Winter Hiking in South Korea: Part 1 내원사, 천성산, 원효산 and 홓룡사 (Naewonsa, Cheonseongsan, Wonhyosan and Hongryongsa)

Panaroma from the top of Cheonseongsan

It’s winter, cold, icy and windy. A perfect time to climb a few mountains. Maybe not the first conclusion that most people make but for me it is an ideal time to get in touch with that ultimately indecisive lady,  mother nature. A few other reasons are spurning my ‘altitudinal’ cravings, the football season is in hibernation in Korea and my usual running exploits in the Nakdong River Estuary are slightly less enjoyable when a chill northerly wind is whipping right down the middle of the darkening and choppy blue waters that I run beside. Also, I’ve picked up a few chronic injuries in recent years and I’m wishfully hoping that taking some pressure off my right foot, left ankle, right sciatic nerve and lower back will enable me to discover some much needed recuperation from my numerous afflictions.

My first unseasonal hike was a few weeks back. Miju had a weekend day off and we grabbed the number 12 bus from Myeongnyun subway station to the entrance of Naewonsa, north of Yangsan. From there we followed a boulder ridden riverbed for several kilometres to Naewonsa Temple. We had a brief look around, although little was accessible to the visitor and mostly buildings were off limits to those that were not adorned in the perennial grey padded attire of the Korean monk. It was pretty enough.

Stone stacking in the valley leading to Naewonsa


Persimmons clinging on in the winter chill

The hike proper began a further kilometre back down the path, innocuously beginning at the edge of the car park. Our target was the 812m peak of Cheonseongsan with an undecided and unplanned path beyond that. The hike to Cheonseongsan I would consider quite manageable, the path we took initially may not have been the main path but was sufficiently clear if not well marked with few obstacles. There was an increase in steepness nearer the top and Miju, tired from work the previous day, needed a little push to the top.

Rocky ravine up to Cheonseongsan

Emerging from the tree line

Looking over to Wonhyosan peak

The summit of Cheonseongsan is quite rounded, not really a distinguishable rocky peak but when we emerged from the tree-line there was a calming spread of tall dried grasses wavering in the wind. (Although there were a few warning signs to the existence of wild pigs and snakes being found amongst it- best to stick to the paths around it…) The view down the Nakdong river valley was outstanding with the air being crisp, clean and the visibility superb.

The view down the Nakdong river valley

Crows haraunging a pile of rocks

From Cheonseongsan we traversed an open and shallow trough and then took a climb around the base of Wonhyosan’s peak. Summiting this 922m peak was apparently impossible due to it being encircled by a post-Korean War mine field that was either uncleared or unsatisfactorily cleared. Razor wire, and eight foot high fences ensured fluorescently attired hiking ajummas and ajushis didn’t test any of the sloped grounds below the military run peak.

Fences to stop you from traversing across a Korean War mine zone

Miju looking cold after passing the Wonhyosan peak

After narrowly avoiding a few collisions with some extreme mountain biking adventurers, we descended from Wonhyosan and took the path to Hongryongsa with the assistance of some necessary directions from a man who appeared familiar with the mountain. We took a short look around the temple and somehow managed to miss a famous waterfall that exists at the back of the small Buddhist complex.

Precarious rocks above the hermitage

Hermitage building details

From the remote temple we continued our descent and eventually emerged into a car park. The hike from the bus stop to the car park was around 15km (I had been tracking it with an app until my phone died near the end) and we were most grateful to find a taxi in the apparent wilderness that returned us to the route for the number 12 bus. Suitably tired we clambered aboard and began the journey home as the light disappeared. The first winter hiking adventure was quite satisfying and I was immediately planning my next trip having witnessed a stunning rocky ridge across the Nakdong valley and a little further north of Yangsan…


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