Take the Korean mountain challenge

Written by on November 2, 2012 in Travel

I still remember the first time I climbed a mountain in Korea. It was spring 2007, and I decided to see what was up the mountain near my office, Achasan. I dragged myself up that slope, climbing over rocks and struggling through the brush, and when I reached the top, I discovered a comfortable walking path used by many elderly citizens of Seoul. It made me feel weak in comparison, but the view was fantastic.

My curiosity of Seoul’s mountain peaks (many of them mentioned here) grew, eventually leading to the discovery of this map marking the peaks of Seoul.

As you can see, I’ve used it to mark which mountains I’ve climbed. This is up-to-date as of November 2012.

If you’re that familiar with Seoul, you’ll probably see a lot of things wrong with this list. For one thing, several mountains are missing, most notably Bugaksan (which only fully reopened to the public in 2007). There are others missing too, much smaller peaks that dot the city.

In my very slow quest to conquer these peaks, I discovered a culture of mountaineers and hillwalkers called “Peak Bagging,” which is all about reaching peaks of particular sets of mountains. The target of peak baggers is to summit collections of mountains, whether that means all mountains above a certain height, or the highest mountains in certain regions, etc.

For instance, mountaineers who have climbed all 14 eight-thousanders (mountains that have a height of over 8000 meters above sea level) are said to belong to the 8000-Meter Club.

One of the other greatest challenges in the world is the Seven Summits — that is, climb the highest mountain on all seven continents. There has been considerable debate on this list, particularly over which peak in Australia, and there are two commonly accepted lists. As well, it’s been argued that the Seven Summits are less intimidating than the Seven Second Summits, a collection of the second-highest mountains on each continent, in which K2 replaces Everest, as well as Mount Kenya instead of the much technically simpler Kilimanjaro.

Anyway, a lot of thought and effort has gone into this, and as far as I know there’s nothing like this going on in Korea. There most likely is, and I just don’t know about it, because there are so many Koreans who love climbing mountains; I just don’t know about it. So anyway, I’m going to introduce a series of accomplishments for anyone with the interest, energy, and dedication to give it a try.

Fall is the best time of the year to go climbing, so if you’re looking for something to do, why not give it a try?

Inner Circle

Bugaksan (북악산) – 342 meters
Inwangsan (인왕산) – 338.2 meters
Naksan (낙산) – 125 meters
Namsan (남산) – 262 meters

This first challenge is the easiest–both because all four peaks are relatively low, and they’re relatively close to each other. The traditional city limits of Seoul are lined by four peaks. Reaching each of these peaks lands you in the Inner Circle.

Bugaksan requires climbers to register in order to get to certain parts of the mountain. This has been covered by the Korea Blog before.

Inwangsan is a pleasant enough climb with a great view at the top. The best way to start is to catch the 9 bus from Jongno up to its last stop in Okin-dong and head up from there. That’s the only mountain on the list I’ve climbed (though I can say I’ve been to the peak of Namsan anyway).

It should be noted that peak bagging is about conquering peaks, but is specifically vague about how one gets up there. Many peak baggers use cars or ATVs, so there’s no reason in Korea that one also couldn’t use the Namsan Cable Car. Chances are if you’ve spent enough time in this city, you’ve already been up there, so rather than having to reconquer one you’ve already done, feel free to mark this one down and move on to the next.

Heading down from the peak of Inwangsan.

Outer Circle

Bukhansan (북한산) – 836.5 meters
Dobongsan (도봉산) – 739.5 meters
Suraksan (수락산) – 637.7 meters
Buramsan (불암산) – 507 meters
Yongmasan (용마산) – 348 meters
Achasan (아차산) – 287 meters
Daemosan (대모산) – 293 meters
Guryongsan (구룡산) – 283.2 meters
Cheonggyesan (청계산) – 620 meters
Umyeonsan (우면산) – 293 meters
Gwanaksan (관악산) – 632 meters
Samseongsan (삼성산) – 481 meters

I know the Inner Circle sounds all elite and cool, but the Outer Circle is certainly a much bigger accomplishment: the peaks are higher and there are way more of them. It might also be advantageous to tackle two of them at a time; Achasan and Yongmasan seem closely linked, as well as some of the mountains in the northeast and along the southern border. It might be possible to knock off some grueling ascent time (make no mistake: exercise is had doing this but in the pursuit of goals any shortcut helps).

This list more resembles that image I found above, with the glaring omission of the inner-city peaks and the addition of Samseongsan, which I believe straddles the border between Seoul and Anyang and is a rewarding climb.

I’ve climbed the bottom five on this list, each of which has its own vistas and challenges. Gwanaksan is the most challenging but most rewarding, with interesting temples and a great rocky outcropping at the top where you can buy a bottle of makgeolli and relax. Cheonggyesan is similar but smaller, and Achasan is much less frequented, but still very interesting.

Umyeonsan poses a bit of a challenge, as there seems to be a military base at the top with clearly marked minefield, so in lieu of risking your life for a minor accomplishment it’s probably best to just count seeing the landmine warnings as reaching the top.


From the peak of Cheonggyesan you can see across Seoul and Seongnam.

Seoul Top Ten

Bukhansan (북한산) – 836.5 meters
Dobongsan (도봉산) – 739.5 meters
Suraksan (수락산) – 637.7 meters
Gwanaksan (관악산) – 632 meters
Cheonggyesan (청계산) – 620 meters
Buramsan (불암산) – 507 meters
Samseongsan (삼성산) – 481 meters
Yongmasan (용마산) – 348 meters
Bugaksan (북악산) – 342 meters
Inwangsan (인왕산) – 338 meters

This list almost overlaps the Outer Circle, except for the inclusion of inner-city peaks Bugaksan and Inwangsan. A smaller list than the Outer Circle, and anyone who can achieve one can quickly also achieve the other.

It worked out well that the cutoff point for these mountains is 300, with the eleventh highest mountain being Ansan at 295 meters.

Each Gu

Bukhansan (북한산) – Dobong, Eunpyeong, Jongno, Gangbuk
Cheonjangsan (천장산) – Dongdaemun
Sangdo Park (상도공원) – Dongjak
Eungbong (응봉) – Gangdong
Daemosan (대모산) – Gangnam
Bongjesan (봉재산) – Gangseo
Minjudongsan (민주동산) – Geumcheon
Samseongsan (삼성산) – Guro
Gwanaksan (관악산) – Gwanak
Yongmasan (용마산) – Gwangjin
Namsan (남산) – Jung, Yongsan
Achasan (아차산) – Jungnang
Wowsan (와우산) – Mapo
Suraksan (수락산) – Nowon
Cheonggyesan (청계산) – Seocho
Inwangsan (인왕산) – Seodaemun
Gaeunsan (개운산) – Seongbuk
Eungbong (응봉) – Seongdong
Namhansan (남한산) – Songpa
Yongwangsan (용왕산) – Yangcheon

This is a big long list of peaks and it would take a long time and a lot of moving around to do them all. On the bright side, many of the peaks are not very high at all. Wowsan behind Hongik University in Mapo-gu is barely over 200 meters, and Sangdo Park is around the same, and both offer wonderful scenery. These peaks are less prominent, so I think as long as you get up there you don’t have to worry too much about finding the highest point.

Some of these places aren’t so well defined or known, and they’re so small it’s hard to find how tall they actually are. Also, it’s worth noting that Eungbong in Seongdong is different from Eungbong in Gangdong; it’s a popular name. Plus, I could find absolutely nothing in Yeongdeungpo, so you can consider that one like the free space in the middle of a Bingo card.

On the summit of Inwangsan, people crowd together at the highest point of the mountain.

Seven City Summits

Ulsan: Gajisan (가지산) – 1240 meters
Gwangju: Mudeungsan (무등산) – 1187 meters
Daegu: Choejeongsan (최정산) – 905 meters
Daejeon: Gyeryongsan (계룡산) – 845 meters
Seoul: Bukhansan (북한산) – 836.5 meters
Busan: Geumjeongsan (금정산) – 801.5 meters
Incheon: Manisan (마니산) – 469.4 meters

Now here’s where things are starting to get even more challenging. All across Korea there are large mountains within city limits, and Bukhansan in Seoul is only the fifth largest. This one will take a lot of travelling, but it’s certain to be considerably more comfortable than the next…

Mountains are a popular place for picnics. Some of the more popular mountains have vendors at the top, but for others it’s BYOM (Bring Your Own Makgeolli).

Nine Summits

Gyeonggi-do: Hwaaksan (화악산) – 1468.3 meters
Gangwon-do: Seoraksan (설악산) – 1707.9 meters
Chungcheongbuk-do: Gungmangbong (국망봉) – 1,420 meters
–Seodaesan (서대산) – 903.7 meters
–Wolseongbong (월성봉) – 903.7 meters
Jeollabuk-do: Banyabong (반야봉) – 1733.5 meters
Jeollanam-do: Jirisan (지리산) – 1915 meters
Gyeongsangbuk-do: Taebaeksan (태백산) – 1566.7 meters
Gyeongsangnam-do: Jirisan (지리산) – 1915 meters
Jeju: Hallasan (한라산) – 1950 meters

You’ll have to leave the comfort of the cities to do these ones. Fortunately, Jirisan which straddles Gyeongsangnam-do and Jeollanam-do is the tallest in both provinces, so that’s a two-for-one. Also, Chungcheongnam-do seems to have two peaks tied for highest, so rather than decide between them, I’ll let you take your pick.

Eight Second Summits

Gyeongg-do: Myeongjisan (명지산) – 1267 meters
Gangwon-do: Gwittaegibong (귀때기청봉) – 1577.6 meters
Chungcheongbuk-do: (도솔봉) – 1314.2 meters
–Wolseongbong (월성봉) – 903.7 meters
–Seodaesan (서대산) – 903.7 meters
Jeollabuk-do: Namdeogyusan (남덕유산) – 1507.4 meters
Jeollanam-do: Banyabong (반야봉) – 1733.5 meters
Gyeongsangbuk-do: Munsubong (문수봉) – 1517 meters
Gyeongsangnam-do: Namdeogyusan (남덕유산) – 1507.4 meters

As Chungcheongnam-do had two summits tied for highest, I figured it would be best that both of them also share the tie for second place in this category too. Since Jeju has only one mountain, it couldn’t field a peak for this category, so that brings us down to eight. No word on if these mountains are any harder to climb than the Nine Summits, but I’ve never heard of any of them.

1600 Club

Hallasan (한라산) – 1950 meters
Jirisan (지리산) – 1915 meters
Banyabong (반야봉) – 1733.5 meters
Seoraksan (설악산) – 1707.9 meters
Yeongsinbong (영신봉) – 1652.9 meters
Deogyusan (덕유산) – 1614 meters

It’s a little too much to hope for an Eight-Thousander in Korea, but there are six mountains that stand higher than 1600 meters, so it would be quite a challenge to reach the top of all of them.

A vendor serves hot drinks and ramyeon at the top of Cheonggyesan.


1500 Club

Gwittaegibong (귀때기청봉) – 1577.6 meters
Gyebangsan (계방산) – 1577 meters
Hambaeksan (함백산) – 1573 meters
Taebaeksan (태백산) – 1566.7 meters
Odaesan (오대산) – 1563.4 meters
Horyeongbong (호령봉) – 1561 meters
Gariwangsan (가리왕산) – 1560.6 meters
Garibong (가리봉) – 1518.5 meters
Munsubong (문수봉) – 1,517 meters
Namdeogyusan (남덕유산) – 1,507.4 meters
Nogodan (노고단) – 1507 meters
Baegambong (백암봉) – 1503 meters

The number of tall mountains balloons up between 1500 and 1600 meters, so these deserve a category of their own. The only one I’ve ever heard of is Taebaeksan. For more information about these mountains, it’s probably best to start at Wikipedia.


The peak of Cheonggyesan is clearly marked.

Chances are all of these have been accomplished by someone, but there’s no information out there yet. If there are, they’re probably serious Korean mountaineers, or foreigners who are extremely dedicated. I’d like to hear from you if you’ve finished any of these courses or come close. And if you want to find out more, the two main peak bagging websites might be more help if you can get over their old-fashioned romanisation. For more about climbing Korea’s mountains, read Steve Miller’s post.

About the Author

Jon Dunbar

Jon Dunbar is a former editor and staff writer for Korea.net. His first visit to Korea was in summer 1996 when he was a teenager, and he returned permanently in December 2003. He is involved in the Korean underground music scene and has supported local musicians through writing, photography, and occasionally planning events. He has been blogging for more than a decade, mainly on music, urban exploration, and his cats