Winter Hiking in South Korea: Part 3 금정산 (Geumjeongsan)
Following on from my adventurous solo Christmas Day exploits the New Year began in a slightly safer fashion. This time Miju rejoined me and we decided to hike Geumjeongsan. Geumjeongsan is an expansive mountain that can be found in the heart of Busan. I have previously hiked parts and peaks of it on several occasions and there a few posts in my blog archives about those hikes. Having such a wonderful mountain area in the middle of the city is quite a treat. Apart from the mountain itself there is also a historic fortress wall that circumnavigates the higher reaches of the mountain and numerous temples with the famous Beomeosa and Seokbulsa temples standing out. Having visited the temples before I had decided that today’s challenge was to try to visit all of the main peaks and to follow the fortress wall through all the four cardinal directions and the gates that accompany them.
Our hike began in Oncheonjang and we followed the steep western face up under the shadow of the cable car ropes above. Hiking around Geumjeongsan is relatively safe, the elevations are not particularly high and it is an incredibly popular destination for the cities hiking enthusiasts meaning trials are worn, obvious and sign-posted. After passing a busy woodpecker and arriving at the top of the ridge we followed the path round to the South Gate.
From the South Gate we were presented with the choice of following a main path to the next peak or taking the steeper and less-trodden route to Sanggyebong. A man warned us to take the main pathway but knowing Korean hikers general inclination to exaggerate we pushed on the ‘hard’ path, which predictably turned out to be quite simple. Sanggyebong is the southernmost peak and is adorned with spiky obelisk formations at its peak.
From Sanggyebong we took an undulating forest walk to Paribong following the edge of the fortress wall. Some of the fortress wall, especially in the west and north has been restored but in the east and south it remained disheveled and appeared to be being absorbed into the mountain as plants overgrew the gradually subsiding rocks.
From Paribong, and after stopping for a light lunch, we continued along the fortress wall towards the elusive East Gate. The trail took us down from Paribong until we hit a car park area on the edge of the mountain village of Sanseongmaeul. A car park attendant directed us down to the village rather than follow the fortress wall. We passed numerous ‘Black Goat Meat’ restaurants, a specialty of the area, before trying to decipher a giant map in the search for the East Gate. Inevitably we never found it, but we did find the fortress wall again and we followed this to Wonhyobong the third peak of the day.
Wonhyobong is on the west side of Geumjeongsan and although I was happy with places of interest we had found and the distance we had covered I was becoming increasingly confused with layout of the fortress walls! Wonhyobong and the fully restored walls are familiar landmarks having visited them before. Miju was beginning to tire as the kilometres were racking up and we stopped for a break before following the trail north to the North Gate and Godangbong, the highest of Geumjeongsan’s peaks.
From the North Gate the trail steepens again with the final push to Godangbong. We made good time with the pressure of the rapidly falling winter sun and made the chilly, windy peak quickly. We took a few photos and took in the great views over the Nakdong river before beginning the long decent to Beomeosa. We were too tired after over 19km of hiking to look around the temple and so we skipped past the boundaries of the temple grounds and followed the winding road to the subway station. A massive appetite was satiated with a huge plate of baked chicken in Seomyeon before finally heading home for a deserved nights sleep. I was a little miffed with missing the East Gate, but there is always another day and I would love to try the black goat meat restaurants out so I imagine it could well all happen in the near future!