When bus 171 fills up neat Jeongeup station, I am not alarmed. Even though this is supposed to be the busiest time of the year to visit Naejangsan National Park, it is a Monday morning and I assume that the crowds will be there on weekends. But when we approach the small village at the foot of the mountains, I see that I am completely wrong. There is a traffic jam, and after I get off the bus, I walk through a thick crowd which continues even once I have entered the park. I have decided to hike the trail around the amphitheatre-like mountain range, and when I take a left to Janggunbong, I suddenly find myself alone. Apparently, everyone takes the cablecar up. I now hear birds instead of people talking, I hear water trickling down rocks instead of ringing cell phones, I hear the squeaking of stones under the soles of my shoes instead of guides commanding their tourists to move on. I am delighted.
Initially, the path is wide and hardly climbs, but soon enough, I am on a narrow trail that zigzags its way up the tree-covered mountain slope. When I reach Yugunchi pass, I finally see others. This is where, in the late 16th century, Buddhist Master monk Huimuk lured the Japanese to a battle. From the pass, I continue hiking up to Janggunbong Peak, which actually has a small cleared area with views. At 696m, it is right on the ridge, which I can now see ahead of me, all covered in trees in green, yellow, red, and some already brown. An old Korean couple is sitting on a cover and having something to eat, and they insist that I join them. They give me peanuts, a boiled egg, warm water, and the lady peels an apple and cuts a kaki for me. Hospitality Korean-style. From here, I hike down the rocky ridge towards Yeonjabong. While the sky was a brilliant blue when I left Seoul that morning, it is cloudy here, with only few openings through which the sun shines on mountain tops and temples below.
After Yeonjabong, I continue hiking the ridge until I reach Naejangsan Mountain itself, at 763m the highest point of the park. For some reason, the placard calls it Sinseonbong, named after a divine spirit who descended from heaven to enjoy the views of the nine peaks. I hike up and down over rocks, descending and climbing on stairs and sometimes with the help of a rope, often stopping to take in the views, sweating in my shirt (to my surprise, the Korean hikers are all in much warmer clothes) even though it is early November. The views only get better when I come to Kkachibong, Yeonjibong, Manghaebong and Bulchulbong Peaks. A dark layer of clouds hangs low over the yellow-green-red mountain slopes. After Bulchulbong, the trail goes down before I reach the start of yet another metal staircase which brings me to the most dramatic peak of Seoraebong at 624m. From here, I look directly on the temple complexes of Naejangsa and Byeongnyeonam below. Seroraebong is the last peak of the circuit, so it is time to hike down, back to the crowds below. After a quick look at the Naejangsa temple complex, I enjoy the changing colours of the trees once more on my way back to the village. The Uhwajeong pavilion stands out as particularly photogenic, on an islet in a pond surrounded by trees in bright yellow and red. There are far less people now, and it turns out to be easy to catch a bus back to Jeongeup station where I have a quick dinner with a Norwegian girl and two Malaysian guys before taking the KTX, the high-speed train of South Korea, back to Seoul. A perfect day trip from the capital!
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Naejangsan Mountain (South Korea). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Naejangsan Mountain. Read more about this site.