Monday, February 20, 2012

Winter hiking at Gwanaksan

I went to Gwanaksan for the third time this weekend. The first time I went was in the fall, which was probably the most excruciating single-day hike I've ever had since it was a long, never-ending route that came after climbing another mountain. That day was scarring enough to keep me away for three years. I went back last May and started hiking at 2 pm when it was about 32 degrees. This time, it was about -5 and I took the most popular route, which also happens to be the shortest.

What makes Gwanaksan great is that it's very rocky at the top with a lot of ups and downs, enough to add some small thrills to what is not really a very tough hike. It's certainly more interesting than the vertigo-inducing stairways you'll find at Dobongsan or Baekundae, the two biggest peaks at Bukhansan.

I didn't realize there was this much snow on the mountain, which in turn appears to have melted and then frozen. I don't ever remember there being this much water anywhere on Gwanaksan.

Approaching the top, this little rest stop selling liquor and noodles reminds you not to take yourself too seriously, not that anyone notices.

The peak of Gwanaksan, Yeonjudae, seen along with a temple that dates back to the seventh century.

Ridges like these are what make Gwanaksan such a challenge.

This was a really fun part. I'll admit to being absolutely petrified when I first came here.

There are many ways up and down Gwanaksan, but I'll summarize the three that I know.

1) From Gwacheon station on line 4, walk about 5 km and 2 hours to the top. This is a very moderate hike and though I've only been down this way, I'm pretty sure that there's no tough climbing at the top. Instead, you get to walk up stairs.

2) From Sadang station on lines 2 and 4, walk about 5 km and maybe three hours to the top. This is my favourite route, it's more of a military-style obstacle course, featuring a couple of rope climbs, lots of ups and downs, and a point where you squeeze through a narrow space between two cliffs with a boulder perched precariously above.

3) From Seoul National University station, take a bus or taxi to the Gwanaksan park entrance and hike about 6 km and two hours to the top. This is a good midway between the Gwacheon and Sadang courses.

Of course, you can combine these courses to avoid repetition or make things more interesting, such as starting at Sadang and crossing over the mountain to finish about 10 km away in Gwacheon. To make it a full day's hike, add in Samseongsan to the west or Cheonggyesan to the east. Naver Maps actually shows hiking routes along with estimated times and distances, which is really not a bad way to plan a hike. I personally use Korean Sanha.

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