Our day at Bukhansan National Park, just north of Seoul, deserves a post of its own, if only for the pictures. The main event of the day was climbing Baegundae, the tallest of the park’s peaks at 836 meters. The name of the peak is one of the only concrete scraps of information I can actually give about this hike, though, as I pretty much winged it for much of our journey.
Sometimes, winging it in a foreign country is disastrous, but in this case, I think it turned out pretty okay.
Because hiking is always on my agenda, I took over all the planning for this particular activity on our Korea itinerary. Because precise planning isn’t my strongest skill, this means that I scoured the internet and wrote down a rough idea of how to get there. And at a very early hour on Thursday morning, my trusting friends followed me onto the subway (orange line) to Gupabal station, exit 1, then we followed everyone in hiking gear onto a bus (possibly bus #34). We got off at the entrance to the park, exactly where everyone else in brightly colored hiking gear got off.
And our adventure began.
When when we actually arrived at the park, I just made a lot of educated guesses. I can’t honestly tell you exactly what route we took… all I know is that we followed every sign pointing up to Baegundae. But the park trails are well marked, so if you know roughly where you are going, you can wing it too! (not great advice).
The beginning of our hike was pretty quiet. Our trail snaked alongside a river for a while, and we passed by a few little temples. For the most part, we were hiking through serene green forest and there weren’t that many other people.
Everything changed about 3/4 of the way up, when the mountain turned it up a notch. Bukhansan has a lot of smooth granite slabs of rock, which make traction difficult even on warm sunny days. So quite a few parts of the trail leading up to Baegundae (as well as the entire peak itself) are granite boulders with steel ropes and railings drilled into them. You have to pull yourself up and across the rocks, being pretty cautious about footwork.
It’s actually a fun challenge when you and your friends have all the time in the world to work your way across the rocks… but it’s decidedly not so fun when you have a bunch of impatient hikers behind you, hurrying you along to the point where you slip and slide your way over the boulders. Luckily, the latter only happened to us at the very top (by midday it gets pretty crowded, and I’ve heard that you have to stand in long lines on the weekends!)
Once you arrive at the final 0.7 km up to Baegundae’s peak, it’s all granite and chains. It’s time for all your fancy footwork skills to shine. It’s also chaos with hikers arriving from every trail, a never-ending stream of new faces eager and pushing to get to the top.
It’s also the point where you realize the hike was 100% worth all your effort.
We packed quite a few Korean konbini snacks to eat at the top of the mountain (honey butter potato chips, strawberry gummies, and some Dr. You granola bars!) but our little feast was beaten by some very resourceful Korean hikers. One man managed to hike up the mountain with ice cubes just so he could enjoy the view with a fresh iced coffee!
After about an hour of scrambling across the boulder and soaking in the views, we began our descent. Again, I can’t tell you too much information about our trail, but the last half of it was nearly deserted… just the forest and the streams and us. We re-entered civilization when we came across a pretty popular temple near the very bottom of the mountain.
Everything was incense and lanterns.
The temple was having a celebration for Buddha’s birthday, and bright lanterns were strung up everywhere. We spent a while wandering around the temple, taking pictures and buying lots of water before searching for a non-existent bus back to the subway (we never found it, though, and we ended up taking a taxi to line 4’s Gireum station). Luckily, taxis in Korea are cheap!
Our day ended with a hearty 4 o’clock lunch of Army Stew (Budae-jjigae) complete with ramen noodles, kimchi, savory rice cakes, mushrooms, curry flakes, sausages, and cheese…
…followed by a long, relaxing evening at Siloam Fire Pot Sauna, a five-floor jjimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). We jumped from bath to bath (my favorite was the charcoal bath) along with a good sweat in the sauna, then we spent quite a while trying out the spa’s different fomentation rooms (including the Ice room, the Jade stone room, and a room where you lay down in little dens made to look like brick pizza ovens — while in the oven, I couldn’t help but consider what type of pizza I would be). Honestly, we were so tired from the hike that we all fell asleep in Oxygen room for a good hour, and woke up feeling very rejuvenated (and oxygenated?).
For anyone visiting Seoul, I highly recommend a day hiking in Bukhansan, and of course, a night at a jjimjilbang to pamper yourself afterwards!