Hiking Inwangsan with CIEE
One of my goals during my semester abroad in South Korea? Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow... you understand.
My close friends and I had already followed this motto by taking advantage of exploring the close and comfortable Ansan mountain, but when the opportunity arose, we knew it was time to try a bigger challenge.
On March 19th, a huge group of CIEE students with mostly beginner hiker skills tackled the giant Inwangsan (338.2 meters), guided by Teddy Choi 선생님, and other CIEE staff. The start of the hike was a bit of a struggle as we pushed our way up steep rocky slopes, accompanied by ropes buried in the ground or suspended next to our shoulders to hold on to. After some trial and error, all of us students got more and more used to finding the once elusive grip in the loose sliding dirt and to the intense burn in our calves and thighs.
The views at the top were breathtaking. They made the short (but tough) climb absolutely worth it. We got to observe some history as well as we walked alongside the Seoul City Wall, originally built in 1396. The section around Inwangsan has been rebuilt but it was still super cool.
Of course, everyone stopped to take pictures, and they came out great. We hugged, we cried, we screamed, we waved at each other from mountaintop to mountaintop, we feared the heights, and we did it all together. In reality, it wasn’t that dramatic, but it certainly was a lot of fun! The hike could take about 2 hours if you were quick and not with so big of a group, but ours took a bit longer because we were okay with stopping and enjoying things on our own (and admittedly, we got a little lost at one point).
Some of the participants + Beatrice 선생님 and Teddy 선생님 with one of the many great views in the background (including Namsan tower on the left!)
If you’re thinking about trying out the next CIEE hike but you’re not sure if you’re up for it, here are some thoughts from a fellow beginner hiker.
One important thing I noticed during this cold spring day is that everyone got much hotter than they expected. I luckily anticipated this and wore a t-shirt underneath my sweatshirt. I highly recommend you do the same - having a thin layer or t-shirt is necessary, and having a warmer outer cover is nice for the walk up to the actual trail, or when you are heading down if it starts to get late. I also wore shorts, which were perfect until we were walking around the town later that night, and then it was a little rough due to the cold. You can bring your own snacks, but on our hike, the CIEE staff let us stop at a convenience store beforehand and got us all water bottles for free! Bringing any sort of small and comfortable bag would be extremely helpful. Also, if you have something you like to take photos with, whether it be a Polaroid or an external phone camera lens, bring it!
Plan with friends to explore the area afterward
If you are going to Inwangsan, the area nearby (such as near Gyeongbokgung station) has excellent restaurants and very cute small streets with many options. But no matter where you are going, it’s always good to get a look at a fresh area of Seoul. Plan with your friends to go out after your hike (this is when a warm jacket or pants might come in handy). If none of your friends are going on this particular trip, don’t fret - if you talk with the other students you’re hiking with, I’m sure they will be more than happy to join you. After all, you will probably be hungry following all that exercise.
On hiking in a big group
It wasn’t exactly something I was used to, but I would definitely do it again. It could be tough if you don’t like crowds or feel uncomfortable putting yourself out there in front of your fellow students - trust me, we were all sweating a lot. But having our CIEE staff help guide us, especially the experienced Teddy 선생님, was invaluable and made the hike more knowledgeable and enjoyable. It was hard at some points to stay together as a group, so it would be ideal to have some plan or idea of how to hike the mountain yourself if you get separated.
Getting a little lost
It would be ideal if you can stay with the group, but if you fall a little behind, don’t worry! In fact, we found out after our hike that CIEE staff were with the very last people in the group, so worse comes to worse they would catch up to you and help you along the way if you were moving too slow. Always have a buddy with you! Going up the mountain it is probably easy to follow the group, but if you get left behind on your way down, I found this helpful advice that turned out to be very true after we managed to get un-lost by ourselves from this hiking guide:
“Once you reach the peak, just keep following the stairs as they descend down to the other side. This can be a little confusing! Just remember that you want to keep going down, and stay on the steps that look well-paved.
At times, the trail will split up between concrete stairs and dirt steps – try to stay on the concrete stairs as much as possible. There will be times where you will need to descend down dirt stairs, so don’t panic if you don’t see any concrete stairs. You should be totally fine as long as you keep going down the stairs.
Once you reach the end of the stairs, you’ll arrive on an ashphalted road. From here, we suggest that you open Naver Maps or Kakao Maps and work out how to get to Dongnimmun Station (on the orange line), which will be your nearest metro station.”
The overall experience
This was a wonderful way to get some exercise and get outdoors. Would 10/10 do again. Worth skipping a prior late night out with friends so you can wake up for the hike feeling fresh and ready to go. If you do it in a group with CIEE, you get the chance to make new friends and bond with your classmates over the struggles and rewards you will find hidden away on these beautiful Korean mountains.
A final fun fact
Did you know that apparently tigers used to roam the Korean mountains? Cool, right? I hope there aren’t any left hiding near the Inwangsan trails… just kidding. Read more about it on the Embassy of the Republic of Korea’s website.
Today I want to speak on the Topik Test--(the only official) Korean language proficiency exam administered by the Korean government. Taking the Topik exam is a great way to gain a formal gauge of one’s Korean language abilities since it is standardized, although the score is only valid for two years after taking the exam.
Today I will be recounting a little trip to Damyang Bamboo Forest in South Korea! For one weekend in early December, a couple friends and I took a short trip to Gwangju City--leaving Seoul for the last time before the weather got too cold!