I recently posted an entry about one of many mountains in and around Seoul: Namsan. Today’s entry is about the second mountain Brandon and I hiked that weekend: a mountain by the name of Bugaksan (북악산).
The area around Bugaksan was only recently opened for the the public’s enjoyment. Until 2006, it had been a military zone and was even the location of a failed assassination attempt on a former South Korean leader by North Korean forces. There are still certain areas which are off-limits and photography is restricted, but most of Bugaksan is open for the enjoyment of hiking and outdoors enthusiasts. It is also the site of a remarkably well-preserved section of the Seoul City Wall–which knocked Bugaksan up to a ‘must’ for a hiking/history enthusiast such as myself. Out of the two mountains Brandon and I hiked that weekend, Bugaksan was our favorite.
Accessed by a local bus, the base of Bugaksan is home to a small park and a large gate known as Changuimun (창의문). Make sure to look up when you walk through so you don’t miss the intricate paintings which decorate the ceiling.
Before they can start the hike, visitors must stop by a small information center to get security clearence for the area. As I mentioned before, access to the area is closely supervised due to its proximity to the residence of a certain high-level Korean political leader. That said, security passes are easily obtained by filling out a short form and showing a valid form of ID. From there, the long haul to the top begins.
The ascent is mostly up stairs following the line of the ancient wall up the steep slope. Along the way, fantastic views of the surrounding areas reveal themselves. We were fortunate enough to be climbing in the spring, when blossoms still cling to the boughs of trees and the temperatures–though high–are nowhere near the swampy heat of Korean summers.
Seoul–the long-standing capital of Korea and a true urban jungle–has a wealth of history hidden in its creases. One such link to the past lies draped over the mountains surrounding Seoul (including Bugaksan), in the form of the Seoul City Wall.
Constructed by King Taejo–as well as the ‘assistance’ of 118,000 people–over the course of 49 days in the winter months of 1396, the wall stretched for over 18 km. Only portions of the wall remain today, one being the stretch of wall atop Bugaksan.
As we walked along, the construction of the wall seemed a bit cobbled together. Later on, I discovered this was a result of the amount of time it took to build the wall. The construction stretched over 300 years–the evolution of the technology and methods used to lay the stone a reflection of the span of time.
After countless steps and numerous stops at shaded rest areas, we made it to the summit. Several groups of people gathered in the shade, leaving the boulder at the summit open for us to clamber on top of. There’s something about reaching the true summit of a mountain–even a small one–that creates such a feeling of accomplishment.
Our hike wasn’t finished, however. We decided to continue on along the wall towards Sukjeongmun (숙정문). Our map wasn’t to scale, not even close, so it took us a bit longer than we expected. We made it, though, and decided to descend the other side of Bugaksan to check out some temples and parks below.
Getting back proved a little more difficult. We were on the north side of the wall, and the only easy way under it was going through a tunnel not at all conducive to pedestrians. We elected to go over instead, doggedly winding our way through a maze of trails until we figured out a way over the wall.
We only hiked a small portion of the trails around Bugaksan, but the parts we did were nothing short of awesome. While the climb up is a grind, the views from the top are stunning; the addition of some history and classic Korean architecture make this a great way to spend a day in Seoul.
How about you? Have you hiked any mountains in Seoul besides Namsan or Bugaksan? Which ones? Tell me about the hike in the comments below.