Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Curious Case of Little Red Riding Hoodless and a mountain called Bukhansan


I posted that on my Facebook and sometimes I amaze myself at how creative I can be, coming up with a Chinese poem Haha! Simply put, it translate roughly (and I mean very roughly) to describing my hike of 10km in Bukhansan up to the peak, with drizzling rain along the way. But of course, it still sounds more poetic in Chinese.
Back to the case in point - So what is this curious case? Nothing more than the impromptu decision to finally hike Bukhansan, located in Seoul. Like I said, I have stories.
So it was, I thought I was going to spend a very boring weekend stuck in Kunsan, a small town south of Seoul but we got approval to spend the weekend in Seoul like 2 days before the weekend. So with hotels booked, I started thinking of what I could do and the first thing was - Bukhansan! I have wanted to hike this bloody mountain since 3 years ago, when I went to Seoul. Ended up doing Gwanaksan instead. But all was good.  Now, I have 1 full day in Seoul and I couldn't let it go to waste!  So it was, I had no hiking attire at all because like I said, impromptu decision!  Still I had to NIKE it (just do it). Found the most hiking appropriate attire (which is actually my only pair of red hot pants + pink gym wear + running shoes - Hence Little Red Riding Hoodless), with the help of Internet, I kinda got an idea of where to start the hike.
The day was Saturday 20 July 2013, the time was 745am when I started my subway journey.  There are ALOT of different trails in Bukhansan, leading to different peaks or rather ultimately will lead to the same peak. I chose the most popular hike that will bring me up to Baegundae, a peak of 836 meters.  And accordingly, I took the subway to Gupabal station, and hopped onto bus 704.  Apparently, there are 2 other buses from Gupabal to Bukhansan too, as I saw hordes of colour coordinated, hiking geared-up Koreans getting up those buses. But I didn't want to take the chances since there's no way I could communicate with anyone here! As I saw it, I knew 704 for sure takes me to the starting point I wanted, so I boarded the bus. KRW1,150 per trip to get off at Bukhansanseong.

Once I got off, it is easy, just follow the crowd! You wouldn't go wrong following any of the Koreans as long as they are fully decked in hiking attire.  Everyone goes to the same place!  The initial 1H or so was relatively ok, yes slopes and rocks but compared to Gwanaksan, I thought this was easier! It took me about 2H to reach the peak, with only the last 10mins being the toughest and steepest.  Still it wasn't as difficult as Gwanaksan. 
View from the top

The route up to the top is relatively well marked.  Afterall, Bukhansan is very much visited by locals and foreigners.  So there are road signs along the way at each junction telling you where to go, and the distances. And the well trodden path makes it a lot easier too!  Following the path to Baegundae is a 4km hike.  I saw one that is 4.2km but not sure what that 200m extra takes me to.
Insudong peak, another nearby peak that can be scaled

Did I mention I had soju high up?
At Baegundae peak, it is actually just a very small rock face, with people squeezing to get on.  The wind was blowing full steam and a little freezing up there! And the clouds were gathering.  Before long, it started to drizzle.  Then stopped.  I had my moment just sitting by the edge at the top and marvel at the magnificent view.  Misty as it was, it didn't dampen my spirits.  I have this habit of always cursing and swearing when I'm in the process of climbing/hiking up the terrain/mountain because sometimes you just feel like 'What the fuck am I doing?!' But I still keep on going and going and once I reach the top, everything calms down.  The sense of achievement and the view high up there calms me down instantly and I am brought to my sense of nirvana, how great everything is high up.  The air is cleaner, the view is breathtaking, and it is like you are disconnected with the world for that split second, nobody disturbs you and you are in your own bubble.  A bubble that you keep blowing and maintaining, not willing it to burst, until you know it's time to leave the bubble and return.  The same bubble I blow myself when I'm diving, when nothing exists but me and my underwater world. 
I could have sat there for ages.  Like I did in Koh Tao when I sat up there for like 1H or so without realizing.  But Mother Nature decided my bubble has to burst there and then, and rain hit hard! Not drizzle but not thunderstorm either.  The kind of rain that makes you pack up and start moving.  As I said, I was ill prepared. So no raincoat or ziplock bag or anything, so potentially my camera/handphones and what shit are susceptible to being flooded. I had to act quick and move quick.  And I was drenched. 
On my way down
The road down was tough for me, because of the rain which made the rock face very slippery and my shoes have NO GRIP at all! Mind you, running shoes!! But thank god for my well trained arms, I was pulling/pushing myself up and down rather than using my legs because holding onto the metal ropes was a lot easier and steadier!  Before long, like 15mins or so, the rain stopped but I had already made my way down.  So I continued down.  At the junction, I had a decision to make - Continue down the same way I came up or try a different route which I have absolutely no idea where it leads to but down.  Just at this moment, a foreigner came hiking the opposite direction and I asked him if the way he came from leads down.  He said yes, and he offered another alternative road down which is shorter - 50mins down compared to 2H the way he came from.  He suggested I go for 50mins.  I thanked him and guess what?  Those who know me should know which one I took.  Why go for 50mins when I can have 2H of fun hiking and exploring!  That was exactly the reason I chose to go down to Daedongmun gate.  The time was 1130am, very early to be headed down in 50mins.  Why not spend longer in Bukhansan! 
The distance was marked 2.6km, but the road down is not all down. In fact it was more up than down!  I had some problems in the beginning, again because of the shoes. Couldn't get a grip on the rock surface, so once again arm muscles to the rescue!  And I just kept walking. Once past the initial rock surface, the road down is actually easy mud soil. So it was a relatively relaxed walk down.  And just when I saw the 1.3km sign, the next sign I was 0.44km the opposite direction (back where I came from).  I was and still am very certain I did not past any sign that points to Daedongmun exit, so I couldn't comprehend why I would miss the sign! But of course, like I said, lots of trails leading in Bukhansan.  The next exit was Bogukmun at 0.16km so I moved on.  And that was when I saw a sign pointing to a ridgeline.  And when I looked over, oooooh... A very interesting climb up a steep rock!  The adventurous spirit in me shouted "Go for it! You can come back for your exit later!" So I made my way down.  In fact, I was the only one going that direction.  Everyone else came from that steep rock to where I started.  Weird.  Anyway I went, and at one point it was like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2 where scaling was required.  Not as extreme as his in terms of rock climbing, but basically had to pull myself up and climbed up and down the rocks.  If you are afraid of heights, better don't attempt this. Cos once on top of the rocks, the wind is very strong and looking down can be very scary. 
The ridgeline hike

Very windy up there

Ajumma made me do KIMCHI

And another pose
There, I stopped for a moment.  And overly excited Ajummas (middle aged women) started helping me take photos.  I couldn't say no to them.  And that was when I met my Ajumma! A Korean lady who speaks Chinese. Conversational Chinese!  So it was that we hiked together! I backtracked to where I came from while she continued her hike!  And I found out from her that there was another trail that leads up to where we met!  Coincidentally, she was on her way down too so we hiked down together.
At Bogukmun, where I was planning to exit, the Ajumma told me - This way down is very short, not interesting. That killed it for me.  I don't like "NOT INTERESTING".  She suggested another exit which she was headed to, and if I was not tired, I could follow her! OF course I was going to follow her! 1 - I was not tired; 2 - she was my hope to get back to hotel! If I went down at Bogukmun, I have no idea how I'm going to get a bus to whatever subway station it is since NO ONE can speak English; 3 - I look for interesting and longer hike!
So we continued for another hour or so, going up up and up most way, then finally down.  This was when I realized why I missed my Daedongmum exit. Because, there is no sign pointing to EXIT!! There is just a route that appears!! You have to realize that is the route down to the exit and only when you started down the route, will you then see the sign that tells you how many KM to the exit! So once again, if I hadn't met my Ajumma, I might have been hiking non-stop until I cannot take it, so sit and wait to follow the crowd to somewhere, anywhere they might take me to.
The exit that we went for is Jeongneung.  According to my Ajumma, it is nearer to my hotel (City Hall station) as compared to Bukhansanseong, but Bukhansanseong has more people, so safer for someone like me who knows no Korean and haven't been to Bukhansan before.  Which is true! Going down Jeongneung, the crowd is far fewer than Bukhansanseong.  However, I must say the route is well trodden and there are signs, so I guess it will still be manageable!  But it is a longer way to Baegundae peak which was where I wanted to go.  So either way, I still did right!  At least I have down both route!
Along the way, we stopped by a river and washed up in the freezing cold water, ate some food and Ajumma gave me some of the melon she brought.  Her name is Jin Zhen Yu - Kim Cheong Hook (sounds like that in Korean) and her husband is Korean Chinese.  She studied Chinese in a private school for 4 years and I must say, she speaks pretty decent Chinese! She is an avid and super hiker who hikes on a weekly basis! Koreans simply love to hike!
At the bottom, we took bus 143 to the Line 4 subway (again 1,150KRW per trip for me).  The station is either Hansung Uni or the Women's Uni, both of which are on Line 4.  She made sure I got to the subway station before we bade farewell!  Nice Ajumma! I have to give her a really big thank you for bringing me along the hike.
So it is my hike started at 9am and ended around 3pm.  It was a really good workout and I enjoyed the hike!  Compared to Gwanaksan? I met a professional hiker team at Gwanaksan who took me down a very scenic and rather treacherous path which I totally enjoyed, walking at the edge of the mountain and climbing rocks after rocks.  Here at Bukhansan, probably no such route, but the view is fantastic at the various peaks!  I really enjoyed the downhill hike in Gwanaksan because of the very adventurous route we took and the view it offered.  But Bukhansan has a better view of mountains and city from the viewpoints.  Too bad the weather was not kind to me this day at Bukhansan.  Bukhansan is more tourist friendly as the signs are posted in English indicating the direction and distance.  None whatsoever in Gwanaksan.  All comes to instinct!
I did Gwanaksan in Tee + berms + sandals and the hiker team I met laughed at me, not mockingly but because Koreans hike in the best gear+attire possible, I was not in line with their expectations.  I kinda improved in Bukhansan, with Tee + Shorts + Running shoes!  Still I managed to scale both mountains in the wrong outfit/attire.  Note to self: Running shoes and sandals can do the job! And I got the colour coordination down pad - All in the tone of red! Even my backpack! As bright or colourful as some of the attire of the Koreans, none was in RED but me!
Bukhansan definitely manageable and I highly recommend it! I walked a total of 10km but it is not too difficult.  On this hike, I saw a total of 7 foreigners! And a bunch of young adults! So you are not very likely to get lost. Just follow the crowd!  Next time, I'm going to try Suraksan.