Two days ago the Camp Humphreys Photo Club journeyed to Inwangsan Mountain to photograph the city lights of Seoul. We hiked for hours in the heat and humidity, stopping partly to soak in the nature scape along the way and partly to catch our breath.
The “Spring Trail” was literally wet from the mountain streams. Regular hikers and permanent tent-living folk had long since routed this fresh water through small pipes which dumped into buckets adorned with dipping ladles for passers-by to drink from. A plethora of water bottles filled with this spring water sat next to each man-made water hole.
While I filled my water bottle with spring water, one of the folks from our party noticed a Buddha which had been carved into the rock wall. An incense burner had been placed there in front of the Buddha, from which we could smell the sweet aroma of lavender trailing into the air.
It was at this stopping point that we watched as a resident of the mountain washed her pots and pans in the water. I looked down the trail from where she was bent over her dishes and there, just beyond the trees, was her permanent, but ramshackle tent. Although the trails are somewhat remote, they are nonetheless public, and I wondered how it would be allowed for people to live here on the side of the mountain. We moved on, passing more of these “permanent” tents along our route, and as they faded into the distance I thought about how I’d never seen anything like that in America.
We stopped at an outcropping of rocks which overlook the city. Although it wasn’t our final stop, the view was spectacular. We took a group photo (props to Nikon’s WiFi technology on my D750 and the remote shutter via cell phone!), ate some beef jerky, and pushed on.
It was at this point that we realized we were on the wrong side of the Korean Wall (like the Great Wall, only not near as long), which wraps around the President’s Blue House (Korea’s White House). From the top of the mountain one can gaze down at the Blue House, but photographs of it are strictly prohibited. Rather than walk back down to find a route that took us along the “right” side of the wall, I decided to scale it. It’s not often one can say that they’ve climbed an ancient wall! The rest of the group found their way around and we met back up a short while later.
Our second stop was where the majority of our party made camp, waiting for the glow of sunset to embrace us. My friend Rachel and I decided to go one notch higher on the mountain, the scaling of which was no easy feat. Our route followed the Wall, but quickly turned from navigable stairs to treacherous footholds carved out of the rock face and sprinkled with loose sand. This climb rose at a sharp incline. By the time we reached the summit we were dripping with sweat and panting like dogs without water, but as we lifted our heads and looked upon the view, we knew the feat was well worth it.
A few other people had also made it to the top, mostly locals who, although two times my age, had passed me going up the mountain long ago. There was also a Korean family at the top with small children. As I snapped their picture I marveled at the endurance that these children must have to have climbed so far, and in such heat and humidity. My kids would have never made it.
It was well before sunset and Rachel and I quickly got to work setting up our gear so as to reserve what we considered to be the perfect spot for that epic shot once night fell. She found a nice flat rock while I decided to perch on a boulder situated on the other side of the railing. Hey, whatever it takes for that perfect shot, right?!
Spots reserved, we decided to scout out the place. On the other side of the lookout was a completely different view of Seoul. The sun would set on this side of the city, and so I stayed here until the light faded from the sky.
Sunset photos complete, I moved back to my boulder perch where I began setting up for the shot I had come for: Seoul, with the famous Seoul Tower in the distance after dark. It’s only during the late hours that one can truly grasp the enormity of the third most populated city in the world. There are 22.5 million people living in this metropolis, almost all of which live in high-rise apartments. Besides, I’ve been in Korea for nine months. It was time for a photo that truly said Korea.
This photo “walk” with the Humphreys Photo Club was inspired by the great John Steele. Below is an overview of the mountain and the surrounding city. We found this placard at the base of our hike.