Bukhansan

When looking for similarities between Korea and Switzerland, what comes to your mind first? Even after spending more than three months here, it is not an easy question for me to answer. Maybe the food, in the end, both Swiss cheese and Korean kimchi is a fermented meal? I have to admit, I had to google that fact. But there is one thing that the Swiss and the Korean people share: A love for hiking!

I came to Korea with my hiking boots in my luggage. I did some research on the topic, and I soon realized that the Korean peninsula is quite an interesting destination for hikers, with its 22 national parks, divided into mountain, sea and cultural parks, with Bukhansan National Park right at the doors of Seoul. I was excited to explore nature, and looked up potential tours in different regions of the country. Sadly, I had to give up on spending the night in a shelterbecause the pandemic forced them to close for the time of my stay.

Not long after I left my 2-week quarantine, the first hike close to Seoul was planned by??. I was joined by about 15 other people from the goshiwon we are staying at. With a wide range of shoes on the feet of the people, ranging from hiking boots to sneakers, we took the subway to the entrance of Bukhansan National Park. We had already met some people on the subway who looked as if they had the same destination as us. When we resurfaced after leaving the station, we were standing in a cloud of mostly elderly people with the newest, most colorful tech-wear, all with the goal to climb the Bukhansan today. This swarm of people now moved across the street to enter what only can be described as a shopping street for hikers. All the outdoor wear brands were present with a store in order to provide you with the latest windbreaker, hiking gloves or water resistant hat. Sprinkled in between were small stalls to get kimbap, coffee or tteokbokki, and the omnipresent convenience stores to get lunch and some snacks before you’re on the trails. After passing the shops and the photo zone with the entrance gate in the background, we made our way to the top. A few kilometers into the hike, I was really questioning if all the gear was really necessary, or if it is more about fashion than function. The ground was well prepared, sometimes lined with a carpet made of naturalfibers, and most of the altitude was gained by climbing wooden stairs. Nevertheless, the surrounding nature and the views were beautiful, and the adjustments to the hiking path for sure helped to keep it that way, considering the amount of people setting foot on this land every day.

As we got higher and the trees got more sparse, the view opened up: Instead of a sea of clouds, a sea of houses and streets caught your eye. The 10-million city rolled out in front of you and you could finally grasp the size of this metropolis. We made our way to the summit, and joined the other hundreds of hikers to eat lunch at the top. While we enjoyed our kimbap, we watched the queue for the best photo spot getting longer. In Switzerland, yousometimes have a Gipfelbuch, in Korea you have the digital version: You, together with the South Korean Flag and the view over Seoul on your smartphone or your social media. And although the path to the top was different from what I was used to from home, the feeling of reaching the peak and seeing what I had accomplished gave me a familiar feeling of achievement.

Tim Landolt

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