Hiking Gwanaksan, the “Hard” Way

At the peak

At the peak

Andrew, Alex, me and James

Andrew, Alex, me and James

Red temple in background

Red temple in background

A long way to go...

A long way to go…

Slow climber

Slow climber

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

A few weekends ago, Alex and I hiked Gwanaksan Mountain, next to Seoul National University. We took a mostly dirt trail, and followed a path designated by a string of lanterns. The hike wasn’t very difficult, but the view from the top was excellent- clear skies and a beautiful view of Seoul. But, we never made it to the peak of Gwanaksan.

On Saturday, we joined Alex’s coworker James, and his friend Andrew, on a VERY different hike up Gwanaksan. Let’s just say, if it weren’t for James’ experience (he has hiked Gwanaksan hundreds of times), we would have been lost. There were no lanterns to guide the way. It wasn’t obvious to me that climbing over very steep rock formations was the “right” way to go!

Alex climbing up a rock formation (photo credit: Andrew B)

Alex climbing up a rock formation (photo credit: Andrew B)

Climbing on all fours (photo credit: Andrew B)

Climbing on all fours (photo credit: Andrew B)

A really steep section (photo credit: Andrew B)

A really steep section (photo credit: Andrew B)

There were many sections where I really had to think (or was instructed by one of the guys) about where I should put each foot and hand in order to climb up the rocks. And, there were sections where we had to use rope (anchored at the top of a rock formation) to assist in the climb. Luckily, I brought my hiking gloves (which really paid for themselves this time!) AND I didn’t wear my ring (by the end of the hike, my fingers were swollen like Vienna sausages). We saw a vertical slab of rock with metal ring anchors, so that SERIOUS climbers can loop rope through when they climb. Despite the difficult climb, it was thrilling to scale the mountain and I felt awesome when we finally reached the peak at 629 meters! The view would have been fantastic, but there was so much smog blanketing Seoul that we could barely make out anything. 😦 Instead, we watched feral cats begging for food from hikers. Out of all of us at the top, those cats were the best climbers!

Waiting for me to climb up (photo credit: Andrew B)

Waiting for me to climb up (photo credit: Andrew B)

Almost there...

Almost there…

Thank goodness we descended down a different path than the way up. I have no idea how I would have made it down those steep slopes! Even though the hike down took around the same amount of time as the hike up, it felt much longer, maybe because we were all hungry for lunch, and the hike down was less interesting. James kept on saying, “Oh, just another 15 minutes until we get there…” but after 15 minutes, it would be another “15 minutes” until we reached a certain resting point! We deduced that the time needed from any Point A to any Point B would take “15 minutes” according to James! Along our descent, we saw quite a few bunkers as well as a pillbox, all built to protect Seoul against North Korea back in the fifties.

Spicy chicken

Spicy chicken

When we finally arrived at Sadang station, we ate grilled spicy chicken and pork for lunch and drank a ton of water. After that, we were all ready for a nice nap! We were very lucky that despite it being July (and supposedly monsoon season), it was fairly cool and cloudy during our hike. In spite of the tough ascent (at certain times, my heart was racing and adrenaline pumping), Alex and I are very glad that we took this different path to the peak of Gwanaksan. Who knows, maybe someday, Seoul’s mountains will make a hiker out of me.

Korean flag

Korean flag

Cool-looking tree

Cool looking tree

See the metal rings?

See the metal rings?

Pillbox with loopholes for machine guns

Pillbox with loopholes for machine guns

Bunker

Bunker

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