Ungil Mountain

The teachers hiking club strikes again! This time they took me out to Ungil Mountain, a mountain with its own subway stop. There doesn’t seem to be much else there and the only people that got off or on the subway there were hikers. There aren’t multiple exits from the subway station and going out the door and following the strip of little restaurants, clearly there only for hikers, who have just finished their trek, leads to some small farms which have signs, in Korean, pointing in the general direction of the mountain. It really isn’t hard to figure out where you’re going here since there’s nowhere else to go. There are quite a few different trails and as it was splintering hot we decided to take the more leisurely path. This path could be done in about an hour or hour and a half, so said the women in the restaurant after we’d finished our very leisurely two and a half hour hike on said path.

It seemed most of the other hikers had the same take it slow attitude. Even taking it slow, everyone was drenched in sweat. My group stopped every 15 minutes or so for water and one 15 minute required, if you’re hiking in Korea, makkoli (rice wine) break. There were two guys, one half way, and one at the top selling ice cream and drinks and groups of women, men, students and families making their way up. The path we took up was relatively easy with only a few steep spots. Coming down took us by Sujongsa Temple and this side was all rock and wooden steps. It’s an ideal introductory mountain for anyone that is unsure about hiking or hiking in Korea.

Ungil Mountain is a 610 meter high peak in the Namyangju, Gyeonggi-do region. We only did the one mountain, but there are multiple peaks that can be covered in a day or over a weekend for an avid hiker. The mountain offers everything from hiking to Buddhist temples and army bunkers. The signs are all in Korean, but other hikers always seem to be very happy to help if you’re unsure.

Hiking is one of my favorite activities in Korea. As anyone that has lived or is living here can tell you, Koreans are always asking very personal questions from your age, marital status, and religious views to what food you like. It’s not that they care very much whether you’re married or what food you can or can’t eat, but they want to find something that they can connect on with you. When I put on my hiking shoes and step on to the subway on a Saturday morning, suddenly it’s like the air has changed. A group of people that wouldn’t generally acknowledge my presence now notices me and gives me a nod as if they know everything about me. We are hikers. Hikers stick with hikers and conversations that wouldn’t ever start up if I weren’t wearing my hiking boots are started. Suddenly, I’m given mountain berries and rice wine on the side of a mountain and some home-made rice cake to keep me going. I make friends with men and women twice and even thrice my age because of these shoes and that is really a special feeling. Being a hiker takes away the sometimes very noticeable “I’m different” feeling that can strike a foreigner here in Korea and replaces it with a place to belong. It’s one of the few things I have found here that can do that. This trip to Ungil Mountain reminded me of this feeling and helped me remember why I do love living here so much, something that I can sometimes forget.

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