With hoards of Koreans, donned head-to-toe in immaculate matchy-matchy hiking high-end hiking gear, the four of us stood out like sore thumbs, leisurely ascending to the peak of the-most-hiked-mountain-in-the-world in our sweat pants and stunner shades.
Our hike was pure magic. It wasn’t a particularly clear day, the mountain wasn’t particularly empty, but the company was fantastic. I spend a significant amount of time hiking alone, which, of course, I cherish as well, but sharing a mountain adventure with my friends was incredible.
Bukhansan is truly amazing. Here are a few reasons why.
1. You only have to ascend for 45 minutes to get amazing views. You can go on a simple 2-hour hike or you can hike for days. Bukhansan National Park covers 80 square kilometers, houses over 100 Buddhist temples and boasts over 5 million visitors a year. From any of the countless peaks on Bukhansan, you oversee a mega-city of 30+ million people in all its ferocity. The juxtaposition of being on a stunning mountain overlooking an endless sea of skyscraper-esque apartment buildings of absurd density is absolutely mind-blowing.
3. Mountain-Folk Rock! Elsewhere in Seoul, folks aren’t always so nice to us loud, over-zealous, boisterous, shoulder-bearing foreigners (or even necessarily, each other). On the mountain, it’s completely different. Instead of viewing us as invaders, I think they are so kind and welcoming because we are enjoying what their country has to offer. We suddenly have common ground, we are no longer the enemy. They go out of their way to help us, offering encouraging smiles and celebratory hugs. They say hello and thank you. They let you pass and make room for you on narrow paths. Truly the antithesis of the norm.
4. It’s a miracle that there aren’t deaths. An absolute miracle. Millions of people a year skip out of Seoul to enjoy the mountain and not a single one takes a tiny misstep that would cause you to plummet to your death. I’m fairly certain this would not be the case in the states.
Don’t let its popularity give you the wrong idea, climbing Bukhansan is by no means a piece of cake.
This initial ascent consists of skipping, walking and traversing basic terrain. No matter how you go up, or which peak you are going to (there are 100 paths to reach Baegundae, the highest peak on the mountain,) you spend some time traversing fortress walls, which are gradual up and downs across the mountain ridge. However, when you get to the final 900 meters to reach Baegundae, the terrain dramatically changes. The mountain transforms itself into an adult jungle gym. You find yourself scampering up steep, rock faces and climbing up absurd inclines holding onto nothing but a thin metal railing.
Baegundae is truly magnificent.
Not only do you see the sprawling city, mountains all around, but you also see Insubong to your northeast, smattered with people climbing up and down the smooth granite peak. You see Koreans in their natural habitat, sipping on soju and relaxing in the most absurd places.
It is abundantly clear that hiking and climbing are a huge part of Korean culture- and a wonderful, important one at that.
It is also clear that I’m completely head-over-heels in love with this part of their culture.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to be a part of mine!
(Blow up the pans!)