Hiking in the City: 청계산 (Cheong-gye-san)

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When I lived in Seattle, I never got to take advantage of the breath-taking outdoors of the Pacific Northwest. Part of it was due to the distance from the city to the mountains, and I made that as my main excuse for not exploring. And you have no idea how much I regret that…

To be honest, hiking was never a big hobby for me (obviously), but it was always something I wanted to do more often. My mother got into hiking early this year, and I saw tremendous improvement in her health and stamina, and I decided to follow suit when I moved back to Korea. The great thing about hiking in Korea is that you don’t need to drive out far to find a great spot, since Seoul is geographically blessed in that it is surrounded by mountains and valleys (which is also why they’re also able to have four distinct seasons).

Last Saturday, my good friend and I decided to join our parents in their weekly hike meet and they took us to 청계산, or Cheong-gye-san. Conveniently located just walking distance away from Line 3’s Yang-jae station, Cheonggyesan is easily accessible to both serious and casual hikers.

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We started lightly at around 10:30 AM, joining other hikers heading the same way. Our goal destination was the Mae-bong peak, which was approximately 590 m (or 1935 ft) above sea level. The beginning was pretty brisk, and I thought to myself “oh wow, this is totally doable.” I immediately regretted saying that, because I’ve been slacking off on working out these days (meaning for a few consecutive weeks) and my body was pretty much just gelatinous meat on a stick.

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We took a short break just to check-up on everyone’s conditions and continued on. After a while, the trail turned into a stretch of log steps that extended to the summit. During the hike, I almost had to convince myself that I was on one of the Stairmasters at the gym in order to conquer these stairs… That just goes to show how out of shape I was.

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Are we there yet? Nope.

Still got 1100 m to go...

Still got 1500 m to go…

Finally after silently climbing for hours, the greens started thinning, and I saw the sunlight piercing through the forest canopy. A few meters away, I saw a large boulder that indicated our destination. At the sight of it, it instantly gave me a sudden boost of energy to run my way up to the top.

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Almost there!!

After catching my breath for a few seconds, I stood up tall and turned around and faced the city below me through hazy clouds.

"Started from the bottom..."

“Started from the bottom…”

The view felt liberating, an escape from the city life. It was such an interesting juxtaposition – it was as if you were peering down at Seoul from another world.

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Kimbap + dumplings? Yes, please!

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How about some dessert? NOT EVEN A QUESTION.

The best part? Chowing on some of the best Korean picnic foods to satisfy the most well-deserved appetite. The mothers prepared some amazing kimbap (rice, various vegetables and/or meat, egg, cheese (optional) tightly wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed) – a must-have in any Korean outings – and dumplings for this hike, and it tasted just heavenly. And to top it all off, there was an ice cream vendor at the summit so you can give yourself a sweet reward for making it to the top! SWEET!!!

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After our quick meal, we headed back to the base of the mountain.

In conclusion, it was a successful first hike for me. The best part of the hike was, no doubt, the top of Maebong. Living in the city can be intimidating and suffocating; the experience of standing above the city chaos made me feel as if I could conquer Seoul. It was a great way to challenge myself mentally and physically. I didn’t have to go to a big mountain to unite with the nature in the middle of the city, and that was the great part about it. Yes, I am planning to go to another hike to a different mountain in Seoul soon. Hopefully I can make this into a regular hobby that I can revisit whenever the chances come!

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