The Mountain of Stone, the Never-ending Stairmaster
Subway: Anguk (Line 3)
Distance hiked: 3.38 km
Well. A mountain where you need a passport to enter. Formerly named as Baegaksan in historical records, Bugaksan is home to the Fortress Trail, and because of its proximity to the Blue House, one needs to register with an official ID and wear a mountain pass. I cannot blame what may look like paranoia to another person. In 1968, 31 North Korean soldiers infiltrated the South to assassinate the president. After two weeks of fighting, all but two were killed. It was off-limits until 2007.
Even today, I am occasionally stopped by a young soldier to ask me to look at the photos I took on my camera. And so I show him shots of many a stone in the wall and a dandelion. I alternate between marveling at the wildflowers being able to grow in between the dry unfriendly stones of the fortress, and panting at the exhaustion of climbing what occasionally felt like a stairway to the sky. I spot traditional architecture, a totem pole, and many soldiers—this mountain is quite a mix of culture, shamanism, and politics. At the other point where I surrender my mountain pass, two women I cheered for during the hike fed me tomatoes by hand. This is the last mountain with an, ‘ak.’ Oh, yay.