In our quest to conquer all of the mountains around Seoul, my girl and I tackled Suraksan.

The two mountains you hear about most in the area are Suraksan and Dobongsan, located next to each other in Nowon-gu, one subway stop apart on the #7 line. I asked a few people in the know which one we should do first, and the consensus was Suraksan. It’s not quite as high and it’s a little less busy.

There are several trails up and down the mountain. We chose to start at Suraksan station. Not exactly sure where to go from there, it made sense to follow the crowds of fully equipped Koreans and outdoors stores. Koreans love their hiking, and the emergence of spring has them out in full force. I might feel inadequate if I didn’t view their preparedness as overboard. The majority of hikers look like they are ready to take on the Himalayas. Specialty boots, pants, socks, layered shirts, jackets, hats, backpacks, walking sticks, gloves…. it would be easy to consider it a bit much for a few hours of city hiking. I guess you can never be too prepared. Then there’s me. Running shoes, shorts, long sleeve t-shirt and a camelbak with the bladder removed for use as a small backpack.

A few blocks up the main road, hang a right and follow the food stalls and hiking equipment vendors to the trail head. You will walk for a while on a paved path that parallels an all but dried up creek bed, before veering on to the obligatory large rocky Korean hiking path. And just as you will see all along the trail up the mountain, here you start to find the groups of picnicking families that dot the landscape along the non-water feature.

Appealing to the overly equipped hikers, K2 has sponsored a station along this initial trail where you can blow the dust off your dirty body using a hose blasting compressed air. Kind of cool, but probably not necessary.

Because the initial paved path is so short, I’ll break the majority of this trail down into 2 major sections: the rocky path and the vertical path, which requires the aid of ropes and cables to reach the summit. The lower rocky path is where you will encounter the most traffic. People of all ages crowd the walk way as well as the areas located just off trail. Here we saw countless picnickers, families enjoying the sunshine, and a few groups performing, singing, drinking and dancing the afternoon away.

The upper vertical path was my favorite. Here, you are high enough to get the awesome of view of the surrounding mountains as well as the city below. The majority of this section requires the use of strategically placed ropes and cables to hoist yourself up the mountain. The vertical path was took longer than we anticipated, seeming to go up and up and up. “Are we there yet”, was heard a few times during the ascent. But the bonus of reaching the top is getting to stand next to the flag mounted at the summit, and purchase an overpriced bottle of water from the crazy person that actually packed a giant cooler all the way up the mountain. At times, it can feel like you are never more than 100 feet away from a cold bottle of water and a popsicle in Korea.

We chose to take another path down the mountain. The thought of having to tackle the vertical trail, back tracking our way down using the all the ropes and cables wasn’t sitting well with our already over worked muscles. The hope was that all of the trails wouldn’t necessarily be as rigorous.

And our premonition was correct. Our path down the mountain was much easier than the path up from Suraksan station. Maybe we took the easy way out, but it’s generally a good idea to work smarter not harder. The down side to this decision was we had no idea where we would end up. Had we returned down the top half of the vertical path, we would have found ourselves at a crossroads marked with a sign pointing to 3 different stations, Suraksan and Jang-am included. But we didn’t, which meant our final destination would be a surprise.

I can’t even tell you exactly where we ended up, because it wasn’t clearly marked. It was on the other side of the mountain from where we started at Suraksan station. Towards the bottom of the trail we passed through a small temple area. Safely at the bottom, a few little shops and stands remained open, but most everything had closed for the day as it was already late in the afternoon. There was also a small parking area for those arriving by car. But we were on foot… and completely lost.

Using our broken Korean speaking skills, we received directions from some fellow hikers, and took their advice by hanging a right at the main road and walking, and walking, and walking. Already beat down from several hours on the mountain, at the time this walk along what seemed like a desolate stretch of 2 lane road wasn’t the best way to end our physical activity for the day. Looking back though, it’s comedy. My girl had the smarts to holler down the 33 bus as it passed, and thankfully it picked us up even though we weren’t at a bus stop. Miraculously we ended up at Dangoggae Station, the last stop on the #4 line. It’s a good thing we jumped on that bus, because walking the rest of that distance would have been brutal.

Suraksan was a fun mountain to hike and Nowon-gu is a nice place to spend time. I’m sure Dobongsan will be conquered in the near future.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on May 2, 2010.

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