Hiking Mt. Acha (아차산) & Mt. Yongma (용마산)
The temperature dropped 20F since the beginning of this week, marking the true start of fall in Seoul. So, yesterday my fellow GSG wife, Bridget, and I decided to take advantage of the cool (not yet cold) weather and go for a hike on one of Seoul’s many mountains. After doing some research, we found that many people recommend hiking Mt. Acha (Achasan 아차산) and Mt. Yongma (Yongmasan 용마산) together, since they are close and are sort of connected. The official website for hiking in Korea said that these two mountains were good for beginners. After yesterday’s experience, Bridget and I beg to differ…
We packed backpacks with some snacks and sunscreen and headed to Achasan subway station. There, we shared some Korean dumplings (mandu 만두) and a chive pancake before buying some water and walking to the main entrance of Achasan. We were already tired from just walking up a steep hill to get to the main entrance. The map at the entrance said the hike to the peak would take 30 minutes… we’re pretty sure that’s at a brisk pace with no breaks. The hike started out with stairs that then turned into stone steps that turned into just rocks. Halfway up Achasan, there was a pavilion and also an outdoor exercise area. Now, I’ve come to learn that Koreans love to exercise. There is outdoor equipment EVERYWHERE! Who goes for a hike, works out, and then continues to hike? And I’m talking about middle aged people and the elderly! We were also the most underdressed people on the mountain. We were wearing sneakers and baseball caps. Everyone else was decked out in hiking gear and carrying walking sticks.
The views of Seoul from up high were pretty awesome! And it was such a beautiful, clear day. At the top of Achasan, Bridget and I felt pretty good. We weren’t in pain, just sweaty. We did slip a few times in our sneakers, because of the sand and dry pine needles on the rocks. But we were ok. And the official Korean website for hiking said the next mountain was also for beginners. So, we continued on the path to Yongmasan. After much climbing, we made it to the top of Yongmasan. We took a break, and had some water and nuts. We still felt pretty good! Two mountains in one day, easy!
Many of the reviews for Yongmasan said that the waterfalls (the largest man-made waterfalls in Asia) were a must-see. We saw a clear trail down the mountain (with steps). Unfortunately, the sign for the waterfalls was pointing the opposite direction… towards some rocks and something that didn’t look at all like a trail. When I asked about the waterfalls, most people said “no” but pointed down a rocky path that had some rope lining it. Bridget and I should have just turned around. Instead, we followed two Koreans down the path, using the rope as a way to climb down. I wouldn’t call what we did “hiking” but rather “mountain climbing.” We had to use the rope to repel down the huge slabs of rock. About ten minutes down, our two guides pointed down the path further, nodded, and headed back up the mountain. A little further, we looked out to where the waterfalls should have been, and saw… no water. There was a trail of blue coloring on the cliffs, left by the oxide of the water that should have been there. And then Bridget and I understood. People were saying “no” because there was no water!
We decided to continue on the path down, because, how much further could it be to the base of the mountain? I have to admit that for the first fifteen minutes, using the rope to climb down the mountain was exhilarating, but after half an hour, I was too tired to concentrate on my footing. I just wanted to be at the bottom of the mountain. Plus, I was getting rope burn on my hands. (That’s why the serious hikers wear gloves!) Both Bridget and I regretted not having hiking boots. Our sneakers weren’t the best at providing enough traction to walk down a solid rock face. (That’s why the serious hikers wear hiking boots!) AND, we only encountered three people on this path, all climbing UP the mountain. Eventually, after an hour, we heard street noise and knew that we were close. Our legs felt like jelly once we were on flat ground!
It took us three hours to get from the base of Achasan to the base of Yongmasan. We expected a nice, leisurely hike, but, instead, we had to use our hands and feet to climb down Yongmasan- definitely not what I consider to be a beginner’s hike! Bridget and I think that we might have taken the wrong path down. Anyway, we’ve agreed to give this mountain another try, but maybe next time, we’ll be hiking boots.