49 – Gureungsan 구릉산

49 - Gureungsan

Gureungsan 구릉산
The Farmer’s Mountain
Subway: Bonghwasan (Line 6)
Distance hiked: 0.57 km
Time: 14:35

Another elevated land formation—I am not even sure what a mountain is anymore at this point—I see no human, but what I think is a farm of some sort. Trees of some fruit that was not in season line up perfectly. A scarecrow is off to the right. Up ahead, my view is cut by a highway. I look around for more space to trek but give up. I borrow some soil near where they leave the garbage, and left, not a little dejected.


48 – Guneungsan 구능산

48 - Guneungsan

Guneungsan 구능산
The Mountain that Is Off-Limits
Subway: Bonghwasan (Line 6)
Distance hiked: 94.20 m
Time: 3:08

The only elevated land formation I see is this one. The surrounding land had what I think are apartment buildings. I walked around the area trying to find an opening but it was off-limits, so no soil was borrowed.

47 – Geunmaebong 근매봉

47 - Geunmaebong

Geunmaebong 근매봉
Broken Tooth
Subway: Haengdang (Line 5)
Distance hiked: 0.58 km
Time: 17.03

I am on only going because the official mountain list says so. As I get off the subway, I am exhausted; it is my third hike of the day and this one is quite hard to find. Looking at my phone, I am definitely hiking on something elevated, except what I am walking on is a road to an apartment complex. I hit the playground and look up. Near the building is what I think remains of the mountain. It appears chopped on the sides. It reminds me of a tooth about to fall out.

It is also a tooth I can’t reach, because of a sign that says Danger. From the looks of it, it is under construction, perhaps to make it usable for residents in these apartments. More exercise machines, a running trail, a tennis court, maybe? To be honest, I am so fatigued at this point, I’m a bit relieved I don’t have to go on.

46 – Inneungsan 인능산

46 - Inneungsan

Inneungsan 인능산
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
Time: 1:34:05

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.

45 – Gaeungsan 개웅산

45 - Gaeungsan

Gaeungsan 개웅산
The Mountain for Idyll Weekends
Subway: Oryu-dong (Line 1)
Distance hiked: 1.14 km
Time: 42.58

It is one hot Sunday on my way to Gaeungsan. And it isn’t even summer yet—Seoul must be scorching in a few weeks. At 125 meters in height, I reach the top quite easily. There is a pavilion with people wanting to beat the heat. Everyone is in the shade. Even the exercise machines are empty. I wish I can write more, but the high temperature has gotten to my brain. Near the exit, I see families playing near the trees, and even people using the mountain to nap, complete with a bed and pillow. Good for you, Gramps, good for you.

44 – Bukhansan 북한산

44 - Bukhansan

Bukhansan 북한산
Mother Monster
Subway: Gupabal (Line 3)
Distance hiked: 6.96 km
Time: 4:26:46

Perhaps it’s because this project is giving me extreme fatigue, but my anxiety levels are abnormally high on the bus ride on the way to Bukhansan National Park. Many a Korean has hiked this mountain range, which has three peaks and I think counts as three mountains. It is a gorgeous day, with a very blue sky.

Mountains can surprise you. Two hours of a grueling rock climbing experience, I look to the left and boom! Such a gorgeous view. On my right, a huge rock looks like the head of the Sphinx. It is a tough, but not unsurmountable, final ascent to Baekundae, the peak. From a distance, I can see another peak, Insubong, and I am extremely glad I chose this trail. Insubong is for hardcore rock climbers, and I can see tiny bodies dangling like toy figurines. Further ahead, I see Dobongsan, which makes me gulp and remember my almost unfortunate experience in Suraksan.

An ajusshi asks to take a photo with me, a waegukin girl. I comply, then he becomes a bit handsy and puts his arm around me, to which I balk. Later, he apologizes by giving me three tomatoes and some dried Philippine mangoes. Hilarious. I’ll let him live. A kind English-speaking Korean family helps me on the way out of the mountain, and again, near the parking lot, I borrow some soil. I take my third can of iced coffee and wait for the bus. I think Bukhansan is one of my favorite mountains in Seoul. I would go back to Korea, just for her.

43 – Gungsan 궁산

43 - Gungsan 2

Gungsan 궁산
Magpie Battle Forest
Subway: Yangcheon Hyanggyo (Line 9)
Distance hiked: 1.57 km
Time: 50:50

After the last few small, and rather sad-looking, parks, I do not have much hope for Gungsan, which is quite a long commute from the studio. But I am intrigued by the 600-year-old Yangcheon Hyanggyo at the foot of it. A hyanggyo is a government-run Confucian temple and academy—of the 234 that once existed in Korea. This is the only one that still exists in Seoul, albeit non-functional though with occasional ritual ceremonies. Beginning my trek, I first go through an arch with an abundance of greenery and afterwards encounter trees arranged in neat rows. Spring flowers have fallen, and the ground is blanketed in white. Further on, I see a pavilion with a nice view of the Han River.

A small meadow is host to a magpie, and I watch it play for a while before going ahead. And finally, a nice descent that consists of a lovely forest devoid of people. Lots of trees in sight, and because it is my first time here, my heart pounds at not knowing when this forest will end. It is a rather sharp descent, and my shoes keep slipping. I listen to the sounds of magpies that I suspect live on these trees. It is quite a peaceful place. This will make a rather nice production set for a movie, I muse. Perhaps it already has. Finally, I realize I am nearing the end, and I am exhilarated. I love being wrong about places, sometimes.

42 – Jeungsan 증산

42 - Jeungsan

Jeungsan 증산
The Mountain Under Construction
Subway: Jeungsan (Line 6)
Distance hiked: 417.52 m
Time: 21.40

The entire neighborhood is called Jeungsan, so it takes me a while to find the actual mountain. My entrance was a very narrow opening at the end of a street, and a group of construction workers greeted me. I brush past them and am very relieved to find a trail. I rejoice when I see a dog. Further ahead there is a very tall statue of what I presume to be a civil official from the Joseon dynasty. I begin to think I am about to undergo an adventure when I am stopped at the sight of construction going on. The scene is just as the photograph says. At this point, I cannot go any further and I leave, buying myself a popsicle to make up for my disappointment. Bah.

41 – Baramsan 바람산

41 - Baramsan

Baramsan 바람산
The Windy Mountain
Subway: Sinchon (Line 2)
Distance hiked: 219.40 m
Time: 21.40

Adding to my list of tiny mountains is Baramsan, which roughly translates to Windy Mountain, or so I am told. It is another one of those “parks in the sky,” which means I climb a long set of stairs to enter it. It’s…alright. I watch a pigeon fly through a large hole in a net of a tennis court. It is quite small, but to be fair, still green. A see a Korean magpie playing on a tree—this is always a good sign. A part of the park is treated as a vegetable patch. A few feet away, an old man sits, deep in thought. Perhaps that is the power afforded by a park in the sky—you are away from the cares of the manic society down below.

40 – Geumhwasan

40 - Geumhwasan

Geumhwasan 금화산
The Ugliest Mountain in Korea
Subway: Seodaemun (Line 5)
Distance: 327.25 m
Time: 19.18

If there was a mountain that’s about to disappear, this one will be it. I ask three different people where Geumhwasan is, and I finally make my way to what I think is the alleged mountain by worming my way through back streets that have seen better days. When I finally find something to hike, I come across an abandoned building with two construction workers napping. Further on, I see the makings of a man-made park for a nearby educational institution, and here I pause. At this point, I feel a bit frustrated and sad at such a dismal adventure. Even the soil felt fake in my hands, and I wonder, are some mountains dispensable, especially since this country has so many?