Walking up a mountain on a mostly flat trail

‘Purely relaxing’, ‘mostly flat’, ‘2.5 hours’ and two beautiful temples on the way. The Mangwolsa-Hoeryongsa trail sounded like a good deal for an afternoon in Bukhansan National Park, the closest one to South Korea’s capital Seoul. And so we took our guide book’s advice and headed out for this little walk.

Since it was such a short walk, we got up late. And because it was such a short walk, we took our time at breakfast before getting on the subway to the head of the trail. When we arrived, we were hungry but that was not a problem at all. Since it was such a short walk, we had time to sit down for lunch.

We walked into a random place and discovered that it had no English menu and no picture menu and that no English was spoken. Mr. Colors was delighted, the family running the place looked worried. They seemed relieved when we finally ordered something, quite obviously not really knowing what it was, but looked anxious when they brought our order. Their worries were unnecessary – the food was fantastic. They looked very glad when they saw that their difficult customers happily ate everything. Fearing that Korean cuisine might be hot for us, they even gave us a free coke.

Choosing a short walk allowed us to have an extended lunch at this little spot, located between Mangwolsa subway station and the trail head.

Choosing a short walk allowed us to have an extended lunch at this little spot, located between Mangwolsa subway station and the trail head.

Very content with our lunch, we started our walk at 2pm. The trek first took us through a massive construction project for a multi lane highway but we soon got close to those hills and rocks we had seen from afar in Seoul. I was glad that we had chosen a short trek because it gave me time to stop often and take a lot of pictures.

Signage for high traffic days on the trail.

Signage for high traffic days on the trail.

Something about the way was weird though – it was nearly never flat. As we continued to walk, we climbed up and up and up. The first temple on the way was the Mangwolsa and since monks like a good view, it was perched on the slope of a mountain.

A mostly flat trail?

A mostly flat trail?

One of the buildings at Mangwolsa temple was being decorated when we passed by.

One of the buildings at Mangwolsa temple was being decorated when we passed by.

After a photo stop at the temple, we continued to ascend on this purely relaxing trail. When we finally reached the mountain top, we were both awed by the view – and totally lost.

Outskirts of Seoul. How the hell did we get up here?

Outskirts of Seoul. How the hell did we get up here?

We found this map on the way back down and realized that we had gotten lost at the 'expert level' section on the top right.

We found this map on the way back down and realized that we had gotten lost at the ‘expert level’ section on the top right.

The trail had just kind of disappeared. Even GPS and maps did not help. We walked in circles for more than an hour. When the sun started to set, we had not even covered half of the distance to our destination. Defeated and with no idea how and where to continue, we decided to retreat. Eager to make it back before dark, we almost ran. Expecting mostly flat trail, I had chosen sneakers instead of the hiking boots that would have served me so much better on the descend. Even so, we stopped only once, at the temple – at this time of the day, the atmosphere around it was even more pristine.

Bukhansan_Mangwolsa_II

This five minute stop aside, I honestly cannot imagine how anyone could have gotten down faster. Yet, we made it only just in time. When we arrived at the subway station, it was 7pm and almost dark. The trek, not even completed, had taken us 5 hours. No, we’re not in perfect shape right now. The trail (in those sections that we did find) is easy enough and with less photo stops and less time wasted being lost, it can surely be done faster. But it is clearly not flat nor easy to find! Had we known what we were in for, it could have been very nice: The temple is stunning and the nature a treat after a couple of days in Seoul. If you are intrigued, I strongly recommend hiking shoes and an earlier start – unless you are superman like the author of our travel guide.

This post was published on perelincolors.com. All photos are our own and have been taken with an Olympus OMD E-M10 and prime lenses. Edited from RAW format in darktable.

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