I've spent almost 3 years in Korea since 1991 and lived literally at the bottom of two mountains, but never once went hiking.
So, as I was going up for a business trip and planned to stay a couple of days extra anyway, I made sure to bring my gear.
I left Sunday morning by subway towards Bukhansan in the NW corner of Seoul. It happened to be Chusok (the Korean
Thanksgiving) which meant the trail would either be packed or empty. It had rained over night and the air was thick with humidity and heat. Once off the subway I bought some water, a pack of gum, and some candy. I had no idea what I was doing or how long it would take. I crossed the street and got on a mini bus to the mountain where I paid my KRW1600 entrance fee and started walking.
There were probably 8 people going up the same time, but I quickly lost sight of them as I started up the road towards what I
assumed to be the trails. About 15 minutes up the road I took a trail visible off the right side of the road. The trail was well trodden, very lush, and a bit muddy. I was alone, but confident. After 25 minutes of steady hiking up this path I stood before a sheer boulder about 15" tall. Although possible to climb, I decided to turn around as :
A. I was alone
B. I'm afraid of heights, and
C. I saw a sign explaining this was the "Green Marine Route"
While walking back I ran into a guy and asked him the best route to take -- he pointed back towards the boulder. I immediately followed as I figured it was probably better to take the more difficult route with some company that to wander around in circles. The gentleman who guided me up and over the various peaks for 3 hours turned out to be a Lt. Colonel in the Korean Army.
The first boulder wasn't too bad, but the 2nd and 3rd ones were increasingly difficult. Some were so sheer and of such a steep
angles that the only way up them was to pull yourself up steel cables that had been anchored into the rock face. The drops off these things were 20m straight down on the low ends and 100's of meters on the other sides. I was a tad worried as I've just hired a personal trainer and I'm finding even the bar alone (read: no weights) heavy. Everyone else was wearing long pants and full-on hiking boots while I was in shorts and my trail runners. I was sliding all over the place making it really hard to climb these things. Another minor annoyance was the fact that all communication was done in Koream. Not a problem when I'm ordering a beer, but a tad worrying when you're discussing climbing instructions.
In reality, while it was certainly dangerous, I was way more worried than I needed to be as loads of people climb this thing ever single day of the year. The Colonel and I even found ourselves hiking for a good portion of the day with two ladies and another guy was had to be in his 50s. All around a spectacular day to enjoy Chusok. In one of the photos you'll even see us enjoying some grapes and Songpyun -- a tradititional Chusok food -- at the top.
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