The sun hung low in the sky, glowing scarlet orange. Barren trees cast long shadows across the cold sidewalks. We exited the metro station, cinched our backpacks tight, and started jogging to the trailhead. We were in a race against the clock, with less than two hours before total darkness to complete the remaining 7.7 kilometers of the Seoul Dulle Gil. We were leaving South Korea in two days and this was our last chance to finish the 157-kilometer trail loop that circles the perimeter of Seoul.
“Son of a…,” I didn’t bother to complete the phrase. At the trailhead, the path veered straight up the side of an impossibly steep hill. That’s the thing about the Dulle Gil: you never know what you are in for. It could be a literal walk in the park alongside a stream or it could be a rock scramble to a temple; it might be 570 stairs to the summit or an undulating path with a soft woven straw mat underfoot. You just never know.
Our pace slowed as we huffed and puffed to the top. There is no such thing as a switchback in Korea. It’s straight up (or down) and best of luck to you. We had encountered inspirational signs along the trail and one quote by Abraham Lincoln sprung into my mind, something to the effect of “Although you may go slow, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Along the ridgeline, we jogged again in the dimming light, watching for icy patches. We had been lucky, really, considering it was winter. Although we had hiked a few days in a couple inches of snow and dealt with some pretty challenging ice patches, the conditions overall during our 11 days of trekking in December and January had been tolerable. Temperatures held steady in the 20’s (fahrenheit), with minimal wind.
My husband stopped on a wooden bridge crossing a stream that was now solidified ice. As he took a birds-eye photo of the Opera Center below, I asked him how he felt about the Dulle Gil. “I have a new sense of pride in my hometown,” he said. “Because of the trail, I saw more of Seoul than I ever did in the 30 years I lived here. It is nice to see people in every neighborhood with accessible parks and open spaces to enjoy.” The Seoul Dulle Gil certainly adds to the quality of life in a hectic, fast-paced city.
The sun was a sliver of firey red. We hustled the last kilometer as we had the previous 156 kilometers -- jogging the flats, slowing to aggressive long strides on the inclines, trekking poles digging into the frozen dirt, ice, and snow. The territory became familiar now, as we realized that this is where it had all began. Stymied by the harsh winds and ice along the Han River weeks ago, we had searched for an alternative trail location for our morning 10 kilometer run. Here, in the Sadang neighborhood, we had discovered the Seoul Dulle Gil. Now here, in Sadang, we arrived at our last red postbox where, with huge smiles and whoops of accomplishment, we inked our 28th and last stamp into our passbook.
Highlights of the 157 kilometer trek around Seoul's Dulle Gil, completed January 2018:
The Seoul Dulle Gil is divided into sections ideal for day hikes. Each section trailhead is near a subway stop for easy accessibility. Whether you are in Seoul or the weekend, the month, or the year, a nice hike is just a short train ride away. Go HERE for English-language information about the Seoul Dulle Gil, trail maps, the nearest trailhead, and passbook information.
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