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Climbing Gwanaksan Mountain


6 months ago6 min read

What a better way to spend Liberation Day than by liberating body fat and climbing a mountain which offers commanding views of Seoul? Actually, I climbed Gwanaksan last week (family commitments and rain).

Let's Climb Gwanaksan together!

Gwanaksan (관악산) is a mountain on the Southern border of Seoul. Gwan means hat, ak means steep mountain peak and san means mountain Its peak is 632m above sea level. Although it is the tallest mountain in Southern Seoul (its neighbors are Cheongaesan 620m and Samseongsan 481m), it isn't even the tallest mountain in Seoul - That's Bukhansan in the Northern part at 836m.

The spots are dragonflies

In any case, if you look South, You may notice Gwanaksan Mountain. It's noticeable because of the weather station on top. Although many mountains have things on top of them, the one on Gwanaksan is particularly visible. Another famous thing on this mountain is the prestigious Seoul University. Its main campus is on the Northern side of the mountain and is actually one of the most beautiful university campuses in Seoul, if not the most beautiful.


Actually, I've started many climbs up Gwanaksan mountain from Seoul university as there is a nice valley with a stream, however since there was a lot of rain this time, I decided to start up the backside which has a more seasonal stream. I started from a place called Gwacheon. There is a little stream and temple at the bottom and you can follow them temple path up this way.

This is the temple at the bottom where the trail starts

Actually, there are at least 4 or 5 main trails up Gwanaksan. The two I mentioned and Sadang are the most popular. The one I climbed is the easiest, the Sadang trail is the most popular and the Seoul University trail is the most challenging (well there is a hybrid route that is easy, but who doesn't want to climb the spine, especially when it is icy in winter (never again).


As I said, I climbed up the backside with the temples and the streams. I climbed up after a week of heavy rainfall about 2 weeks ago so I knew the little stream would be bigger and have more water up the mountain. At the bottom where it ends, there is another large stream meeting it and people like to splash and hang out there.

This temple called yeonjuam (연주암) is about 4/5th the way up

Personally, I would rather climb higher up so people can swim in my filth instead of the other way around, although the bottom is filled with children who could care less if they are having fun and hang around in splash ponds. Also, the water is warmer, the place is more accessible and more comfortable.

Here is the bell. I'm not sure when it was placed here, but unless they had modern tools, moving it up here would have been annoying.

I had climbed Fujisan 4 days before climbing this mountain, so I was well-conditioned (but still a little sore). Actually, I have never struggled with this mountain before. I've climbed it in the dead of winter covered with snow, I've climbed it in the pouring rain. I've climbed it hungover many times. I even climbed it after a night of drinking to try and see the sunrise (the sunrise happened before I started so technically I saw the sunrise). In other words, it's hardly a difficult climb for someone with a moderate fitness level and any experience with climbing up hills.


Actually, the hardest part about that climb was the unbearably hot weather. It was around 36C by the time I got to the peak. Fortunately, 95% of the climb is shaded and I had plenty of water. Also, there are places where you can get Yaksu (mineral water springs) or even buy it at the temples and from the odd vendors on the mountain. I think I drank about 4L of water which was double what I drank climbing Fujisan.

This is a little hermitage called yeonjudae (연주대) basically at the peak

In total it only took me 3 hours to go up and down that mountain and that included several long stops just to sit in the stream. Actually, I was so wet from sweat, jumping into the stream probably helped dry me off. Or at least it allowed me to pretend that the perspiration was water dripping off me. Climbing mountains in summer is difficult, but I guess it is safer than winter (no ice) if you remember to keep out of the sun and drink water.


I think the most spectacular thing about Gwanaksan is the view from the top. You see the city in every direction you look. Actually, if you look north you can see most of Seoul. When I climbed the air was clean. It's pretty neat to star at a city of over 10 million residents and rows upon rows of apartment buildings.


However, as you can tell, the climb up is scenic. Since most of the trails follow small forested valleys, you can't really see the city when you are climbing up or down except at the odd lookout point. And if you want the mountain in the background you can just change the camera angle.


It's amazing to have a place with such natural beauty in the center of a region surrounded by so many people. I usually climb this mountain about once a year. However, I climbed it a lot more when I lived on its western slope. It is just one of the most convenient mountains to meet at and climb. You don't even need to decide which direction to go down because no matter which way you go, you will be close to a subway station at the bottom.

The spots are dragonflies

With this climb, I climbed down the same way I climbed up. However, I did a different trail near the top to stop by a particularly famous Yaksu Place for mineral water to take home with me. I filled up both my bottles. I drank one carbonating it with my Soda Stream and I gave the other one to my frog. He is still swimming around in it. I hope it gives him as much vitality as it gives me.


I was supposed to climb Gwanaksans neighbor, Cheongaesan this weekend, but it will likely rain, so maybe I'll just meet my climbing friend for a beer or some makgeolli (rice wine).

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