After having been grounded for more than two months because of the Covid-19 situation, I am excited to be back on the road again, and take the train and subway into Seoul. As long as I am on public transportation, everyone is wearing a mask, but as soon as I get off at Seoksu station, I see people without masks. Hikers are coming down from the hill, and seeing their walking sticks and their professional clothes reminds me that Korean hikers are always well prepared. I am not: I did not know what to expect, and am wearing normal clothes, but fortunately good hiking shoes, and a plan: cross the entire area and exit on the other side. I do not know the distance, which is also not indicated on the trail map at the entrance, and it is already 3pm when I take my first steps uphill.
The going is steep, and I quickly gain altitude, walking on a trail through the woods that brings me a few hundred metres higher. I get glimpses of the city through openings between the trees, but my first real stop is a viewpoint with sweeping views over the city, and pillars of rock. I also find a Bulyeongam temple, with hundreds of colourful balloons, piles of pebbles and Buddha statuettes in the shape of pagodas, and a small pond. A little higher up, I find the ruins of a Silla-era fortress, Hoamsanseong on top of Hoamsan, which are mostly earth-and-tree covered mounds, an open area with water, and a dog-shaped statue at the northern entrance. From here, I hike further up, take a right, and head towards Samseongsan through pine tree forests. I love the smell of the trees, and the sound of the wind blowing through their tops. After seeing others on the main trail before, there are noticeably less people on this trail. Before reaching the summit, I find a vertical rock wall with a rope dangling down, and make my way up, with more rock climbing to reach the summit. Further east, I see the ridge with Gwanaksan, and communication installations on the summits.
But first, I need to descend through pine woods, climb up again on what is never an easy trail. On the way up, I only meet one person: it feels like I have the mountain to myself. From the top, I walk down stairs and reach the Yeonjuam temple complex. Most buildings are closed, but I see the big bell, again, hundreds of colourful balloons, and views over the north of Seoul from the balcony of the main temple building. I walk up more stairs to reach the summit of Gwanaksan at 629m (even though on some maps it is marked as 632m). On the way, I see a small hermitage perched on top of a rocky cliff; a small trail takes me there. The building is surrounded by red balloons, and from the balcony that runs around it, the views over Seoul are spectacular in the late afternoon light. Inside, I find two people praying. It is exactly the peaceful spot I was hoping to find on this hike, so I stay for a while before I walk up to the very summit. I take a back trail which involves some rock climbing again, and then start to walk down, assuming that going back to the city should be on an easier trail. It turns out I am wrong: I still need to jump off rocks, climb over others, and closely watch the path. I am now increasingly in a hurry: the sun will set in less than ten minutes, hiking down here in the dark would be a challenge. When I finally hit the first street, I am enveloped in darkness, happy to have made it down, and see that I have hiked a little under 20km with more than 1000m altitude gain. This hike was much longer than anticipated, and I feel a deep sense of gratitude and satisfaction on my way back towards the airport.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Gwanak Mountain (South Korea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Gwanak Mountain. Read more about this site.