Samgaksan is the highest mountain in the chain of mountains to the north of Seoul and consists of three high peaks named Baegundae (836m), Insubong (810m) and Mangyeongdae (787m). When people saw the mountain from a particular location, it looked like three horns. These three peaks were collectively named Samgaksan (literally ‘three-horned mountain’).
You can walk (or climb) these peaks from Bukhansan National Park, which is about an hour from central Seoul.
I made a later than planned start and got to the park entrance at 14:30. After walking 2km, you’re faced with a choice: the difficult route or the easy one.
The difficult route, apparently, involved a lot of stairs and went straight up the mountain. No one was going that way and after my experience in Alishan, I decided to take the more popular route.
The path up wasn’t as easy as advertised. In fact, it was pretty steep in places and a later map marked some of the path as “advanced”. Whichever path you take, you’re ultimately faced with metal ropes to help you pull yourself to the summit. The last section is steep. It reminded me of Half Dome in Yosemite.
I read that on the weekend you have to queue to get to the peak since the path can accommodate only so many people.
On the top were wild cats; they looked like normal domesticated cats. They had become habituated to humans and the food that accompanied them!
At the peak, I met James, a filmmaker and photographer from California. (He’s on Instagram). We decided to walk back together. Just as we got off the summit, we saw a German couple (who were on the summit with us) looking at a map. I had seen that map earlier and wondered if a third path was better to go down — mainly to avoid going back the same way and add a bit of variety.
Taking the path would take us to the park’s east exit (I’d entered from the west), but it would still be convenient because I’d be using public transport to return to the hostel wherever I exited.
In the end, the German couple went off, and James and I, after a brief discussion, followed them.
The return path was rocky but not too difficult. When we reached the road section in the park, James suggested getting a taxi, which we learnt was a shuttle for those who wanted to avoid the walk to or from the station. The taxi cut out the last 2km of road walking, which isn’t something I’d normally do but it turned out to be handy. I had to return to the hostel to complete my laundry before 10pm, when the lounge/kitchen shuts down. I’d have missed the cut-off if I’d walked the last 2km.
In hindsight, starting at 2.30pm was perfect timing, although unintentional. The temperature had cooled, and most people were on their way down when I was on my way up. We finished 30 minutes before sunset.