Conquering the mountains of Seoul
Among the country’s professional mountaineers, one of the most challenging and tempting quests has been to traverse the ridgelines of the four big mountains that surround the city of Seoul ― Bulam, Surak, Dobong and Bukhan ― a route that totals 45 kilometers (28 miles). Some “hardcore” climbers finish the course within 20 hours without sleeping and consider that a measure of their ability, though the trend is changing.
With the expansion of the five-day workweek, more people are pursuing sports and other activities on weekends. As a result, the four mountains have become a good target for amateur climbers, but unlike the professionals, they don’t really care about finishing the course at one time. They usually divide the course into three segments ― from Mount Bulam to Mount Surak, Mount Dobong and Mount Bukhan, so that they can enjoy climbing without exhausting themselves.
Mount Bulam to Surak
Mount Bulam is considered the easiest of the four mountains to scale. The quest begins at Musugol, the starting point of the ridgeline.
The path is mostly a typical clay road, but once you get closer to the peak, a more exciting experience awaits, with ropes, metal lines and rock climbing courses suitable for beginners. From the peak of Bulam to the border of Surak is a pleasant and relaxing path. It takes about one hour and 45 minutes to reach Deongneung Hill, near the border of Surak.
After climbing beside the fence of a military base from the border of Surak for 20 minutes, the ridgeline appears on the left. But to see a group of rocks with fantastic shapes, a characteristic of Mount Surak, climbers should continue for another hour to Dosolbong Peak, where exquisite rock formations cover the ridgeline. The combination of the natural beauty of the rocks and the fresh vegetation is a good reward for the effort.
After resting and enjoying the landscape, climbers usually descend toward Dongmakgol to finish the journey. On the way down, the Gichabawi (train rock) path is another interesting course. People have to carefully walk down a steep rock surface that is about 30 meters long, in a line, holding on to two ropes.
The journey usually takes five to six hours for expert climbers and seven hours for beginners.
To get to Mount Bulam, take subway line No. 4 to Sanggye station and then bus No. 1142 to Musugol Jeongjanamu. Or it’s a 10-minute taxi ride from the station.
The typical route for scaling Mount Dobong is from Hweryong subway station to the Podaeneungseon ridgeline, Jaunbong Peak, the Dobong main ridgeline and the Uiam ticket office.
Jeong Taek-jun, 42, who has conquered the four mountains and has climbed Mount Dobong more than 400 times, says, “Among the four mountains, Mount Dobong has the most beautiful rocks, especially on the Podae ridgeline. The sections with danger signs posted are for high-level climbers, so amateurs should avoid them.”
The real trek on Mount Dobong begins from Hweryongsa temple. About 40 minutes of climbing brings you to the main ridgeline, where you can get a view of all of Uijeongbu from the majestic rocks. After one passes a fire prevention station, the pine trees and rocks in enchanting shapes reinforce the Podae ridgeline’s reputation.
On the Podae ridgeline ― Dobong main ridgeline ― Uiam route, there are various interesting sections. The highlight is a section called Y Valley, where climbers must depend on ropes and posts. After Y Valley, Jaunbong Peak and Shinseondae Peak soar side by side. On top of Jaunbong Peak, there is a grand view of the route that has just been climbed, as well as caves and peaks.
After passing Shinseondae Peak and going around Dduimbawi, there is a giant rock called Kalbawi, with a sign that says, “Three people die and 32 are injured here every year.”
“Those rocks, which are dangerous to climb, attract a lot of climbers, but dozens of people have died trying to conquer them,” said Mr. Jeong. “People should be humble before rocks. They should never bite off more than they can chew.”
The final part of the journey is from the Dobongju ridgeline to the Uiam ticket office. The trip takes about five hours for professionals and six to seven hours for beginners.
To get to Mount Dobong, take subway line No. 1 to Hweryong station, exit 2.
The trek on Mount Bukhan begins at the entrance gate of Doseonsa temple, at the Baegundae ticket office. From the ticket office to Baegundae Peak is a steady upward climb. A respite of flat ground appears at Harujae Hill, but after passing that, the magnificent Insubong Peak looms.
Climbers usually take a break at Harujae Hill and fill up their water bottles before continuing the climb to Baegundae Peak. It is a thrilling course that makes climbers’ legs wobble, since the edges of the Baegun path are sheer cliffs. “If you ever let go of the rope, the least that can happen is that you die,” is a saying among climbers.
On top of Baegundae, one can enjoy the grand, open view of Mount Dobong and the Bibong ridgeline, which is the final course for hiking. After descending from Baegundae Peak, a long hiking path along Bukhansanseong, the fortress wall, begins. Following the Yongammun ― Dongsudae ― Daedongmun ― Daenammun course, climbers can enjoy an extraordinary view of the city from the fortress wall. The Bibong ridgeline is the best place to see interestingly shaped rocks.
At the Bibong ticket office, the journey usually ends for the tired climbers. The traditional way to end the trek, however, is to continue to Hyangnobong Peak and to Bulgwang-dong. It takes about four to five hours for professionals and six to seven hours for beginners to complete a trek on Mount Bukhan.
According to climbers, the feeling of conquering the four ridgelines is beyond description.
To get to Mount Bukhan, take subway line No. 4 to Suyu station, exit 3, and then take bus Nos. 109, 1217 or 1219.