The Seoul Fortress Wall was once the outer boundary of Seoul, the city that is the heart of Korea. Now it lies as a relic to a past of historical importance. The Fortress Wall now encases the nucleus of the thriving downtown area in Seoul, Korea.
There were once 8 city gates. 4 large and 4 small corresponding to the 4 cardinal directions. The wall was also once an unfailing formiddable obstacle to invaders. Now it is in multiple states of reconstruction and preservation.
The wall stretches a little over 11 miles, or 18 kilometers. It climbs up and over four mountains, and maintains remnants that are interspersed throughout the urban center in the flat areas between the mountains.
Laurel Goodman, Cindy Smith, and I attempted to hike the length of the Seoul Fortress Wall. Although we did not complete the entire distance, we did have a wonderful time on a reconnaissance mission to learn what it takes to hike the entire wall in a single day.
The walk is not as straight forward as you would think. You cannot just follow a wall. I read an article in a magazine published in Seoul that described a route through the urban areas, and how to find pieces of the wall and other important markers in the midst of the concrete jungle of Seoul. The directions were okay, and the maps provided were neither abundant or in detail. But with a little bit of guess work, some retracing of our steps, and an adventurous spirit, we managed to follow the wall pretty good.
We started at Seoul Station, a hub of subway traffic. For the first couple hours, we pieced together the wall, finding bits of it here and there, we got lost, and found, and saw things in Seoul that we never see because we are always going to the same places. It was like a scavenger or treasure hunt. And our prize was the fortress wall.
The first large gate we came across was under construction. In about 5 months it will be rebuilt and looking amazing. Some side streets and a cruise along tidbits of the wall led us to a short tribute to the second gate. We got a little off track and weren’t sure what we were looking for, and when we found it we weren’t very impressed. But this is just to mark where the second gate was, and given its location there really isn’t much room to rebuild this one.
After our city center maneuvering, we were finally headed up our first mountain, Ingwansan, but DOH! The trail is under construction. So hey we’ll take this detour trail, and then this looks good, and then how about this way, and then, oh no……where are we???
So we asked some local hikers to point us in the right direction of a destination on our map, and found Buam-dong, a korean neighborhood with a very western influence. We had pajeon and guk su for lunch. Or a big seafood pancake and cold rice noodle dish for those of you wondering what language I’m speaking (Korean). The architecture in this town was very modern. And lunch was overpriced and not the best. Moral of the story, western infused Korean not always the best idea.
Just behind Buam-dong we located our first fortress gate. Hah!
After lunch we were back on track, and heading up Bugaksan. Or Bugak Mountain. This mountain is owned and operated by the military, so we had to fill out a piece of paper, show our Alien Registration Cards, and receive an id tag to wear around our necks. Very official!!
Then we began the stairway to heaven. Or into oblivion. Whatever you want to call it. It was hundreds of oversized stairs 1000 feet straight up to the top of the mountain. Here the wall is in one piece and behind two chain link barb wire fences. Theres no getting through the wall here. Remember, no stopping unless in designated rest areas. Gotta keep the traffic flowing.
Then we made it to the top. And what a view it was. On the clearest day I’ve had on top of a mountain, with a 360 degree view of Seoul, I truly observed and felt the vastness of a city housing 10 million people that has a history dating over 2000 years. Incredible
A panorama would really need to be taken to accurately describe what I would see. But here is just a little taste of it.
After the top, we started heading down and down back into the city. We followed some more directions through quiet neighborhoods where the wall was built into houses, into schools, and made into fences. We the discovered another gate that was kind of hiding, but we found it.
And we were at about half way around the wall, missing the one mountain of course.
With our late start, getting lost, getting found, long lunch, and shear fatigue from the big climb, we decided that we were utterly satisfied with our fortress wall chasing mission, and decided to throw in the towel.
To successfully walk this in a day, one would need an early start, lots of rest, and knowledge of trail closures and detours. We had none of these and will settle for half the wall.
It was a fun day exploring the city and climbing a mountain. I wouldn’t trade the view, the people, or the day in for a million won!!!
Have a wonderful day!