When Seoul shuts down for a national holiday the first thing I think of is “where should I hike?” Lunar New Year followed my Chuseok and Christmas traditions and brought me to an empty Bukhansan National Park. My plan was to hike up Juanbong like my first hike and then cross the ridgeline into “uncharted territory” to arrive at Jubong, a peak I discovered with my brother.
As you scroll through these pictures, don’t forget to click away; I promise they are better in high resolution! (especially the panoramic shots)
I started out at a steady pace up the trail as the paved road gave way to a rocky path. Pausing, I periodically snapped photos of my journey on this warm January day. On this solo hike I enjoyed taking my time and venturing off the path into the trees and took a moment beneath a few for a photoshoot trying to catch Juanbong behind the nearby leafless beasts.
Moments later I was back on and then quickly off of the path again trekking through the leaves to a small ice formation. This subtle reminder that it was in fact winter prompted me to lean in the small cave and capture these frozen sculptures before walking along a riverbed.
After drying up, the flow had been replaced by leaves now crunching beneath my feet. Suddenly I happened upon the water source for the nearby Buddhist temple. A small still pond reflected the frozen waterfall along the rock face nearby. I sat and pondered my next move, should I go back down to the path or keep trekking through the leaves?
I opted to climb the next ledge and hop over another leaf-laden riverbed. A few moments later I was back on the trail and found an icy welcome before coming upon the Buddhist temple. Every time I get here I try to snap a shot of the metallic Buddhas with Juanbong as a backdrop. The lighting is difficult with dark figures in foreground and a bright a blue sky above when I really want to capture that white mountain!
The temple was eerily quiet on this Lunar New Year; I found it peaceful and cherished the refreshing mountain air with a dazzling view of Seoul below the trees. The scene from up here always stuns me for a second but then I remember how much better it gets as I climb.
Moments after rejoining the rocky steps my surprise at the lack of snow vanished. I turned the corner to find an icy path flanked by snowy blankets. The steps instantly became slippery and forced me to slow my pace. Before I knew it I reached part of the path where the sun beat down melting the wintery goodness into a muddy trail.
Pausing only briefly for a photo opp with a rooty old tree I quickly made it to a popular picnic area, Madangbawi (rock yard). I snapped a panoramic shot of the snow-laden mountainside with Seoul glistening behind it before setting off on the last leg of my ascent.
The path continued to grow steeper and I made good use of chains and ropes to pull myself up rock after rock. Bouldering all the way I finally made it to the last staircase which led to one of my favorite parts in all of Bukhansan National Park. I was glad the path was empty on Lunar New Year and took my time climbing the last few meters of Juanbong. Planting each foot carefully I grabbed ledge and pole and hoisted myself to the peak.
The fresh mountain air continued to amaze me as I took in the beautiful scenery. I timed my trip so the sun would be setting while I was up here but it wasn’t quite ready so I grabbed a chunk of rock and had a little picnic before donning my crampons (spikes for ice hikes).
An orange hue crept over the sky as the sun slunk towards the mountains and illuminated the rocks and city below. Even as the sun set there was still plenty of light and it took some finagling with the focus and exposure settings on my camera but I snapped some fantastic pictures of my favorite time of day!
The climb down was a little easier but by now the railings were chilling my already cold hands. I realized how stupid it was not to bring gloves in the middle of the winter but didn’t dwell on it. Rolling my sleeves down to cover my hands on the frigid metal I paused for a loathing “selfie” before deciding to hoof it for Jubong.
This side of the mountain instantly displayed signs of shade. Ice and snow covered the trail as I hiked westward along the ridge. The sun crept over the hill with an orange glow peaking through the bare branches. As I approached the crest I was stunned at the gorgeous landscape beneath me; a mountain enveloped in shadow on my side with a brilliant golden hue breaching above. A crow cawed loudly as it flew past the massive fireball in the sky.
Staring into the yellow twilight I was surprised at how much light reached my path. It made me happy to think I’m finally getting a good hang on my camera settings when suddenly I realized the sign ahead failed to say Jubong. I wanted to enjoy the final moments of sunset from the peak, had I somehow circumvented the peak with my favorite view? I knew it must be just ahead and continued westward along the ridge.
I paused only briefly before taking the left path when suddenly the sun dazzled in a brilliant red circle among the trees. On this side of the mountain the snow was almost nonexistent and I climbed a rock for a better view through the branches before snapping away.
Climbing down the dark began to set in and I soon realized not only did this thin path not look at all like a path but I wouldn’t make it to Jubong on this trip. For the first time in Korea I felt like I was lost. Did I really lose the path? Just keep going I told myself, refusing to let panic set in. I kept telling myself “I’m heading the right direction, down the mountain, there’s gotta be a path soon!”
Sure enough a few hundred meters on I saw a sign for Dobonsan Ranger Station, only 3 kilometers away. With the sun setting I crept carefully along the icy path, glad I left my crampons on when I heard another hiker behind me. An old Korean gentleman with minimal English abilities was sliding along the path and almost fell beside me. Reaching out I grabbed his arm and offered to brace him for the rest of this icy journey.
Mr. Han introduced imself and between his broken English and my broken Korean he was able to thank me and point out some landmarks in the dark. We found a Chinese inscription on a massive boulder before coming accross a gorgeous golden buddha I passed with my brother. Moments later we were back on the paved road and down the mountain! He insisted on giving me his number and invited me to join him for a “climb” sometime. I told him I hoped I’d know more Korean by then and we parted ways.
What a day in Bukhansan! My first sunset, first icy trail on crampons and first time getting lost. Lets hope I can repeat 2 out of 3 of these experiences regularly.