Published: January 24th 2010January 24th 2010
Hiking seems to be the national hobby of adult Korean males. I recently visited Bukhansan Mountain, in the northern part of Seoul, and was dumbfounded with what I saw. It wasn't the row of hiking shops preceding the entrance to the trails which surprised me; I'd seen the hiking shops before at trails near Gwanaksan, Palgongsan and various other mountains. Koreans like their hiking gear. The scenery didn't leave me in a state of comtemplative amazement, but it was beautiful. It was the sheer number of people packing the trails that left me bewildered. Hiking in snow?
My trip occurred on the second weekend of January, shortly after Seoul had received a traffic-congesting 20 cm of snow. I met a dozen other hikers at the Gupabal subway station, where we purchased drinks, snacks and crampons (shoe spikes) for our five hour journey. There were street vendors selling hiking gears outside of the station, which should have alerted me that the trails were going to be busy.
We arrived at our destination after a twenty minute bus ride. The bus let us off in a small town next to the mountain, and we had only a ten minute walk to reach the trailhead. The trailheads to all of Korea's biggest mountains have giant, route maps. Mount Bukhansan is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Korea, and it is riddled with hiking trails. The map showed dozens of trails to various peaks. Our day hike was supposedly “easy” in difficulty, but I'm not sure for whom it was supposed to be easy. Mountain goats?
The trails were covered in snow, which made hiking boots and crampons a necessity. I purchased 4-spike crampons specifically for this event and they surely saved me from a dozen falls. Everyone else in the group also seemed to have crampons. One's clothing was just as important as one's shoes. It was about -3 Celsius during the day, and we spent a long time outside, with quite a few rest breaks. Fortunately, everyone in our group seemed to have dressed well.
Almost all of the hiking was uphill, through the woods. We didn't get near the top of the mountain, so we didn't pass many lookouts. However, even the woods provides a welcome change of scenery if you've been spending all of your time in the city. And, truth be told, I spent a lot of time looking at the ground as I was worried about falling.
Afterwards, we went out for dinner at a large, but not-so-fancy place that served us tofu and Korean pancakes (which are made from fried beans, but taste like fried potato).