Hiking Baegundae Mountain
Bukhansan National Park's version of Half Dome
I am known by some back in Southern California as the SoCal Hiker. So as soon as I knew we were moving to Seoul I was researching hikes. Apparently, I have a thing for peaks, because Baegundae Mountain was calling out to me.
Bukhansan National Park is considered the “lungs” of Seoul. It’s a huge natural space within easy distance from 25 million Seoulites, and they make good use of it — hiking, backpacking and climbing it’s many trails and peaks. Baegundae is the tallest of those peaks. At 836.5 meters high (about 2744 feet) it’s modest by comparison to the mountains in California, but most of the trailheads in Bukhansan start out near sea-level.
Our route was a west-to-east traverse of the park with a short side trip up Baegundae.
There are a number of entrance points to Bukhansan National Park. We came in from the west side, and I was blown away by the number of outdoor retailers with shops just outside the park. I have never in all my life seen so many backpacking, hiking, camping and climbing gear shops in one place. Deuter, Merrill, Arc’teryx, The North Face, Fjallraven, LaFuma and literally dozens of other companies were there — each with their own, dedicated store. It was fascinating.
In addition to the retail stores, there are restaurants and street vendors with plenty of options for lunch to-go or after your hike. Entrance to the park is free, though there is a small charge if you use the parking lot (about $3US).
The first two kilometers were up a paved road. Not too exciting, although forested and dotted with gates and temples.
From the 2 kilometer mark, the trail began in earnest, climbing relentlessly along a shady valley beside a creek. No switchbacks, just up, up and up, often with stonework steps.
The trails are well-signed, usually in both Korean and English. When we finally reached the mountain saddle, we discovered an ancient gate that dates back centuries.
Here’s where we took the spur trail up to the summit. It’s short, but steep. In fact, steep enough that you’ll need to use the steel cables to climb up it — Half Dome-style.
The top is tiered and hikers spread out over any available space to take a lunch break before hiking back down. You can drag your mouse over these 360-degree images to view up, down and all around.
Directly across from Baegundae is another, slightly lower dome that had technical rock climbers all over it. Look closely and you’ll see one in the photo below.
As we was getting ready to head back down, a cat strolled by. Not a mountain lion, but a domestic kitty. It struck us as odd. No one had brought it up, it just wandered up to the highest peak in Bukhansan.
A short distance down the east side of the ridge we came to a wilderness rest area with soda, candy and ice cream. No roads yet–they have to carry all the supplies in–but there is electricity. And the mystery of the mountain-climbing cat was solved with the discovery of a litter box at the rest area.
We emerged on the other side of the mountain at a busy parking lot, where we picked up a taxi for the ride home.
I’ll go back and hike Baegundae Mountain again. It will be great to see the view as the seasons change — with autumn color or wintery snow.