Geumjeongsanseong Fortress snaked into the distance as I stood on Geumjeongsan Mountain’s summit.
The view was astonishing. The fortress walls weaved between granite peaks then disappeared against the Busan backdrop.
I briefly closed my eyes and tried to picture the Three Kingdoms era, when the Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla dynasties fought each other.
But my daydream was short-lived. I was pushed aside a mob of shouting hikers all fighting to get a photo at the mountaintop. And no nostalgia-infused fool was going to stop them.
Geumjeongsan Mountain is Busan’s finest. Home to thick forests, graceful rock formations and clear springs, it’s the best hike I did in South Korea.
I began at beautiful Beomeosa Temple. The temple was built 1,300 years ago, but like so much of Korea’s heritage, it was destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. The rebuilt temple is like a peaceful island, with the forest pushing in from all sides.
After Beomeosa Temple I started up the mountain. The autumn air was chilly, but at least the foliage looked great. The red leaves glowed vividly against the pale blue sky.
The climb was not challenging, although the summit’s approach was steep. The government had kindly built steps to make the ascent easier. Call me naive, but I’ve never seen a spiral staircase on a mountaintop.
The consequence was that the summit was hopelessly crowded. There are calmer subways at rush hour. An endless queue formed for photos by the altitude marker. Disgusted by the scrum, I did what nobody else seemed to be doing and just enjoyed the view.
Busan was in the distance, the large metropolis that sits by the Sea of Japan. The city wrapped itself around the coast and jumped from cove to cove. It’s connected by all manner of engineering feats, the pinnacle which is the spectacular Diamond Bridge (Gwangan Bridge).
Much closer and a lot more low-tech was an equally engrossing sight: Geumjeongsanseong Fortress. I ditched the hordes and started moving downhill.
Geumjeongsanseong Fortress was built (perhaps unsurprisingly) as a defence against the Japanese. At 17 kilometres long, it’s massive, although only 4 kilometres from the original fortress survives today.
The restored sections are fantastic, equipped with watchtowers and working gates. The walls vary in height, from 1.5 to 3 metres tall. Banners run along them, flapping in the breeze that constantly buffets the area.
Lots of rock was needed for construction, and Geumjeongsan Mountain has it in droves. I’d say that Geumjeongsan’s tors were even more impressive than the fortress. The granite formations jutted from the mountainside like alien sculptures, slowly weathering before my eyes.
Walking along these behemoths provided dramatic views on the descent. I had to catch my breath a few times as I peered over the edge at the drop below.
Sadly, this my final day in South Korea. I wasn’t happy to go, but I was pleased to be leaving on such a memorable note.