I have been blessed to be able to get back into hiking while here in Korea, though unfortunately I will be taking a hiatus while my ankle heals. Luckily I have found some kayaking and beach trips to occupy my adventurous spirit for a while! Here are some photos and stories from some of my hiking adventures so far!
Korea’s landscape is approximately 70% mountainous terrain. Seoul’s geography is actually a basin, and it is surrounded by mountains on all sides. Most mountains have arranged trails with stairs and maps, so it is very easy to find your way. So far I have done four hikes in Korea: Inwangson, Bukhansan, Jagged Ridge at Sa Rayang Do Island, and a local backyard hike in my district.
Inwangsan was my first hike, which I did on Christmas Eve, right after arriving in Korea. Inwangsan is a fairly easy hike. It has well arranged trails and only takes about three hours. It is located in the north western part of Seoul, so it has great views of the city, and you can even see the presidents house! (Check the January 2012 archive for the full story on this hiking adventure)
Mount Bukhansan was a very fun adventure! My friend Rachel and I joined this hike through Seoul Hiking Group. There are many different adventure groups in Korea that help foreigners organize trips and hikes. It is a fantastic way to meet likeminded people, and also get some quality time outdoors!
The Mount Bukhansan hike started in Dongdaemun, which is in a busy shopping district in Seoul. The trail followed the Seoul Fortress. The Seoul fortress was originally built in 1396 during the Joseon Dynasty. As you walk along the wall, you can tell from the size and shape of the stones which era in which it was built. The original walls, built in the late 14th century, were constructed of medium-sized round stones held together by mud. The next major expansion, which took place during King Sejong the Great’s reign in the mid 15th century, are marked by rectangular stones closely fit together. Another major restoration in 1704 was when King Sukjong rebuilt sections of the wall using large, uniform stone slabs.
The last hiking adventure I want to share is my trip to Sa Ryang Do Island on the southern western coast of Korea. I found this particular trip through a group called “When In Korea”. Spring time was just emerging so I was hunting for either a beach trip or an interesting hike outside of Seoul. As I perused facebook, I suddenly found a trip that encompassed both! The trip advertised an island hike with ocean views the entire time. As soon as I saw it I was hooked! Little did I know that this would be the most challenging hike of my life, as nowhere in the advertisement warned be about what would lay ahead.
After an all night bus ride we arrived at the harbor, just as the sun was rising over the mountains. Even though I did not get much sleep on the bus, I was filled with a rush of energy and excitement as soon as I breathed in the fresh air. It was quite refreshing after constantly being burdened by the pollution in Seoul. We then took a 30 minute ferry ride to Sa Ryang Do Island.
As we arrived at the island, our guide started making comments that this hike was going to be a challenge, and that we may hate him at the end of the day. Of course no warning of any kind was given until we were 20 minutes from starting our hike. I looked at my friend Rachel apprehensively, and wondered what her thoughts were about our guides comments. She assured me I would be be fine, but I still began to get slightly nervous.
As we began the hike, I found it to be a steep climb, but nothing that I could not handle. I was relieved and thought to myself, Oh this is not bad at all . . . Let’s just say I was quite unprepared for what was coming next!
All of the sudden, the rocks became very jagged and steep. Maneuvering began to get very tricky. In order to descend, I literally had to slide down in a crab walk position, so I would not go tumbling down. I was very nervous, but I was glad to meet two other people that were feeling the same as I was. As we crabbed walked down the rocks dug into my hands and was slightly painful, but the stunning views and our comic attitude made the pain less intense. As we carefully maneuvered each ledge with great caution, I kept thinking to myself, “well it can’t get any more challenging than this . . .”
All of the sudden an enormous boulder emerged at the peak. People were using a rope to scale up the rock. I could feel my heart sink into the depths of my stomach. I honestly considered giving up. There was no way I was going to scale a mountain on a rope! Even in my younger days, rock-climbing was never really my thing. My guide guaranteed, that once I got closer I would see that it was not as intimidating as it looked. I took a deep breath and decided, “alright, it’s now or never”. I said a prayer to myself and began the ascent. Half way up, I accidentally looked down, and had a small internal panic attack. My breathing began to get rapid, as fear shot through every vein in my body. I took a deep breath, and then I continued the climb. Reaching the top was the most exhilarating feeling. I was full of adrenalin and had an incredible sense of accomplishment. I thought that I had conquered the most challenging feat of my life, but then I remembered, “Uh-oh, I have to climb down”. Luckily my adrenalin rush had not subsided, so I was able to use this newfound energy to conquer the rest of the hike.
After the epic rock climb, the hike continued to be a challenge, but the beauty that surrounded me distracted any negative thinking. After coming home from this hike I was filled with a new energy, that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.