and came back for one last look before heading to the bus.
The group we were with was kind of unorganized. We were supposed to meet at around 5 p.m., but at about 11 a.m. they decided to leave an hour sooner which was fine since there wasn’t much to do at the festival. It was also very cold so it wasn’t fun to wait out in the cold. The problem was that they hadn’t told everyone at the start of the day and they didn’t make sure that everyone knew about the time change so we ended up waiting on the bus for an hour which was really annoying and cold and all we wanted to do was to get back home. The woes of group travel.
But overall it was a fun Korean experience and it was fun to have the experience of hiking in such harsh conditions. It was something I had never done and am glad I took on that challenge.