I wanted to take a few days to process our experience hiking Elephant Rock Trail earlier this week because it was one of the most humbling, eye-opening experiences of my entire life – and definitely one I won’t soon forget. I’ve wanted to hike Elephant Rock Trail, or Hwanggeumsan, since I first found out we’d be coming to South Korea. It’s only about an hour and 15 minutes from Camp Humphreys, and I figured it would be a pretty amazing payoff for very minimal effort. I was wrong in regards to one part of that, but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Hiking Elephant Rock Trail in Seosan-si
We left mid-morning on Monday with some of our good friends from quarantine who enjoy hiking to take on a 1.8-mile hike that would lead us down to the sea. At the bottom, the eponymous elephant rock lies directly to your right, and it makes for a great place to spend and afternoon, take some pictures, and enjoy a pretty easy and beginner hike in South Korea. Perfect. We were totally game. We started our hike, checked Papago to make sure we were reading the signs correctly, and hiked off on our merry way.
About half a mile down the trail, there’s a fork. You can go down or up. Following GPS, we climbed up to the next fork. We read the signs again and, this time, we read them wrong. We hiked up, and up, and up, and we made it to the top of the Golden Summit, got to see a beautiful mountain-top temple, and stopped for lunch, knowing full well we weren’t on the right path. We packed up, hiked onwards and, about 30 minutes later, we ended up back at the car.
Now, mind you, Elephant Rock Trail is not a loop. It’s 1.8 miles out and back, and it’s rated easy. We’d easily done 2.5 miles, the kids were tired and sweaty, and we were all a little bummed that we’d failed, so Kellie and I decided we’d regroup, check the maps, sit in an air conditioned car, then try again. As we did so, I noticed some pretty dark clouds rolling in, so Kellie checked the radar, and we were pretty confident the storm was going to pass right by us. And, if you know us, we’re stubborn. We came to see Elephant Rock. We were going to see Elephant Rock.
Hiking Elephant Rock Trail in the Rain
I’d worn Mieke in the Deuter the entire first attempt, so Kellie loaded up with Mieke the second time, and we headed back out onto the trail. We made it to the first fork, then the second, and we finally found the right trail. We continued down, and about 3/4 of the way there, it started to rain gently. It wasn’t a big deal, and it felt great on a hot day, so we went down the rocky beach, and we all promptly stripped off our shoes, the kids took off their shirts, and we splashed in the water.
We were relishing the success in having made it through the rain until I happened to turn around and look back up the mountain in the direction from which we hiked. There was wall of rain – one you could actually see – making its way down towards the waterfront…directly to us. Kellie and I scrambled to get the kids redressed, and we quickly headed back up the trail – this time in a torrential downpour.
Angels on Elephant Rock Trail
Midway back up the ascent, I realized we were in a classic chute; the perfect recipe for a flash flood. And, at about the same time, we found ourselves hiking and wading back up the trail in 2-3 inches of water pouring down. Kellie’s youngest, Dwight, tripped out of his shoe, all the kids were crying, and we were desperately trying to climb through a deluge back to safety. Right when we were starting to panic and pray, we looked up the trail, and there was little South Korean woman standing near the top of the trail at the fork carrying five umbrellas. She’d seen two moms go up the trail with five kids, but she hadn’t seen us come back down, so she came up to find us.
She handed the kids umbrellas, then stripped off her own poncho and wrapped it around Dwight. Refusing umbrellas over her, she proceeded to carry Dwight on her back the entire rest of the hike through the rain. Kellie carried Mieke, I carried Porter, and Spencer and Bruce championed their way through. This earth angel came up and helped two struggling mamas in their time of need with absolutely no thought to herself.
Why We Love South Korea
When we made it to the bottom, we were in tears, thanking her and hoping we could share some semblance of the depth of our gratitude. We snapped a picture with her, then we set about stripping all the kids’ wet clothes off them. Even their extra clothing was drenched, so they were down to their underwear, and we were a soaking mess. We wanted to pay our saviors back somehow though, so Kellie went to see if we could go to the woman’s mom’s restaurant (right at the base of the trailhead) to get some food. They invited us to eat, but we told them the kids had no clothes and were in their underwear.
They told us they didn’t care, and they welcomed us in with open arms, offering us the freshest food straight from the sea. They brought seconds, laughed at the boys chasing crabs in their underwear, and we thanked them profusely, though we both know we’ll never be able to thank them enough. These earth angels in South Korea showed us the very best of this beautiful country, welcoming us in, helping us with no thought to themselves, and making us fall in love with South Korea all over again.
We’re forever grateful (and yes, we’re definitely going back…just not in monsoon season.)