Brian and I woke Christmas morning ready to hike Bukhansan National Park! We met in the subway and half slept through our 70 minute ride to Dobongsan station. The plan was to hike up the same path I took in my first excursion to Bukhansan National Park and then head over to Jubong and come down the path my brother and I took. We hoped that the recent snows were still blanketing the forest floor in the mountains.
Our dreams of snow were quickly diminished as we started up the crowded street. It looked just like Omok-ro, our street at home with a little ice and snow on the fringes of the sidewalk. The route looked the same as my last hike except no one was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. We weren’t expecting it to be completely snow covered but were longing for a few traces of that wonderful white fluff!
Stopping at the ranger station to check on our trail our hopes grew a little. The ranger’s English wasn’t that great but she highlighted the main path up. When I showed her that I wanted to hike across the ridgeline from Juanbong to Jubong peak she glanced at our shoes. Spouting something in Korean I shook my head; I knew she was asking if we had crampons (spikes that you can attach for extra traction). That meant it must be icy up there which means SNOW!
Maybe we were acting like our kindergarteners playing in the snow, we really were two grown men excited for the glory of this winter treasure. When we got on the trail we were quickly rewarded with a semi frozen stream flanked by a snowy forest.
The occasional snow-covered staircase was replaced with a bouldering path that led us to the first Buddhist temple. Juanbong silhouetted the many buddhas in front of this vibrant shrine.
While inside the temple we appreciated the storytelling artwork and adroitly designed meditation rooms. A passerby invited us to join them for a light meal in an antechamber but we politely declined.
“감사합니다 gamsahabnida (thank you) we have 김밥 gimbap. 먹어요에 주안방 Mogoyoe juanbong (We eat at juanbong).”
Well, my Korean is getting better but I guess half of what I said was in English. I think the only thing she actually understood was that we didn’t want to eat with her. We didn’t dwell on our lack of communication skills and got back on the trail!
Continuing upward the path crept back and forth between a beautiful white carpet and crunchy brown leaves. At one point there was a clear divide showing where the looming mountain kept half the trail perpetually engulfed in shadow while the other side still shone with the days’ sun.
Grabbing an icy rope we pulled ourselves up the slippery section of rocks before finding another stone staircase. We snuck a glimpse of Juanbong above us as Brian remarked “We’re making it much faster than last time.” We both knew the summit was near and paused only briefly at the massive rock outcropping with many native picnickers.
As we crept closer step by step the the wintery chill whipped around every corner with a freezing wind. The white blanket below crunched beneath our boots in between sessions of climbing over giant boulders. Before we knew it we were at the last stage of the climb; a series of poles and chains were our savior. The rock slopes were incredibly slick with all of the December ice.
I went first, firmly planting my feet against the pole as I grabbed the chain and hauled myself up. It wasn’t as crowded today; I guess the snow and cold was a deterrent for some. Or maybe everyone was celebrating Christmas; either way I was glad. I didn’t want to think about fighting our way up if it was packed with ice and hikers.
The view from up here was spectacular as always. Even with the haze, absent on my first visit, now blocking a stunning view of the city. The lack of a cityscape paved the way for the snow-capped mountains to steal the stage. The panoramic 360° view from Juanbong peak displayed a mix of evergreens, bare trees and rocks interweaved with a snowy blanket.
While at I snapped away Brian came into his stardom like a pro. A Korean man insisted he was a celebrity and liked Brian so much that he wanted a picture with his new white friend. We laughed, posed and devoured our gimbap and some oranges lingering for over an hour. Now sweatcovered from the steep climb we enjoyed the rest and landscape.
Deciding it was time to head back down the mountain we slowly lowered ourselves along the decline. Helped by the poles and the slow pace of the Koreans ahead of us I snapped a few more shots and knew that I’d have to come back to this view yet again. Slipping our way down without incident we eventually made it back to the well trodden path.
We took a different route down and continued to find a snowy mix beneath our feet. A sunfilled section of rocks provided a brief playground as we jumped along. Looping in and out of the barren trees the path grew snowy again but with signs of melting. The melt quickly turned into an icy cover as the sun crept near the horizon.
Our journey brought us back down boulders and to a slight cliff before crossing a semi-frozen river. We found ourselves back on a paved pathway that we discovered was even slicker than the icy dirt path behind us. Carefully strolling beside the stream we reminisced on this gorgeous Christmas hike in Bukansan National Park.