Last summer I made the responsible (albeit disappointing) choice to skip mudfest in lieu of staying healthy and climbing Bukhansan National Park’s highest peak, Baegundae. Leaving the following Thursday for an extreme trip through Vietnam I knew that I didn’t want to fight a multi-day hangover or any bruised limbs from the alcohol supported escapades at one of the dirtiest festivals in the world. As a result I offered to lead a hike up Baegundae with Seoul Hiking Group. That’s how Brian and I came to meet some new hiking buddies, Heidi & Jason!
The Korean language barrier presented some difficulties finding the right entrance. At first we ended up at the same entrance Brian & I had taken a few months back which was a 4 hour trek to the base of Baegundae. This time we were searching for the 1.5 hour route! Luckily my Korean was capable enough to buy a map and ask for directions so we quikcly found a cab and arrived at the Baegundae-Sogwicheon Information Center.
When first stepping on the trail we had roughly 500m of vertical remaining in the 835m climb up Baegundae. It began as rough cut stone steps and boulders surrounded by the natural beauty of Bukhansan in the summer. Green trees with the occasional flower flanked our path as the sweat rolled down our faces. Jason, a first time hiker was soon converted to a naturalist and took regular breaks to get a full feel for mother nature’s splendor.
A few minutes in we found ourselves at a “temple.” It had none of the usual pizazz with a bland roof instead of the typical painted parapet. We were greeted by two “mountain dogs” as a Korean woman approached. There was a small antechamber for prayer with a spectacular buddha but otherwise this locale appeared to be the simple residence of these pleasant folk. We played with the dogs for a few moments and said our thanks before continuing the trek.
The steps grew steeper and less frequent as our climb now presented massive boulders to scale. With careful footing and my new trekking boots I enjoyed clambering over each slab when we were presented with a long wooden staircase. Another 15 minutes past the stairs and an outpost appeared perfectly timed for lunch! Everyone else ordered a cup of ramen while I tried the 국수-guksoo (traditional noodle soup). We lingered under the leaves a few moments enjoying the delicious 김치 (kimchi) that came with this meal. The best kimchi always comes from “holes in the wall” and this mountain rest stop sported some of the finest 김치 I’ve tasted!
Continuing onward we knew it couldn’t be much farther! The rocks and steps continued switch back and forth and then suddenly we happened upon a fortress wall! To the right the final hundred meters of Baegundae; in front a gorgeous path that would take us to the trails from Brian and my first attempt (that post will be out… in the future!). We turned right and quickly found a rock outcropping I dubbed “the duck” where Heidi and I staged a photo-shoot!
The last stretch of our ascent was now immediately upon us. Pushing onward the view grew even more spectacular with every step. Seoul was beginning to peek through the misty smog as apartment buildings slowly emerged.
Finally at the top the 360 degree view revealed a forested valley with a misty blanket below. Loving the mountain air we lingered here for another photo-shoot with the Korean flag and met Brian’s new best friend!
One of Baegundae’s attractions is the flag atop its summit. If you want to snap a photo with it you better get in line; there could be a few or a few dozen Koreans waiting. We got lucky since Koreans love foreigners and wanted photos with us in them so they let us jump in front!
Reluctantly we began our descent and quickly began imagining our well earned dinner. It had taken a little over 2 hours to climb up (including frequent breaks, a ramen & ‘temple’ stop) and we estimated the same to get back down.
Along the we we stopped for a second round of 국수 (traditional noodle soup) but decided on barbeque later and didn’t stuff our faces as much as we wanted. By the time we neared the bottom ominous clouds threatened to cool us off after the sweaty climb.