It’s May in the ROK and that means hiking season is in full swing. This weekend, Ryan N and I decided to hit up an old favourite: Dobongsan in Bukhansan National Park. Jaunbong Peak 자운봉 (740m) was our goal today, but unfortunately, I severely underestimated the time and the intensity of this trail. That said, it was still an excellent day for hiking with some great photo opportunities and of course a little time for some makgeolli.
Before you go: Never underestimate your opponent. In this case, your opponent is 740m high, weighing several billion tons with jagged peaks staring you in the eyes. Dobongsan is a beast. I would highly recommend bring lots of water (at least 2L), a good pair of hiking boots, snacks and lunch for the hike and please, do yourself a favour a buy a hiking stick. You will thank me on the way down. It was a pretty intense hike, so if you are a novice, I would highly suggest taking it easy on this first hike until you build a little more experience. It’s not too challenging for advanced hikers, but it is not as easy as The Seoul Trail.
How to get there: The easiest way to get there is to take the subway to Dobongsan Station (Line 1 and Line 7) and depart from Exit 1. Make a quick right and cross over the bridge. You will see the main street with a lot of venders and hiking stores. Now, if you want to load up on supplies, I would recommend heading over there, but if you want to head right to the park, make a left after you have crossed the street, and your first right. You will walk about 250 meters right into the park.
Street eats, Hiking shops and Ajumma hats: Got a little time to spare and some extra cash? Check out the various street hawkers, shops and grab a bite to eat in the markets around the park. The smells, sounds and tastes add to the festive atmosphere of the park, and basically hiking in general in Korea. If you can’t find what you are looking for at the market than it probably doesn’t exist. Finally, load up on your Korean liquor of choice (I prefer makgeolli) for a rewarding drink at the peak of Dobongsan.
Wait? What? We are still in the city? Peace and quiet. In a city of 11 million people, it’s a bit of rarity. There are a few moments when you can only here the gentle flow of Dobongsan’s stream and damn is it calming. One reason I started to take up hiking is the peacefulness that comes with a good hike. It’s just you and nature. It revives me spiritually, and of course, after eating my way through Seoul, also provides some much needed cardio.
Cheonchuksa (천축사) Temple: The oldest temple on Dobongsan (founded in 1474AD), Cheonchuksa is a Buddhist temple built into the mountains. It has been going through renovations and updates since 2009, and is a perfect spot for a little meditation and a quick break. There are active services on site, so please be respectful. But feel free to photograph around the temple. It’s a moment of relaxation before the challenges that await.
900 Meters to Jaunbong Peak: Easy right? Nope. The next kilometre is pretty much straight up and for novice hikers, it will be a challenge. Ryan and I were laughing at this moment. It was only 11:30am and we thought we had plenty of time (3 hours left) But this was a gruelling few hundred meters. An experienced hiker or someone who is generally in pretty good shape might not have a problem, but it took an hour and a half to reach a cliff and we still had another 100 meters to go. We had to make a decision and decided to start the descend. That said, I’ve climbed Dobongsan once and I’ll do it again! Mark my words.
Final Thoughts: It’s amazing how the weather changes in Seoul. We started off hazy and it ended up beautiful. Dobongsan is a unique experience because depending on which trail you take will determine the level of effort you will put in. Either way, the scenery is beautiful and there are endless opportunities for great photos. Bring a blanket, some food and some beverages and soak in the scenery and atmosphere. It’s a wonderful day well spent.
Who Should Hike Dobongsan (Jaenbong Peak and Cheonchuksa): If you are going to hike the Jaunbong Peak Trail please keep in mind that it is for advanced hikers and bring the proper equipment (hiking boots, lots of water, hiking stick, etc) Photographers with great cardio will have the times of their lives.
Who Should Avoid Dobongsan (Jaenbong Peak and Cheonchusa): First time hiking? My suggestion would be The Seoul Trail. It’s an easier hike with plenty of great photo spots.