Strangers Above Seoul: A Trek To Baegundae Peak

Authored by:
Elizabeth A.

Elizabeth A.

A fairly easy, beginner’s hiking trail that takes me to the top of Seoul. Sounds like a perfect way to explore Korea, right? Wrong, so very wrong. Well, not all wrong. It was a wonderful day in truth, but a beginner’s path it was not. I’m not a professional hiker or even a recreational one, but hands downs, this was the most challenging hike I have ever tackled. 

In ​ the midst of Bukhansan National Park (북한산) lies the highest point in Seoul: Baegundae Peak (백운대). As one of the most popular trails in Seoul, I knew I had to take a shot at reaching the summit. I set off, feeling wildly unprepared for the day, but little did I know how ill-equipped I was.

The first part of the trail is quite scenic. I walked along a winding stream, nestled between boulders. The cherry blossoms were still in bloom. The sun glinted off the trees and the foliage. Beautiful temples stretched right off the path. The air tasted crisp. The scent of nature was a refreshing relief from the city must. 

While true, this is the romanticized description of my trek. What I omitted was the calf pain that comes with walking up a flight of stairs for two hours straight. But these aren’t actual stairs; they are large, irregular, slippery rocks. And the path is unclear and steep, and I am sweaty and gasping for breath. 

The only things that powered me through the first third of my journey were listening to Taylor Swift’s “folklore,” the adorable cat that crossed my path, and the view behind me. I was so devoutly focused on planning each step in front of me, that I forgot to let my eyes wander around at my surroundings. But every so often, I needed a break, so I took a seat, turned around, and marveled at the scenery. To think I was just one person, among the mountains above Seoul, so far from everything else is a truly magnificent feeling. 

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As I was nearing the summit, another hiker, who was beginning his descent, passed by. We exchanged greetings and both continued on our separate ways. I thought nothing of it until he returned only five minutes later. Initially, I was confused as to why he was hiking back up, but it quickly became apparent to me that he intended to accompany me the rest of the way. One look at me, and he could tell that I would not be able to reach the peak on my own accord…and he was right. 

He explained to me that I would need both my hands, which were currently occupied by my water bottle and phone, to make my way to the top. I didn’t quite understand what he meant in the moment, but I soon encountered the looming obstacle that lay before me. 

Fair warning to anyone who attempts this trail, it only gets harder as you go up. Towards the peak, you leave behind the trees and dirt path in exchange for a steep, slippery rock face. With the assistance of ropes, mounted into the stone, you pull yourself up the side of the mountain until your reach the summit. 

In all honestly, if I had been alone at the time, I would have taken one look at the steep cliffside, given up on the spot, and walked myself back down the mountain. But this man had come back to help me, and he was there to show me the way. He pointed to which path I should take and where I should step. While I was cautiously dragging my body up with the ropes, he was taking leaps up the mountain beside me, holding onto nothing but the wind. 

When I finally reach Baegundae Peak, I was relieved to say the least. The first thought on my mind was that I was so very grateful I wouldn’t have to walk uphill anymore. But then I saw the city before me. I was at the highest point in Seoul, above 10 million people. It was the highest I’ve ever hiked on foot, and it all paid off. The South Korean flag waved right above me, the city of Seoul lay right below me, and a stranger, who became my savior that day, stood right beside me. 

But I was only halfway done; the descent remained. My legs were aching, and it didn’t help that the man informed me most people injure themselves on the way down, rather than up. And I thought this was going to be the easier part! With both hands, I eased myself back down the mountain, and thankfully, I suffered no sprained ankles or tumbles down the steep path. I was honestly amazed that I had been able to climb this path on the way up, as the extreme pitch of the mountain became very apparent to me. 

I truly believe with all my heart that I only made it safely down due to the kindness of my personal hiking guide. I strictly followed in his path, copying his footsteps to ensure I took a safe route down. I had been lucky to find such an experienced hiker, for he knew this mountain like the back of his hand. 

When we reached the bottom, I was in awe, both equally by the fact that I conquered the mountain and by the kindness of this stranger. I simply still cannot believe that he came back to help me. He could have been down this mountain hours before, but he came back because he knew I wouldn’t make it on my own. He stayed with me all the way, allowed me to take breaks, and even made small talk with me. We chatted about our lives, hobbies, and I even got a few more suggestions for destinations in Korea. 


I may be a cynic on other days, but not that day. There are selfless and good-hearted people out there, and sometimes you are lucky enough to meet them right when you need it. This unexpected act of pure generosity and kindness has stayed with me. The mountain was beautiful and the view was breathtaking, but that simple gracious act from my hiking buddy tops it all and is what I will always remember the most. 

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