Retracing footsteps: Bukhansan through Naver

Most people who know both of us know that my friend Andre and I met on a mountain in Korea. Two Minnesotans (and our significant others) who connected on twitter and decided a hike up one of the South Korea’s most famous peaks, Bukansan, would be a good place to meet for the first time. (Plug: Andre is about to tell a great story about the earliest days he spent in Korea, if you live in DC, you should be there.)

I was poking around on Naver Maps (Korea’s version of Google Maps) recently and discovered some neat things about Naver Maps. The first is that they have an “air view” feature which is a 360º aerial of different locations around the country. These appear to be taken from some kind of aircraft and so have a slightly more detailed view of the ground than satellite imagery would. Here is a shot of the newly opened George Mason campus in Incheon while it was still under construction. And here is another of our old neighborhood in Ilsan. After poking around a bit on there and eventually finding a great shot of Bukhansan, I decided to turn on Naver’s street view and see how close I could get to the trail head and it turns out you can get all the way to the peak and then follow the street view photos all the way down the mountain allowing me to retrace nearly the entire hike we did back in 2009.
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On one hand this is super cool. I even found the little restaurant we ate at on the trail once where our table was a grill placed on a rock in the middle of the river, the spot where we were offered shots of soju as recovery beverages, and the trepidatious steps we had to climb to get ourselves, finally, to the peak. But it does force you to ask why we should have photographic documentation of a trail like that.

Will there be people, for example, who skip a trip to Korea because they believe that clicking through a street view map is just as good as climbing the real thing? Maybe but things like this make me curious. After reading a New York Times article about the impossibly tough living conditions in Svålbard, Norway I checked out the Google Street View, which in Longyearbyen might as well be called Snow Mobile Trail View. I hope I’m not the only one who discovers there is street view in a place like that and make an instant commitment to find out what it’s like to live there, meet the people who walk (er, snowshoe) those roads every day, and learn about the work they do. Plus, it’s undeniably cool that Naver and Google are putting energy into a task as insane as mapping in photographs all the worlds roads, trails, and byways.