Yesterday I made the trip up the 629 meter Gwanak-san (rock mountain) in Gwacheon. In my mind, a 4 km hike up a 629 m mountain is a run up a mole hill, an easy feat accomplished in a couple hours.
I forgot I was in Korea.
When Korean hiking clubs map out and build trails, they go straight up the mountain, switchbacks be damned. The problem here is the most direct route is usually the most brutal, ass-kicking ascent you can possibly imagine. The mountains here aren’t high, but they are steep, and Gwanak-san is no exception.
That said, Gwanak-san has got to be one of the best hikes I’ve been on in years. Besides the physical challenge of all the rock scrambles, the summit is home to a cliff shrine and hermitage, some funky communications equipment, machine gun nests left over from the war, and, of course, at the top of the mountain, there’s a dude selling ramen noodles and makkoli (rice wine).
The foundations of the hermitage date back to AD 677, but most of the temple was rebuilt in the 1970s.
If you go: Plan to spend at least six hours. Take at least two liters of water and a few ounces of gorp. You’ll need the energy.
Getting there: Take line 4 to the Gwacheon stop and use exit seven. Cross the street and look for the brown signs. The entrance to the mountain is about 500m from the subway. When you reach an intersection, you have two options for going to the top.
Option 1: At the intersection, if you cross the street and head straight for the hill, you’ll be on the longer, more challenging trail. Because of this, the trail will be less crowded. On this trail you’ll be doing some rock crawling, but you’ll be rewarded with plenty of vistas.
Option 2: At the intersection, head left and follow the road for a few minutes. On the right you’ll see a parking lot and a bunch of outdoorsy-type Korean restaurants. Just follow the road up the hill and soon you’ll be on the trail. This trail is shorter and more built-up, having stairs, bridges and handrails.