The Forgotten Mountain, or The Mountain Where You Can Be in Two Places at Once, or The Mountain with Magical Moths
Subway: Cheonggyesan (Shinbundang Line)
Distance hiked: 3.78 km
Maybe it’s me, but no one I ask seems to know this mountain exists, except for this old street vendor. Oh bless you, sir. Google Maps calls this Inheungsan, but the official signs say otherwise, FYI. After entering it through what looks like a small farm, I encounter a small graveyard from the Joseon era. I bow to pay my respects and continue on my way. I walk with some foreboding and I do not see anyone for a long time. When a man does cross my path, he does not acknowledge my existence and keeps going. I feel so lonely until the desolation turns to shock as I see a white Jindo dog bounding up to me. Oh sweet Jesus. Its master catches up and bows apologetically. It’s ok, I say. Gwenchanayo. There is a fork in the road and the sign tells me the right trail will lead to the peak. I flinch, as up ahead it does not look very safe, with boulders and an uneven path. Just as I was about to forge on, a portly balding man with a cheery face and bare feet walks in from the left. I ask him which one to take, and he says both will reach the peak but the left is easier. I thank him profusely, and at the last minute asks if I can take his photo because his feet are bare. (Yikes! What would the ajumma think?!) He raises his arms like a champion, flashes me a big grin, and I took his photo. (Later, my taekwondo teachers would tell me he is an actor in Korea. Whether this is true or not, I will get back to you.)
While this path proved to be easy, it is quite nerve-racking for someone afraid of heights. I was walking along the narrow ridge line. Any false move and I could easily pitch to the left and have quite a job crawling back up. I eventually walk along a wire fence in an almost straight line for a few minutes. Strange, I think to myself. When I look at my phone I see that I am traversing the line between Seoul and Gyeonggi-do. Sure enough, on one of the posts I see a blue sticker that confirms it. In spite of the relative darkness in this mountain—the forest here is denser than most of the others I have encountered—I smile at another lovely surprise from this project I still am not sure I can finish. And hurrah, an ajumma-ajusshi couple pass me by, also without shoes. Sheesh, what is up with today?
The trail wanders another way and I find myself descending. It is not a well-worn path, and so I stumble a few times. I carry on like this for another few minutes—it must have been more than an hour since I started—when I come across a clearing. On my left is what looks like a farm and later I see that it is a peach orchard. Up ahead the trail continues, but not without me encountering a dreamlike sight of several white moths fluttering about on the bushes and trees. I gasp and stop and drink in the scene, deliriously happy at everything and everyone that led me to this magical place. It is only a few minutes’ more until I make my exit. A middle-aged Korean couple helps me find the right bus stop, where I meet an army of hiking ajumma and ajusshi who just finished their treks, congratulating each other for a job well-done. Well. This is the subculture of Korea I never thought existed, let alone be a part of. I laugh silently. In this bus, I see my future 60-year-old self. But I hope I will never want to wear one of those visors.