When a friend of mine suggested we hike Bukhansan I was excited. It was a mountain I saw pictures of and thought 'how beautiful'. The view from the top seemed worthy of the steep decent. As they wanted to go on one of my work days I had to take the day off, but I thought the exchange worthwhile. A couple of our co-teachers were under the misapprehension that we were going to be doing Bugaksan instead, they sound similar but are wildly different adventures. One is a nice afternoon stroll over wooden walkways and the other (the one I was committing to) was somewhere between a hike and scaling mountains.
I wouldn't say I love hiking, I enjoy it if the view from the top is great and the walk is interesting. If not then I could take or leave it. A group hike in South Korea is something different. For Korean's hiking is something of a national pastime and people take it very seriously. Everyone from the kids to grandma will bedeck themselves in the best hiking clobber they can get their hands on and take to the hills, frequently.
I grew up on the beach so I was late to the hiking scene. Even so, I think I do okay - slow and steady has always got me to the top. It's the decent that I struggle the most with.
Bukhansan is a well paced hike. It starts off with slowly sloping hills, graduating to rocky ascent. It varied between a steep climb and some parts leveled out allowing you to catch your breath. At the half way point the climb intensifies, it is either a steep incline or a huge rock to pull yourself over using metal cables anchored into the rock face.
The climb may be tough but once you reach the massive rock just before the summit it will all be worth the effort. Most people stop there to have something to eat before tacking the last 5 minutes to the tiny outcrop at the very top of the mountain. There you will find a marker and a South Korean flag flying atop a very tall post. Most people stop to take a picture here.
Looking out across the other mountain peaks, yes there are more of them, you can see some are still capped with snow, we went in March. Just day's before the mountain was still a little icy and to be honest I don't think I would have attempted the climb if it was still frosty. It was dangerous enough in dry conditions. From the top you can see mountains in the distance on one side and the bustling city of Seoul in the other direction.
On the way down there are 2 options; to go down the way you came up, or to take a longer but apparently easier way down. Our options were limited, owing to the covering of incredibly slippery ice on the longer path which we initially intended to take. For obvious reasons we chose to avoid the ice.
It is traditional to drink Makgeolli (fermented rice wine) on the decent, and who are we to break with tradition. So we had a couple of glasses to steel ourselves what proved to be a challenging climb down. My legs did not shake but I certainly felt it the next time.
If you are up for another hiking related activity, once you are finished you can head to the hiking stores which line to road up to the start of the trail, here you can try and bag a bargain. However, if like us, you feel a little done in, perhaps grab a snack from one of the vendors on the same street to nosh on as you wait for the bus to arrive.
My final points are; whilst this hike was challenging I would not say it was overly difficult. In parts I did find myself out of breath but it was a good mix of exertion and enjoyment. The ascent took 2 hours (without breaks) and the decent was about the same. Most people do the lot in 5 hours or under and I feel that is a pretty accurate time frame.
This is one mountain I would climb again.
How to get there
Take line 3 to Gupabal Station, from there take the 704 bus to Baegundae trail (Bakhansanseong) and follow everyone else to the start of the trip.
The trail costs nothing, it's free. You will need to pay for transport.
What to take
Make sure you have a good pair of shoes, hiking boots would be well suited for this trail, and a pair of grippy gloves for assisting with the ascent. A warm wind jacket for the top wouldn't go amiss either.