I lived in Seoul for two and a half years after coming to Korea, and then lived in Daegu for two and a half years. Now that I’m living in Seoul again, I see it with different eyes. I didn’t take advantage of the mountains around Seoul back then. So now that the weather is sunny and warm, I’m determined to explore them. To this end, I went to Bukhansan National Park (복한산국립공원) to climb Dobongsan Mountain (도봉산/739.5m) at the beginning of May.
Bukhansan National Park is divided into two sections: the southerly Bukhansan section, and the northerly Dobongsan section. Both sections have a great deal of temples and trails that criss cross the mountains and valleys. For information about the real name of Bukhansan, see David Mason’s post on Sanshin.net.
To get to the Dobongsan mountain range, I went to Dobongsan Station and crossed the street. From there it’s a short walk to the trail head. There are other starting points, but this was one of the easier ones to find. You can buy kimbap and drinks around the starting point too.
The course I chose was to first head to Uiam (우이암), which I had heard was an easier way to climb the mountain. Plus, I was hoping to take in some views of the other peaks. This portion of the hike took me about 1.5 hours, only stopping to catch my breath or to photograph birds. One of which, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, is an iconic species of the mountain.
I was pleased to find a Great Spotted Woodpecker along the Uiam trail. In fact, I saw three in the same area, but only one of them was in range of my camera. The photo isn’t the best, but if you look closely, you can see its distinguishing characteristics. The lower portion of its belly is solid red, and the upper portion is solid white. The lower portion of its back is black with little white spots, and the upper portion is black with one big white spot. I think this is how it gets the name “Great Spotted”.
For comparison, I also photographed a White-backed Woodpecker on my way down from the peak. This photo is much clearer not because I was much closer, but because the lighting was better. I find woodpeckers to not be as afraid of people as most other birds, so when they are near you, you can get a good look. The main distinction between the two species that is easiest to see is that the White-backed Woodpecker has small black stripes on the white portion of its chest. Also, the back lacks the single large white spot.
Another bird I saw is called a Rufous Turtle Dove. It looks like a pigeon. Pigeons and doves appear in my guidebook together, however, I find the Rufous Turtle Doves to have a more beautiful feather pattern than your average pigeon.
On top of seeing these birds, I also finally identified a bird that I’ve been hearing on Korean mountains for the last three years. I would ask hikers anytime I could hear the bird if they could identify it. I even became good at mimicking the sound. This time, however, I asked a group of workers who were cleaning the park and one of them knew a bird expert. He called and I quickly had my answer… it’s called an Indian Cuckoo and sounds like this great recording I found online. You have no idea how happy I am to know the name of that bird.
If you are just looking for a short hike with great views, you might consider just hiking to Uiam and back. The views from there are wonderful and it makes a great place for a picnic. I considered it myself, but decided to push on. In retrospect, Uiam is a much better place to eat because the peak, Jaungbong (자운봉), has very little space to sit.
The trail from Uiam to Jaunbong only took me one hour. It’s a nice ridge hike with some rock scramling. Jaunbong itself offers a great view, but isn’t the kind of peak that you will want to stay on for too long because it’s too small for large numbers of people.
There were a number of trails down the mountain, and it got a little confusing. I had planned on descending another section, but just decided to get back to the same starting point. It took me about an hour to get down. The next time I go, I’ll have a better idea of the options.
Sitting at my desk and looking back, this was a great hike. The views from Uiam might actually be better than from Jaunbong. I think ascending via Uiam is a great option and I’m glad I did it that way. In the future, I’d like to ascend from the area around Mangwolsa Station, just one stop further.