I looove hiking.
One of the main factors in my choosing to teach English in South Korea is the abundance of hiking trails criss-crossing the country.
So, it was a foregone conclusion that when I hit Seoul the first thing I was going to do was hike up one of the 11 mountains it has to offer.
Considering the sizzling 40℃ heat wave South Korea has been experiencing (this humidity is truly a killer), my first outing in Seoul now seems just a bit impulsive. Some (like Mom) might say reckless? Spontaneity being my middle name, I chose Bukhansan, Seoul’s highest mountain (836.5 meters at the Baegundae peak), to be my first conquest.
There are several ways to hike Bukhansan, with about 8 different hiking courses to choose from leading to different points of interest. I chose the Bukhansanseong Fortress course, as my goal was to reach the Baegundae peak. This route (up and down the same trail) is 8.2 km, which can take anywhere between 3.5-5 hours.
In my case, it took 6.
Ok, so maybe I’m a little more out of shape than I thought.
Maybe my calves and butt were crying and screaming at me the whole time. Maybe I stopped to take 836.5 breaks along the way. Maybe…
The first chunk of the hike begins light.
A nice, breezy, maintained trail slightly uphill that will make you believe that you are better hiker than you really are. You may even take over the local, seasoned hikers clad in extreme gear (hiking poles included) along the way and be convinced that your hiking skills reign supreme! It’s a really short-lived, kind and generous boost of self-confidence that lasts the first 30 minutes of the trek.
The terrain of the trail changes significantly in intervals as you progress upwards. The next phase of the trail becomes steeper and the manicured trail magically disappears. You are now faced with a mass of rocks.
Here, I was faced with the challenge of watching my footing while being distracted by a new feline friend I met along the way. I seem to be blessed with attracting the presence of cats, even halfway up a mountain.
For the next hour or so you are confronted with these rocks and flights of stairs. There are some resting areas along the way but it seemed foolish for me to stop at one of them when the whole time I had already been resting more than I had been hiking.
You will sweat and you will be disgusting. I didn’t realize how sweaty I really was until a Korean man I met on the trail pointed it out to me. Koreans have this magical super power where not one single drop of sweat permeates their pores. A man asked to take a picture with me (yes, I’m a zoo animal) and when he put his arm around me shrieked out in horror saying I was sticky. Yes, I was a very sticky gal. Kamsahamnida.
The next phase of the hike is introduced when you begin to see smoother, larger rocks.
To go about this change in course, I tapped into my inner Spider-Woman and literally used my hands to scale certain obstacles (I’m sure if any Korean saw me they would have asked why I didn’t bring my hiking poles). Some help is offered at certain points where you can grab onto lines of rope to hoist yourself up, but even so your feet may slide.
This part of the trail seems to go on forever. It changes back and forth frequently between smaller rocks and larger boulders of which you will have to tackle differently. The midday heat and humidity was at its peak and I was sopping wet in my own sweat. It was at this point that I wished I would have tripped, rolled my ankle and have a park ranger come airlift me right out of my misery.
The last stretch of the hike towards the peak creeps up on you. At first, this appears to be a blessing, as you are suddenly relieved that you have almost made it through. Nope. This is the most challenging part of the entire hike. You’re faced with extremely steep boulders that make you wish you didn’t leave your handy rock climbing pick at home.
Crying your way up (wait… are these tears or sweat?) to the peak, you will all of a sudden forget everything dramatic and negative I have been ranting about this whole post.
The view is jaw-dropping and out of this world. SO incredibly worth the Jell-O legs you will have for the next week.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. Despite my whiny, dramatic portrayal of my hiking experience, it was hands down one of the most rewarding and breathtaking hikes I have been on in my life. Although, next time I’ll be sure to tackle this one on a much cooler day.
Pack A LOT of water. Pack more than you think you will need! I brought 3 bottles and drank all 3 on the way up. There are a couple of vending machines that sell them, but they are much closer to the beginning of the trail. Stock up on some snacks! I bought some gimbap from one of the vendors near the entrance to the park and wolfed it down near the peak.
HOW TO GET THERE:
To access the Bukhansanseong Fortress course, go to Gupabal station on line 3, exit 1. Take the 704 bus and get off at the park entrance. If you’re not sure, ask the driver or follow the mass of people in colour-coordinated outfits with hiking poles.