Inwangsan… to the top this time

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.

At the conclusion of this first hike, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain, contemplating our next move. Find the trail to the top, essentially hiking the mountain twice in one day? Delicious bindeatteok at Gwangjang market? Food won out.

But impressed with the view from the mountain and close proximity to downtown Seoul, Inwangsan deserved a return visit shortly after to properly reach the summit and confidently add it to the list of mountains conquered in Korea. This time, we avoided Inwangsa, the shamanist shrine, and the lunar rocks, and instead made our way to the other side of the mountain to find the trails that would successfully lead us to the top.

There is a golden yellow tiger statue at the intersection where the road that leads up from Sajik Park meets the road that runs the base of the mountain. Facing the tiger, hang a right. We walked along this road a good half hour at least, wondering where the trail head was. There were a few small open gated entries, and some with gates closed and locked. But all signs were in Korean, and we kept walking assuming that the trail head would be more clearly marked. Reassuring the decision to continue on was the Korean woman in front of us, dressed for hiking, that also skipped these stairs up and forged onward with her trek. Eventually, we came to a beautiful area, between Inwangsan and Bugaksan, over looking Buam-dong.

Turns out we were at Changuimun Gate, also known as Jahamun. My friend the internet tells me that it was one of the 4 mini gates in the North that protected the city of Seoul. Not realizing where we were, I didn’t get any pictures of the gate itself. I think we were on top of it. But this area offers nice views Buam-dong, Bugaksan, Inwangsan, and downtown Seoul with Namsan in the background.

Determined to summit Inwangsan, the decision was made to enjoy Changuimun at a later date, and find the ubiquitous trail directing signs that would lead us to the promise land. Ah, apparently, those little gated trail entries were what we were looking for. So back the other way we went.

The trail we chose paralleled the Seoul fortress wall for the duration of hike. It wasn’t super long, but it felt like we were climbing straight up the entire time. Quickly, we were at the top.

Once again, the view was stunning. Downtown Seoul, Jongno, the palace, the Blue House, Namsan, even some of the giant screens that would soon be blasting the Korea vs. Greece World Cup match the following weekend.

This time up the mountain, it was late in the day and the early summer warm temperatures were cooling fast. If it wouldn’t be so sketchy descending the mountain in the dark, what a great place it would be to watch the sunset.

Hoping to end up closer to the subway home, we decided to find a different trail down, and approached the other side of the mountain, near the helicopter pad. This trail was blocked with cautionary tape and a sign in Korean. While trying to decipher what the sign said, a man popped out of the trail and continued on to the summit. We asked him, “Here, yogi… OK?” He said OK. So against our better judgment, we snuck under the tape, disregarding the warning of the sign, and started down the mountain.

This hike was more challenging, requiring the use of rope and hand placement to assist in guiding the narrow and steep paths between granite. At the base of this upper rocky section, near the ongoing fortress wall reconstruction efforts, it was unclear how to proceed. But the decision was forced upon us when the lone construction worker went out of his way to inform us that going any further wasn’t an option. I knew it was our fault, but frankly, I was pissed off.

It seems like a lack of communication lately has left us in a pinch. The nice couple that ran the convenience store at the base of Manisan on Ganghwa island led us to believe it was a 15 minute walk to Jeondeungsa. We walked on this desolate road for at least an hour, thoroughly exhausted from just completing the hike to the top of the mountain and back down, until finally locating a sign for the temple indicating it was still another 4.6 km away. Obviously the 15 minutes was in a car, not by foot. My method of demonstrating the walking gesture with my index and middle fingers while asking the question and pointing to the map was clearly ineffective. Luckily, we found the 3100 bus which took us off the island all together. We ended up at Hapjeong, saving the temple for a return visit to the island.

In addition, after hiking down Suraksan opposite the side we hiked up, we had no idea where we were. A few friendly gentlemen pointed us to the right, indicating that Dangoggae station was just around the corner. After a good 45 minutes on another desolate road, we jumped in front of the local 33 bus. It picked us up even though we weren’t at a bus stop, and it was another 15 minutes on the bus to Dangoggae.

All of this running through my mind, I really did not want to scale back up the mountain, up and over the summit again, so that we could go down the same way we came up, only to find ourselves on wrong side from where we wanted to catch the #3 subway back to Ilsan. Luckily, shortly after starting the frustrating hike back up, a fellow hiker stopped us on his way down. As if we hadn’t learned our lesson, we took his advice, turned around again, and followed him down the forbidden trail. Apparently, the #3 subway is reachable down his super secret pathway.

Sure enough, he hung a right down an unmarked path, before you reach the fortress wall construction, and… it led us to Muakjae station.

For being one of the smallest mountains in the area, we have had a few lengthy adventures on Inwangsan, resulting in longer and more tiring than expected hikes. However, the view, atmosphere and history are worth it. And now that we know what we’re doing, future afternoons at Changuimun and Inwangsan will be even more rewarding.

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on June 17, 2010.

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