Hiking Inwangsan in Summer

The cherry blossoms have faded away, trees have got new leaves, and warm days are around the corner. This period opens a fantastic gateway to exploring Korean mountains. Last year, a heat wave swept across the country (like many other parts of Asia) making it extremely difficult to hike or even travel. That’s when, you look forward to those cloudy days and forecasts of rain to break the jinx. The popular mountains are always crowded over the weekends or public holidays. Inwangsan, at 338m, doesn’t top every hiker’s list and is perfect for a summer hike or to find solitude in its rocky outcrops.

We chose the trail that starts from Dongnimmun Station (subway line number 3, exit 1). It’s a little confusing from here. It makes sense to take a cab — if you’re in a hurry. We crossed the street, following the peak of the mountain and couldn’t find an entry path. After a few enquiries, we crossed the street again and found the signboard pointing towards Tongil Street — a back-alleyway.

On a Sunday morning, most of the shops were shut, and the narrow lanes wore a deserted look. We kept following the path without a clue of where it would take us. After 10 minutes, we reached a dead end of sorts. The owner of a coffee shop prodded us to climb a narrow flight of stairs. The path becomes more evident from here.

The path curves and rises steeply as you reach the entrance of Inwangsan Temple. Few cars were parked and we could hear the soothing sounds of prayer.

Beautiful painted murals adorn the walls leading up the path of steps. Guksadong, a small shrine, was shifted from Namsan to Inwangsan during Japanese rule. This shrine is the seat of Shamanistic Rituals.

It’s rare to witness a near deserted hiking trail in Korea. Occasionally, bird sounds would break the chants of prayer gongs or we’d see a cat staring at us. We climbed toward Seonbawi (Meditating Rock), also known as Gijaam, believed to have the unique ability to grant the wish of bearing a child. By now, the sun had come out and the skies started to clear.

The trail narrows to a couple of sketchy carvings on the rocky face of the mountain. If you have a fear of heights: this can be your moment of truth. There’s a lone rock that juts out and it takes some grit to stand on it (the first picture above). So far, I was happy to cling to any piece of tree or stone.

From thereon, you’re kind of on your fours to climb up or if you’re like me — it would seem like the only way to move forward. A couple, probably in their sixties, were descending down this trail and I was amazed by their grit. I wouldn’t want to descend a trail that gives me an idea of the depth below.

It was good to reach a point where the trail flattened out. There’s another rocky outcrop, from where you can get a bird’s eye view of Seoul below. This time, I mustered some courage, and tried to face my worst nightmare — to stand on top of a rock with no support. And, there was a moment, when I felt, that I wouldn’t stand up from the crouching position. I think, it’s like tearing off a band-aid; once you’ve done it, you think you can do anything. Eventually, the adrenaline will make believe that you rule the world. I wish Basil had got some regal shots of me, like the one I took (above) of him. Since, he wanted to capture the true reality of the situation; I’d have to let your imagination take over instead.

I thought we’d reached the summit. But, there was lots more to go and the Ancient City Wall hadn’t even shown up yet. I think, we may have got a bit lost at this point. We followed the bare path and couldn’t find a route. Meanwhile, in the background, the clouds were taking over the clear skies. The route (up) lead to a defence transmitter and the other — towards a small shrine. A lady (at the shrine) spotted us and shouted to keep to the trail –hidden beneath trees and rocks. We finally made it to the wooden walkway and saw other hikers descending.

The wooden walkway joins an observation point and a series of stairs running parallel along the Fortress Wall (Seoul City Wall) or Hanyangdoseong. The Seoul City Wall runs along the ridge of four guardian mountains namely: Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. With this hike, we had completed the city wall trail along all four mountains.

The view of Hanyangdoseong or the Seoul City Wall  from above — looked stunning. As we climbed towards the top; the city slowly faded below. A section of the wall is patrolled by guards and although you won’t require passports; it’s best to follow the rules and not click pictures from this section of the trail. It might be tempting to click the stunning view of Gyeongbokgung Palace below; but, believe me, the guards are watching every movement of yours.

As you approach the summit, the trail gets a little tricky. En route, hikers greeted us — making the climb more enjoyable. At the summit, an elderly Korean man offered us some traditional sweets made by his wife. We chatted and laughed for a bit. Experiences like these — make hiking in Korea — truly worth every drop of sweat you’d drip. The views were spectacular and by this point — I didn’t feel anxious of the height.

We began our descent and the trail took us under huge rocks and lead us to the ancient Fortress Wall again. It felt great to get an idea of how far above we’d been.

Once you hit the trail of wooden stairs; it’s pretty simple. We followed the signboard and kept walking in the direction of Changuimun. On exiting the trail, we crossed the street and walked into a recreational park. At the end of the green space, we reached the area that lead to Changuimun — the starting point of the Bugaksan Trail. I vaguely remembered this section, from our earlier hike, and we boarded a bus to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

We stepped-off at Sejong Village Food Street and followed Korean post-hike traditions by eating Pajeon (Korean onion pancake) and drinking Makgeolli (traditional rice wine) to celebrate our hike.

 

23 responses to “Hiking Inwangsan in Summer

  1. Well done on conquering your fears, Cheryl! Basil best get the camera ready next time 😀 Looks like a worthwhile hike, with some great views … I think I’d have got lost trying to find my way there from the subway though 😂

    • Haha! Basil did get some ungainly shots of me trying to desperately climb that rock. 😦 It’s almost a year since we hiked Inwangsan, Kim. I’ve really taken a lot of time to post. Since then, I’ve gotten better and have even hiked in winter! I think I will always be a little scared of heights, maybe it will take me 10 mountains or more to get over it! 🙂

  2. Lovely shots as always, Cheryl. Never knew Seoul has old city wall. Mist be to protect it from invaders. Any info on how old it is?
    You always show us some new interesting hiking trails from S Korea. That’s really interesting. Enjoyed pictures.

    • Thanks, Arvind. 🙂 I’d covered Namsan, Naksan in 2015 and Bugaksan & Inwangsan in 2016. Perhaps, you missed those posts and that’s why didn’t know about Seoul’s City Walls and Gates. Here’s an excerpt from the official link: “The wall, which follows the ridges of Baegak (Bugaksan), Naksan (Naktasan), Namsan (Mongmyeoksan) and Inwangsan, the four main mountains surrounding the center of Seoul, has been constantly managed since its initial construction in 1396. The wall measures between 5 and 8m high and is 18.6km long and it bears witness to the role played by a city wall in the life of a capital city, still sustained in modern day Seoul.”
      We’ve got many mountains on our list. Hiking is tops the list of popular Korean activities. 🙂 I’m so glad that you enjoy our accounts of our hikes! Have a good week. 🙂

      • Ah! Looks like I’ve missed some of the past action. This is an important architectural feature found in all ancient and old cities – fortified walls.
        Hiking is definitely very addictive. You’re lucky to be able to enjoy it, Cheryl

      • Yeah. I haven’t really written much about Seoul. It gets a little boring at times. 🙂 Now that I don’t have much material, I’m looking through old pictures. I still don’t think I’m a hiker. 🙂 It is addictive, I agree.

      • If something doesn’t inspire you, it’s best to ditch it.
        Like these days, I’m just not in a mood to create post. I guess the recent overseas trip can be blamed for this….lol
        I hope your leg is better now, Cheryl!

      • Haha! I agree! Where did you go? My knee has improved a lot with walking correctly (posture) and wearing the right footwear. I realised it must have been also a problem with my balance. The body autocorrects when we’re in pain and that kind off changes the natural style of walking. Has helped me a lot, since I corrected my lopsided walk. 🙂

      • Was that pain because of wrong posture? Good to things are getting back in shape, for you. I had been to HK, Cheryl.:)

      • Actually, the pain in the right knee affected the posture and my walking pattern. 😦 It takes a concious effort to correct those ‘bad habits’! I’ve visited HK on two occasions and fell sick both the times. It’s got some excellent hiking trails too.

      • Oh! I’m hoping it gets better for you, Cheryl. Getting sick on vacation is not a great experience. Yes, there are nice hiking trails and they are well maintained and marked. There are two three on Victoria peak. But the best one is on the Lantau island, which doesn’t feel like you’re in HK. 🙂

      • My first trip to (HK) was in 2010 and it was a work trip. The second was an offsite of sorts. So, I couldn’t hike on either trip. I’m glad you got to explore some of the trails.

      • Coupled with time crunch, and not in a mood to hike I just chose the short and easier one. But the one in Lantau are one of the best trails I have come around. So, next time if I ever visit… For sure! 🙂

  3. You guys are amazing at really taking advantage of all the hiking available around Seoul. We haven’t hiked a single city wall yet! We’re such bad expats… haha. We wanna get the monster out on a hike soon though (an easy one)… let’s go together? 🙂

    • Haha! Seriously? You’ll are the most amazing, cool, and famous expats in Seoul! And Naia the cutest little traveller that I’ve known! 🙂 Obviously she takes after her famous parents.
      I know you’ve hiked along Namsan and Naksan (the easiest hike/climb in Seoul). 🙂 We haven’t hiked Bukhansan and Gwanaksan.
      This was one of my early hikes (2016) and I was super happy to compete it.
      What I love about Korea is the number of different trails that lead to the same mountain. It’s fantastic! 🙂 Though it’s hard to get Basil to keep to one trail. Haha!
      Another rainy day today! 😦

  4. You are getting braver and braver with each passing hike! Like Shelley, I admire your commitment to getting out and exploring your city. I try, but after a while, it seems like routine, dumb activities take over yet again. I am going to fight that here in Houston, and I want to explore my whole huge new state as well. Wonderful views in your shots today!

    • This is one of our earlier hikes, before the higher mountains. And it was really simple, except for that scary rocky part. Korean mountains are great for beginners like me. So many trails to the top and so much motivation when you see everyone wanting to hike.
      Basil’s leave has drastically reduced since we’ve moved here, so we can’t plan international trips. During public holidays the tickets spike. We’re only left with Seoul and the rest of the country. Haha!
      I know exactly what you mean by routine dumb activities taking over. Sigh! I’ve got to fight that myself. All the best with exploring Houston and the rest of the state! I’ve loved your account of all your travels (my fav being Mongolia, Cuba, and Tibet)!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s