With approximately 70% of Korea’s land area composed of mountains, it’s easy to see why many people take up hiking as a hobby or pastime activity on the peninsula.
Coming from South Florida, a place so flat some areas are actually below sea-level, I’m continually awed by not just the beauty of these mountains, but how they seemingly exist interwoven within the high-rise filled, densely populated cities such as the capital, Seoul.
That’s one of the most interesting things about this South Korea. You can be in a hustling urban area and still see beautiful mountains in the distance, most of the time lingering not too far away. It makes for breathless backdrops and stunning views, particularly when atop one of these mountain peaks.
Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to live less than 15 minutes away from Bukhansan National Park, one of the 20 official national parks of South Korea.
The name Bukhansan translates to ‘big mountain in the north’ – meaning north of the Han River. This luscious forested area consists of granite mountain peaks, hiking trails, gently flowing streams, camping sites, historic fortresses and buddhist temples.
Last weekend I took my second trip to Bukhansan with some friends, this time with the goal of summiting one of the peaks.
Summiting a mountain was something I hadn’t yet done, not only in Korea but in general. I viewed it as not only a physical, but mental test of endurance for myself.
As a fit 24 year-old who exercises and eats rather healthy, I never thought this random, largely unknown by the rest of the world, mountain range would test everything I had to give – and then some.
It was less than halfway up when I realized I should have never been so naive, particularly when it comes to nature.
Five and a half hours later, I was a very exhausted but even though my body ached I felt changed in an existential sense.
Not only was I able to witness one of the most beautiful views and reached my desired goal, but I pushed myself both physically and mentally beyond the any limits I thought achievable.
As mountaineer Edmund Hillary put it, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”