With the sweltering haze of late June and the heavy humidity swelling daily in the air I can feel monsoon season about to burst. As each weekend arrives the city holds its breath (or at least I do) hoping for just one more perfect day before the start of an impenetrable summer of rain. For one more weekend at least, the rains are kept at bay and I find myself with my closest of friends in this far away city making the short but intense hike up to the 1,663 ft. peak of Buramsan. One of the best parts about living in Seoul is its proximity to both mountains and beaches, all accessible by its incredibly efficient public transportation system.
The second to last stop on Line 4, Sanggye, is nestled in the far northeast corner of Seoul in Nowon-gu, the mountain itself creating the border between Seoul and Gyeonggi-do Province. Leaving the station through Exit 4 we walk around somewhat aimlessly for a few minutes asking several people which way to the trail head and getting wildly varied responses. Turns out this is because there are so many different trail heads to access. After grabbing some supplies at the ever ubiquitous GS Mart (water and summit soju, of course) we make our next left and after a couple more dead ends we finally stumble upon a large boulder with Buramsan (불암산) written in Hangul. I am very glad I have sort of learned to read Hangul, albeit in a slow, painfully American way, though I still almost never understand what I am reading. We follow the path up to a rest area with a small playground and public toilets and on up to the well-marked trail. There are plenty of other hikers out, but most the time we have the place to ourselves.
The trail up to the peak is not a long one, but in many places is hardly a trail at all. It is rather a series of smooth rock faces at harsh inclines equipped with small steel pegs for footholds and lines of cable snaking along the side. There is some waiting to do as other hikers make their way back down the single file track but it is always entertaining to see the older Koreans decked out head-to-toe in wind pants and wicking shirts with arm covers, gloves, hats, and face masks, otherwise known as the Korean burqa. I’m still not quite sure how they don’t sweat themselves to death in the brutal summer humidity, but I guess that’s the price you pay for milky, porcelain skin. After each quick burst of incline we stop to catch our breath where the rocks are level, and press forward on to the next. About halfway up there is a small gazebo atop a minor peak that makes for the perfect place to recuperate before the incredibly steep push to the top. Views overlook the sprawling high-rises of Seoul that nestle themselves in and around the valleys, their facades as homogeneous as the covered faces we pass.
In the 30-plus degree heat we are soaked with sweat before we even start and promises of rain in the air are tauntingly broken. Upwards we climb, watching the gazebo we felt we had only just left miniaturize in the distance. Finally we reach the staircase marking the last of the climb to Buramsan Peak. Twisting around the smooth boulders we make our way up, for some reason to the applause of some random old Korean people. I guess they didn’t think we had it in us. Once we reach the summit we are happy to find a man selling red bean ice cream popsicles for only ₩1,000 (less than $1). We enjoy the miraculously cold and tasty treats, spend a few minutes at the very top overlooking the city we can barely see through the smog and low cloud cover in the valley before we prepare to make our descent.
Deciding that the sheer rock face will probably be even harder to go down than up, we find a set of stairs on the south side of the peak that luckily lead to a rocky trail meandering much more gently down the mountain. Two hours to the top and an hour back down and we find ourselves on a road that pops out just a couple blocks from the subway station on the opposite side.
Sweaty, exhausted and starved it is time for one last treat to finish off our day: a nice, hot bowl of rejuvenating Pue Haejangguk. (Blog post on delicious pork spine soup and where to find it will certainly follow). By the time the seemingly endless subway ride back to the opposite side of the city is over, our bellies are full, we are bathed in the best kind of exhaustion you can find, and are ready to relax with a couple of well-deserved beers and an icy cold bottle of soju.
Just two months in and I continue to love this city more with every new piece of it I get to experience. Onwards and upwards, my friends.