Inwangsan… kind of

Inwangsan is one of the many mountains visible from downtown Seoul. Along with Bugaksan, it provides a scenic backdrop to Gyeongbokgung and Cheongwadae, and views of both are crystal clear as you look back towards the city from the trails and rocky plateaus of the mountain.

The history of Seoul is alive on Inwangsan. It was once referred to as White Tiger Mountain for the large number of tigers that made it their home. Today, only paintings and statues remain of the animals that no longer exists due to the obvious danger they posed to the population of the ancient city below. The mountain also provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with parts of Seoul’s Fortress wall.

My friend the internet led me to believe that there were several angles to hike the peak. I was interested in seeing Guksadang shrine as well as Seonbawi rocks. Rather than starting with the main trail to the summit, we chose to begin our ascent closer to these attractions at Inwangsa Temple.

Dongnimmun station on the #3 orange line will get you close to the trail. Take exit # 2 and look up for signs at the first little intersection you come to. Hang a left and follow the signs through tight alley streets and up the incline between apartment towers until you reach the entrance of Inwangsa Temple.

After a very steep walk up the paved hill past Inwangsa, you will reach Guksadang, what many consider Korea’s most significant shamanist center. Influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, Korean Shamanism consists of a variety of indigenous beliefs and practices, including the idea that the mudang, usually a woman, acts as the link between Gods and humans. This shaman has the ability to bring good fortune, cure illness and guide a spirit to heaven through ritualistic services.

Just a bit further you will find the steps that lead to Seonbawi, unique in their resemblance to something lunar. Partially covered by colorful lanterns for the Buddha’s Birthday holiday, it was not quite as clear of an image as I was hoping for, but fascinating nonetheless.

Seonbawi means Zen Rock. In older times, it was said the rocks looked like robed monks. It was also believed that the rocks had the power to bring sons to expecting mothers. Currently, it looks like the favorite resting place of pigeons in Seoul.

As we continued up the mountain it became more and more apparent that we were not on the correct trail to the summit. There were plenty of places to sit on the large flat rock surfaces and admire the city of below, but unlike most mountain hikes in the area, there were next to no other people hiking around, which was quite nice, but alarming.

Not deterred by a few signs propped in front of areas protected with rusty barbed wire, we continued up the mountain in the areas we were allowed to travel. However the trail got lighter and lighter. When what looked like a mountain squatter started yelling at us, we figured we were in the wrong spot. He emerged from a circular card board shack built close to the base of some flat concrete prayer spaces staggered up and down this part of the trail. Pretty sure he was either telling us to get lost or that we would not be able to actually reach the top of the mountain by continuing our route. His warnings aside, the way things were looking, we pretty much knew the summit was not within reach. But determined to get as close as we could, he was ignored.

Sure enough, at the top we were greeted by a barbed wire fence preventing us from reaching the top of the mountain. We were a stone’s throw from the summit, but wouldn’t be reaching it via this trail.

The ancient fortress wall was within reach, but getting over it was no easy feat. A metal plate propped up against the wall, held in place at the base with a few rocks, that looked like another misdirected hiker’s attempt at scaling the wall. However we passed, not feeling like reenacting a jail break. It was uncertain if we’d even be able progress any further once on the other side.

Past the mountain squatter’s residence, we took a different way down, ending up on the path that leads from Guksadong and Seonbawi over to the actual Inwangsan summit trail. But by the time we reached the golden tiger statue, and realized we had to hike way down the hill in order to reach the trail head which would take us all the way back up to the 338m summit, it was determined to save this hike for another day. We had already been on our feet for a while and were starving.

Instead, we rallied back to the city, by an area of archery practice, continuing on to Sajik Park, and down through Gwanghwamun Square. From there Cheonggyecheon was our path all the way to Gwangjang Market for some delicious bindaetteok.

Inwangsan to be continued at a later date.

Gyeoungbokgung in the background


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~ by ripcitytoseoul on June 4, 2010.

One Response to “Inwangsan… kind of”

  1. […] Our last trip to Inwangsan resulted in a nice Saturday afternoon hiking around the mountain, with stops at Guksadung and Seonbawi. Hiking further up and up, we were dead ended at the fortress wall and greeted with fences and barbed wire. It became apparent that the trail we chose would end before the summit was reached, and we were in fact on the wrong side of the mountain to do so. […]

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