Children’s Day Bukhansan hike

Back home, May 5th is widely celebrated as Cinco de Mayo. No, it’s not Mexican Independence Day like many think. Rather, in 1862 the Mexicans beat the French in the battle of Puebla. Now, it’s an excuse to leave work early for margaritas and tequila shots. When I lived in Arizona we affectionately referred to it as Cinco de Drinko.

But in Korea, May 5th is Children’s Day, and it’s a big deal. Children’s Day is a national holiday and a lot of people have the day off. Most of the kids get gifts from their parents. I asked a lot them what they would be doing and the responses varied from going to Everland (giant amusement park), to sleeping, to going to a movie, to playing with friends. What didn’t vary was the requests for no homework over the holiday.

This year, May 5th fell on a Wednesday, which couldn’t be any more ideal because hump day is my toughest teaching day of the week. What should we do with our mid-week day off? Koreans take advantage of their holidays, and we determined that something extremely public would probably be a bad idea. With so many people crammed into a small area of land, when given a great reason to be out and about, it can be a bit frustrating to be among the masses.

The brilliant idea was to head for the mountains of Bukhansan in northern Seoul. It’s Children’s Day, everyone would be enjoying their time in the city with their kids or grandchildren…right? Not so much.

The subway will get you to Gupabal station on the #3 line, and from there you can take any number of buses to the trail head. We arrived at 9:30am to find a ridiculous lineup of people just outside the subway station. Easily 200, if not 300 people. There was no way all of these people were waiting for a bus to the mountain… right?

Wrong. Out of curiosity, we walked to the front of line, to indeed find the bus stop information. You can’t really do anything but laugh at the sight of all of these people. Averaging 5 million visitors a year, my friend the internet told me that Bukhansan national park is designated in the Guinness Book of World Records as the national park with the highest number of visitors per square foot. And we found out the hard way that Children’s Day is anything but an exception.

I don’t know how frequently the buses show up, but in the 5 minutes we were there, I didn’t see one. Assuming it would take at least an hour to catch a bus (I can’t stress how insane this line really was), in the smartest move of the day, we took a cab. There were quite a few taxis patiently waiting for hikers as impatient as we were. Your guess is as good as mine as to why nobody else seemed to be taking advantage of this. The jacked up flat fee that he charged us was well worth the peace of mind earned from escaping that scene.

After the speediest, most dangerous, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights cab ride I’ve ever experienced, and the only time a cab driver has told me to put my seat belt on, in any country, we arrived at the trail head. From here you can hike to a few destinations. One option is 4.7 km to Daenammun Gate, which I believe is a historical part of Seoul’s ancient wall. We chose the 3.4 km hike to Baegundae peak. At 836.5 meters, it’s the highest of three peaks at Bukhansan.

The hike to Baegundae peak is pretty rough. A lot of the mountains I’ve hiked around here have a gradual build up to the steep incline. This trail pretty much starts the uphill climb from the get go. Yes, the beginning is a lot easier than the middle and top climbing sections, but it’s still vertical.

The Guinness world record is no joke. From the moment you exit Gupabal station, to the trail head, all the way to the very top of the peak, you are rubbing shoulders with other hikers. It was a bit much for me to be around so many people the whole time. My ideal hike would be far away from others, where I can enjoy the beautiful surroundings without distraction. You can find it in Oregon, but it is super rare in Korea. Be prepared to wait in line, while those coming down the mountain occupy the narrow path, before you can make your way up. You take what you can get. And experiencing the summit is worth the agitation.

By far the most sketchy part of the hike is the final .3km to the peak after passing to the other side of the ancient wall. The majority of this climb requires the use of ropes and cables to hoist yourself up the rock face, strategically placing your free feet and hands in the grooves and cracks of the rock below. Piece of cake if you are the only person on the mountain. This would allow you to pick and choose your path to the summit. But it’s a totally different situation when there are hundreds of others scrambling up and down the same path. The inability to distinguish walking on the left from walking on the right that you experience in the subway stations holds true on the mountain as well. Imagine one cable fastened to posts embedded in the granite rock face, with hikers going up and down both sides at the same time. Mix that with people slipping and sliding around, drinking beer and makgeolli all while talking on their cell phones (yes, they still work up there) and you start to understand the chaos at the top of the mountain.

All that said, with a little patience, we easily made it to the summit. And again, the view from the peak is worth the hassle.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on May 7, 2010.

One Response to “Children’s Day Bukhansan hike”

  1. Hmm…in Korea children get their own day, and hear my mom always told me, “Every day is kid’s day.”

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