Is there any place in the world where you can see so many hikers throughout a city at any given time? Hop on a subway car and you’re apt to see a man or woman geared up from head to toe headed for the mountains. Throughout Korea people share the love of hiking!
Korea has over sixty mountains throughout the small country. Many of them are reachable from public transportation. On a clear day in Seoul, mountain tops are visible all around you. The most famous is Bukhasan which reaches over 836 meters above sea level and borders a large portion of Seoul. Trails can be found for all hiking levels. Scattered throughout the hills are Buddhist temples, ancient monuments and many signs of past wars.
It can be easy to find your way to a mountain on your own with some research. When I first arrived in Korea a friend shared a tip “Just follow anyone with a backpack and hiking poles and you will eventually find yourself at a peak.” Afraid of getting accused of stalking and interested in meeting other English speaking fellow hikers, I opted for a different approach.
I hopped on meetup.com and searched for Seoul Meetups. I instantly found over a dozen hiking and outdoor groups. On any given weekend it is easy to find a group headed for peaks throughout Korea. After a few great trips and some recommendations, I found my favorite Meetup group for hiking – Indigo Hill.
Eric Kim Hoik is the founder of this Meetup group. Eric is an energetic and intelligent trail blazer. He began hiking regularly in 2009. After hiking for several months, he established this group in hopes of incorporating culture, art and philosophy into his trips. His approach includes opening his group to anyone that has an interest in the sport.
Indigo Hill’s events incorporate hiking, traveling and art. On any given hike, Eric pulls out his macarena and will serenade fellow hikers with beautiful songs. The group also encourages others to share their talent through art or poetry as well as their cultural background and experiences.
Lunchtime on the mountains is always a fun experience as all hikers on the trip pull out food and share a picnic. Food ranges from traditional Korean dishes and snacks, to Indian treats, American junk food and more! You never know what you will get to try. After hiking, an optional meal is shared at a local restaurant. This leads to more great conversation and cultural dining experiences.
On Sunday, September 8th I attended one of Indigo’s hiking trips. We met around 8:00 in the morning in Seoul. About 20 people joined the group and we all headed to the mountain on public transportation. We would hike Manisan Mountain on Ganghwa Island.
From the center of Seoul it took about two hours by subway and bus to reach the base of the mountain.
Youngchoon Kim (known by many as Mr. Kim) is another one of Indigo Hill’s organizers. He has over 30 years of hiking experience. His skills are inspiring. He attended the hiking trip and helped in organizing the event. Mr. Kim handed out maps at the beginning of the trek and encouraged everyone to stretch. There was also time for everyone to introduce themselves.
Manisan Mountain is 496 meters above sea level. From the top of the mountain you can see Gyeonggi with its beautiful farmland and rice patties, and the West Sea. Jeongsusa Temple, from the Goryeo period, and Chamseongsdan, an altar, are located at the top of the mountain. It is said that Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla kings came to these historical locations to offer sacrifices to the heavens.
The Indigo trip consisted of three peaks, beginning at Manisan Trail Head and ending at JungSu Temple. We hiked on Dangun Road (the mythical first king of the Korean race’s road) to Chamsungdan, the altar of heaven. We then made our way to ChilSunnyu, the Seven Taoistic Fairies. The group stopped for lunch at a beautiful observatory before making our way down the mountain to JungSu Temple.
At the top of the mountain, there were stunning views of the Sea and the Island all around us. Boulders lined the peaks. In many locations we had to hold onto ropes to make our way up and down the slippery and bare rocks .
On the top of Manisan Trail, there are many paths along the boulders for advanced hikers. I had the privilege of going on a few of these side-trips with Mr. Kim. These trails can be very dangerous, and I would have stayed clear of them had I not been with an experienced hiker. Here you will find some of the most breathtaking views.
Mr. Kim showed me how to hop from rock to rock. My heart raced as he defied gravity and walked without question down the slippery and steep inclines. I relied on his steady grip at many of the boulders to get safely up and down. At several locations we had to use ropes to rappel down the boulders. It was a scary but thrilling experience with unforgettable views!
The entire hike lasted about six hours. Afterward several of us stopped at a restaurant near Gimpo Airport to share dinner together. We all rested while enjoying a great traditional Korean meal and drinking beer and makoli.
If you are interested in attending a hike with Indigo Hill, you can find them at http://www.meetup.com/indigohill. Hikes range from easy to advanced.