Namsan is more hill than mountain, but for the out-of-shape, it's still a chore to hike. Today, I went to Trailhead 8, which starts right in the midst of Dongguk University's campus, and stared hard at the map at the trailhead. Last time around, when I did the Namsan hike with Sean and Jeff, I found the beautiful path that swings placidly eastward around the mountain but suddenly ends in a brutal sequence of steps all the way to the top. Not daring to challenge the stairs again yet wanting to be able to say that I'd made it to the top without stopping, I saw on the map that, were I to turn left and west at the first fork, I'd find myself close to the National Theater, which is where one can hike up toward the summit along the route taken by the tour buses—a route with no stairs at all.
So I broke left at the fork, walked a bit, and did indeed find myself on the bus path. After that, it was a steady upward hike to the top, and a good workout for the heart and lungs without being overly strenuous. I walked faster than all of the other people making their way upward, and I met quite a few people who were coming down. The final two hundred meters were the worst, worse than I remembered them: the slope suddenly steepened, and the tour-bus crowds made their appearance, slowing everyone down to a near crawl. I pushed my way through the jam-packed crowd and reached the top, where another, larger crowd had gathered to watch some Joseon-era ceremonies, including a traditional dance and a long-spear drill. I rested a while at the top, ate an overpriced lunch, then started back down the mountain along the same route I'd taken up. I had indeed made the summit without stopping.
The most startling thing about today's hike was how badly I had overestimated the number of steps it would take. I had originally thought that reaching the top would take 10,000 steps, which meant a round trip would be 20K steps. Not true: as it turned out, a round trip was a mere 13.5K steps, which is about the distance I would walk around the campus of my previous employer. If we don't include the forty-minute break I took at the top, I'd estimate the round trip took about 2.5 hours, which is about the time I'd expect for a 14K-step hike.
As I did in 2005, I'll start off by taking this "easier" route up the mountain until I feel aerobically fit enough to attempt the stairs. The stairs are more explicitly about strength training; they tire you more quickly if your muscles are weak and unused to the strain, as mine are. Eventually, I see myself taking the stairs routinely, but that won't be for several months. Baby steps, as they say. Baby steps.