Mountaineering around the capital

By Kim Jeong-tai

Although Seoul, the capital for the last 6 centuries, now has a large population of 10 million, it is a not a city on a plain but a park-like metropolis handsomely crouched among hills and mountains.

In its center is Namsan Hill (272m) standing like a watchtower.



Facing this hill are the successive peaks of Mt Bukhan (836m) running like city walls on the N and NW outskirts. Another series of peaks represented by Mt Dobong (741m) adorn the NE fringe, from which the undulating range recedes into distant and higher mountains.

Across the Han River flowing E to W on the S part of Seoul are expanses of new city development areas at the end of which spreads again a chain of mountain starting with Mt Kwanak (629m). Foreigners are amazed to find here such harmony of mountains and habitations culminating in the overall natural beauty of the city site.

These mountains around Seoul, mostly of steep granite peaks, had stood as natural bulwarks against foreign invasions till the end of the 19th Century. With present-day transportation facilities, thousands of Seoulites enjoy mountaineering on every Sunday and holiday.
Particularly Mts Bukhan and Dobong have more than 20 precipitous peaks and have become the cradle of Korean alpinists as a kind of a rock garden for your climbers since 1930 or thereabouts.
The first even of Westernized alpinism in Korea was the ascent to the summit of Mt Paekdu (2744m) by Capt Francis Younghusband, British explorer and alpinist, in 1886. Later in 1926 Mr. C. H. Archer, British Vice Consul to Korea, and a certain Mr. Macre of a british mission in Japan succeeded in rock-climbing the steepest separate peak in Mt Bukhan called Insu Peak(803m) and tow other peaks Manjangbong and Obong. This is recognized as the first inst~nce of modern rock-climbing in Korea.

It is historically interesting and meaningful that the British who had climbed and studied many highlands and mountains of several continents introduced the European geological, explorative mountaineering and modern alpinism (mainly of rock-climbing) to Korean people at these peaks of metropolitan Seoul. Thus mountain climbing in the 1930s was rudimentary peak-hunting but since 1940 or so the Korean became more advanced than the Japanese in this field with the help of the Baekryong Club, a Korean alpine club, as their center organization.
They now tried more sophisticated patterns using combinations of face and ridge climbing, which Europeans used in exploring such high peaks as the Alps and other noted mountains of the Himalaya.

Here are some records of the first rock-climbing ascents of peri-Seoul peaks during 1926-45 period. There were 33 routes, mostly consisting of 9 peaks around and in Mt Bukhan together with 12 on Mt Dobong. At the close of World War Ii an independent group called Corean Alpine Club was started.
One should observe that Korean mountaineering till then was chiefly free climbing wherein pitons were used only occasionally on routes of Grade IV or over.

However, thanks to the influence from European and American alpinists, rock-climbing courses began quickly increasing as techniques of artificial climbing were introduced to Koreans step by step. Recently some young members of a climbers' club conducted a research on the rocks and peaks around Seoul and formally announced 113 routes in existence. If we exclude the previously mentioned 33 routes, there are more than 80 new routes since 1945.

Among these are some outstanding courses including those of Grace V + 9 necessitating artificial climbing of overhangs but a portion of it is a combination on the way or some irregular interchanges between and among established routes.
In the instance of the S wall of Insu Peak, a web-like pattern of routes has been developed and one can see the traces of brazen artificial climbing with tens of bolts and pitons pegged in on end upon rock surfaces.
These excesses have led to a call for restrictions preventing destruction of rock surfaces and encouraging conservation of nature in general. The use of jam-nuts and grip-fingers for clean climbing is encouraged, the preference of an increasing number of mountaineers these days. The following are the details of a few typical alpine routes near Seoul.

Baekwundae Crest (836m) on Mt Bukhan is the highest peak near Seoul and attracts the largest number of climbers on holidays. Historical records say that a Baekje king climbed to the summit of this crest in the 18th year BC for construction of a fortress. King Taejo, the first of the Joseon Dynasty, became the first Korean rock-climber by reaching the summit with deft control of a cotton-sheet belt handled as a sort of climbing rope. Since then only those few brave enough could climb this crest. In 1926 a group of interested notables collected a fund to carve out stairways and install iron handrails along the climbing way, which is now one of the most popular mountain courses near Seoul.
The S rock-wall was climbed in 1929 by the present writer and party, then junior high school students. This is shown here as an example, for later on there will be descriptions of the grades of routes about Insu Peak. On Beakwundae Crest there are 12 routes altogether.

Insu Peak is one of the 9 rock-peaks on Mt Bukhan.
The total number of routes reaches over 50. Meanwhile, there are 5 hotels of Western and Korean styles on the piedmont and 5 chalets on the breast of Mt Bukhan, providing pleasant facilities, as well as mountaineering classes and relief teams at weekends. Furthermore, there are 8 Buddhist temples with traditional architecture dotting the quiet corners of the mountain, offering visiting mountaineers serene places of recuperation intoned with Buddhist monks' scripture chanting.

With no chance of access to high alps as in other countries, Korean alpinists like to train themselves by simulating a larger scale ascent, carrying out combination climbing on more than 5 to 10 routes at a time stretching over a few days, thus trying to reproduce the situation of grand alpinism overseas.