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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

A guide to climbing Jirisan

 Jirisan 지리산

The view from Jirisan's 45km long ridge

By Luke Cape:

Jirisan is mainland South Korea’s highest mountain (1915m), located inside its largest national park (471km2). It’s one of the few national parks where you’re likely to encounter wildlife other than birds and squirrels. The park is home to deer, foxes, hares, elk, wildcats and even the endangered Asiatic black bear (also known as the ‘Moon Bear’ or 반달곰) . It’s also one of Korea’s most sacred mountains, and numerous major temples and smaller retreats dot the lower slopes. It’s Korea’s oldest National Park (1967) and as such, nature throughout the park is pristine.

 

Jirisan is 200km from Ulsan (3 hours drive)

Jirisan map (from the Korea National Parks website)

The attractions of Jirisan include various levels of hiking, from day long strolls to epic 5-day traverses; camping in one of the Park’s river valleys; and staying in one of the mountain’s 6 shelters, high up on the ridge.

The park has excellent infrastructure, with frequent shuttle buses from the nearby city of Jinju, and even Busan. The paths are very clearly marked, and the campsites are excellently managed. In peak season it can get busy, but the myriad of hiking trails criss-crossing the hundreds of kilometres of mountain mean it’s easy to lose the crowds.

Furthermore, the Naver Map smartphone application has extremely detailed maps of the mountain including distances, expected hiking times and even “street view” (panoramic images of the path). There is 4G coverage over most of the mountain.

Naver's smartphone app includes POV images of the hiking trails, with times and distances

 

 TRAILS

  1. Cheonwangbong Peak 천왕봉 (1 day: 6-8 hours)

Cheonwangbong peak in Winter

Cheonwangbong is the highest peak on the mountain, and popular with day-trippers. The easiest way to access the peak is from Jungsan-ri (중산리) (a village with shuttle buses from Jinju, with a nice camping ground), although another more strenuous day trip would be to start at Daewonsa (대원사) early in the morning, reach the peak around lunch time and descend to Jungsan-ri in the afternoon.

From Jungsan-ri there is an intermediate route (via ‘Jangteomok Shelter (장터목 대피소)’; quite steep with occasional ropes to help you up) and an advanced route (via ‘Rotary Shelter (로타리 대피소)’ which is very steep, but with better views). The trails split at Kalbawi (칼바위 “Knife-edged rock”), and are well sign-posted.

A map of the two approaches to Cheonwangbong, courtesy of Koreantrails.com

  1. Daewonsa to Hwaumsa 대원사 – 화엄사 (2/3 days)

The full trail as it crosses the National Park

This 45km hike crosses the park from East to West (or West to East, depending on how you do it) and takes in all the main sights and attractions the mountain has to offer. It would be possible to do it in 2 long days if you’re very fit, so you could squeeze it in to a weekend, but most sane people would do it in 3.

The ridge of Jirisan – heading West of Jangteomok Shelter as far as Nogodan (노고단) – passes through lush forest, and affords the hiker massive views of mountains stretching off into the distance. It’s along this ridge that you’re more likely to see wildlife also (I spotted 2 deer, a hare and some other unidentified small mammals).

Early morning from the ridge near Byeoksoryeong Shelter

East to West, the first day would be spent climbing steadily from Daewonsa to Cheonwangbong peak. From there it’s a couple of hours of ups and downs along the rocky ridge to Seseok Shelter (세석 대피소), or alternatively you could try and make the stretch to Byeoksoryeong Shelter (벽소령 대피소).

Seseok shelter in Winter. Beyond, the trail follows the ridge to the horizon.

On the second day, a long trek along the rocky ridge and through the forest take you to Nogodan Shelter, above the famed ‘Nogodan Sea of Clouds (노고단 운해)’. Trekking along the ridge isn’t very ardous, as long stretches are reasonably flat, and ascents/descents never too long. To make it in two days, you’d have to race from here to Hwaeomsa to catch the last bus. Alternatively, it would be a nice morning’s descent the next day.

  1. The Epic lost-in-the-wilderness Trail (3 days+)

Off-the-beaten-track from Guryeong to Jungsan-ri

A longer and more off-the-beaten track trail would be to start in Namwon, in the Northwest of the park, make your way up Guryeong Valley (구령계곡) (an isolated valley topped off by a pretty waterfall), then over the thickly-forested Gori-bong (고리봉) (which requires an 800+m ascent) before descending to Dalkoong Valley (달궁계곡), a secluded valley with some friendly minbaks.

The view from Goribong in Winter. You'll not meet many people up here.

On the second day you could join the main route via the Baemsagol Valley route (뱀사골계곡 등산길). Baemsagol valley is the location of a notorious temple that used to sacrifice one monk every year to the huge snakes that reputedly live (or lived) in the valley. In my case, as it was Winter I chose to join the trail at Seongsamjae (성삼재휴게소), a popular starting point with shops and a small restaurant. A nice place to call it a day on the ridge would be the Yeonhacheon Shelter (연하천 대피소), the smallest shelter set beside a natural spring. From there, you could make Cheonwangbong and Jungsan-ri or Daewonsa in a long day, or break it into two.

 

ACCOMMODATION

Sleeping area in Byeoksoryeong Shelter (under floor heating)

One of the big attractions of Jirisan are the shelters (called Daepiso in Korean 대피소): alpine-style wooden shelters with cooking areas and a communal sleeping area (male/female separate). These shelters have full time staff checking you in, and you can buy basic food and drinks there. You can also rent blankets and they’re kept very warm. However, don’t expect hot showers and bulgogi: you’ll need to bring all your own cooking equipment, and take away all your trash.

Yeonhacheon Shelter in the Winter

There are six functioning shelters on the mountain (as of January 2014). They aren’t very big, and can get booked up extremely quickly in peak season. Even in Winter it’s advisable to reserve in advance. In fact, the Korean National Park Service claim you MUST book in advance. They’re very cheap. Accomodation is 8,000 won per night and it’s 2,000 extra to rent blankets.

A map of the shelters available on the mountain (from the KNPS website)

Prices for accommodation at the shelters (correct as of January 2014)

The booking process is easy, and is entirely in English.

Booking Website: http://english.knps.or.kr/Experience/Shelters/Default.aspx?MenuNum=2&Submenu=Shelters

(Click ‘Make a Reservation’ at the bottom, and then write your name and email address. Then choose your date and shelter. When they email you, print out your email or take a screenshot on your phone and show it at the reception when you arrive. You pay on arrival)

*** One further note on staying in the shelters: bring ear plugs. Korean hikers tend to be 40+, and thus tend to snore quite exuberantly throughout the night. Without ear plugs, I can’t guarantee a solid night’s sleep ***

 

HOW TO GET THERE FROM ULSAN

There are many entry points to the mountain, but the two most convenient to Ulsan are Jungsan-ri and Daewonsa. Both of these are easily accessible by bus from Jinju (2.5 hours from Ulsan).

Jinju can be reached easily from Ulsan. There are buses from the Intercity Bus Terminal at 6.30, 7.20, 8.00, 8.50, 9.50, 10.40, 11.40, 12.30, 13.30, 14.30, 15.10, 16.00, 16.50, 17.40, 18.40 and 19.40.

The bus from Ulsan to Jinju costs 11,300W and takes 2 hours and 30 minutes.

From Jinju, here are the bus times to Jungsan-ri (Left – pink colour) and Daewonsa (Right – green colour).

Buses from Jinju bus station to Jungsan-ri (left) and Daewonsa (right)

From Hwaumsa there are buses via Gurye to Busan. Here are the times (left column is the departure time from Hwaumsa.

Left column: Buses from Hwaumsa to Busan (via Gurye)

 

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.koreantrails.com/overview.htm – A guide to the Eastern section of the trails.

http://koreaclimbs.blogspot.kr/ – An in-depth guide to routes with times and tips.

http://english.knps.or.kr/Knp/Jirisan/Intro/Introduction.aspx?MenuNum=1&Submenu=Npp – Official Korea National Parks Service website for Jirisan.

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/oct/25/hiking-south-korea-trails-baekdu-daegan-treks – Guardian Newspaper article about hiking Jirisan and beyond, to the Baekdudaegan.

 

USEFUL VOCABULARY TO LEARN BEFORE HEADING TO THE MOUNTAIN

대피소 (Daepiso) – A mountain shelter
샘터 (Semteo) – A natural spring with drinkable water
반달곰 (Bandalgom) – An Asiatic Black Bear
뱀 (Bem) – A snake
출입금지 (Chool ip geumji) – No entry / Access forbidden
올라가는길 (Olla ganen gil) – Way up (some parts of the hiking trails are one-way)
내려가는길  (Naeryeo ganen gil) – Way down
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