Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Gapjang-san 갑장산 (803m)

Nakdong-myeon / Cheongri-myeon, Sangju City, Gyeongsangbukdo

Looking north to the summit of Gapjang-san


Gapjang-san is the dominant peak of the Sangju-sam-ak, the three important mountains of the Sangju city area, which include Noeum-san (or Noak-san), 724m, to the west of the city, and Cheonbong-san (431m) to the north of town.


Being only 5km out of town, the people of Sangju have a strong connection to the mountain. The white rounded peaks of the mountain; Sang-san, Munpil-bong, Gapjang-san and Siru-bong dominate the south-east of the city, these sharp peaks with their gentle rounded tops are said to resemble the nature of the Sangju citizenry. Hard and proud, but with a mild demeanor, and soft rounded features on their broad shoulders.


The eastern face of these peaks drops dramatically to Nakdong-myeon in the Nakdong river valley, while the mountain opens to the west through the  Seungjang-gyegok gorge, from where the more popular trails into the mountain begin.

East over Nakdong-myeon


The name Gapjang-san is attributed to King Chungryeol (1236-1308), the 25th ruler of the Goryeo Kingdom. It is said that on a visit to Sungjang-sa temple here, he proclaimed this to be the best mountain in the Yeongnam region, and named it Gapjang-san, (Gap in the old language meaning 'best', 'first', or something similiar).


There is an alternative theory on its name. Certain records show that in the early Baekje Kingdom (18 BC – 660 AD), during their expansion east across the Baekdu-daegan toward the Nakdong River, there was a Buddhist prayer centre established within Gapjang-san known as Gapjang-jeongsa.


Like many mountains in Korea, Gapjang-san has a second name, and is also known as Yeonak-san, which often appears in brackets after Gapjang-san, and is a common business name in the area. The most famous place on the mountain for traditional worship is a spring called Guryong-yeon, below the high ridge of the summit, and from this comes the name Yeonak-san.


Gapjang-san connects to Korea's ridge system through a northern arm of the Giyeong-jimaek, a ridge which runs 45km east from the Baekdu-daegan to meet the Nakdong River. Together with the Geumo-jimaek, which runs parallel to the south, it forms the watershed for the Gamcheon Stream. Both these ridges meet at the junction of the Gam-cheon and the Nakdong River in Gumi city.

Yongheung-sa

The eastern entrance to the mountain is located just off National Highway 3, five km south of the city in the village of Wolro-ri. A small road (the 지천1길) turns off NH.3 at the Sangju-nambu Elementary School, following the gorge stream east into the mountain 2km to the carpark of Yongheung-sa temple, which is located a couple of hundred metres up the extension of the road, on the southern side of the stream.

Yongheung-sa is the largest temple on the mountain, but not it's major one, that is Gapjang-sa high below the summit of the mountain. Yongheung-sa is a nice temple to look around, with a large grassed lawn. Its main hall houses the
Yongheung-sa-sambul-hoe-gwaebul-taeng, an impressive 10 metre long Three Buddha painting dating from 1684. The gwaebul is considered a valuable source for the study of 17th century Buddhist painting, and is classified cultural treasure 1374.
Southern ridge trailhead near Yongheung-sa

The main trails into the mountain all start from back at the carpark, where streams coming from the south and north meet. There is a small supermarket here, a couple of reataurants, and the usual park maps and information. Uniquely, Gapjang-san provides complimentary trekking poles, good lightweight wooden ones with rubber hand-grips. They're in a stand by the maps and direction signs, obviously return after hike.

Northern and southern ridge trails both horseshoe east to the summit, above the Seungjang Valley, through which runs a continuation of concrete road eventually leading to trail.

The full circuit of the ridges is 7.7km. The southern ridge trail-head is located just south of the carpark on the driveway to Yongheung-sa, and is marked by ribbons and cairns (left), and heads above the temple to Siru-bong before reaching the peak - 3.8km

The northern ridge trail heads into the trees behind a restaurant on the junction of the eastern and southern streams, opposite the toilets, maps and trekking poles! This heads over Sang-san (696m) and Munpil-bong, to Gapjang-san - 3.9km

Trailhead to northern ridge from upper valley


I decided to forgo the lower half of the northern ridge and head east up the road through Seungjang Valley, before cutting up a trail after 1.5km (right) to the high ridge via Gapjang-sa, joining the ridge circuit clockwise to Gapjang-san (3.1km).


It's a nice walk along the Seungjang stream, which although small has a couple of good pools for the keen bather. This gorge was once home to a couple of temples in addition to Gapjang and Yongheung-sa, and I was keen to check out their remains. Seungjang-sa, from where Chungryeol named the mountain, and Yongdam-sa, which apparently also existed in the upper valley during the Goryeo period. The famous poet Lee Gyu-bo (Baek-eun, White Cloud) lived and wrote some of his famous work at Yongdam-sa in 1196.


Alas, I found nothing down in the valley.


Gapjang-saji
The road continues up the high valley to Gapjang-sa carpark, but leaving the road and heading up the trail it's 1.1km to the temple. Just before Gapjang-sa the trail does meet temple ruins, Gapjang-saji, a circular stone wall with towering stone doltap in a setting of twisted pine, atop of a cliff called Sangsa-bawi.
The name suggests it is a former location of the nearby Gapjang-sa, but could very well be remains of the old Yongdam-sa or Seungjang-sa
temples.

Gapjang-sa is just off the trail here, which skirts around it's gardens to the ridge.

Gapjang-sa


Gapjang-sa was built in 1373, the 22nd year of Goryeo King Gomgmin, by the monk Naong-seonsa.

Na-ong was from the nearby city of Mungyeong, and was known locally by a number of other names including Hae-geun, Won-hae and Gang Wolheon. He is a character I've not heard of before, but he must be held in high esteem, as a series of rocks near the summit are named for him, Na-ong-bawi.


Near the mountain spirit of this temple, up behind the main hall, is a large natural spring which is accessed from within a shed. the water here is divine, and I can only assume that this is the famous Guryong-yeon spring.

A 200 metre climb from the temple junction and the trail joins the ridge at this awesome jeongja, a real beauty, with full glass windows offering 8-sided views and a walk around balcony. Raised above the treeline this would be a supreme place to spend a night, with views over Sangju city to the north, and the great Baekdu-daegan ridge out west.

The only problem with the glassed in walls is there's only one way in and out - which this Eurasian Eagle Owl that I met in there had discovered. Amazing birds these owls, really tough.

Check out this epic video of an Eagle Owl and Korean Rat Snake in a midnight duel to the death.

Gapjang-san Summit


The jeongja junction is just a few hundred metres up the ridge from Munpil-bong, which is worth walking back to if you have the time, the peak is named for the three standing rocks on it which resemble caligraphy writing brushes. It's also known as Jangwon-hyang, which is the name given to the highest scorer in an examination. Often southern scholars would stop here and pray on the old Yeongnam road to Mungyeong-saejae, as they crossed to Seoul to complete exams.


The summit of Gapjang-san is celebrated by a tall, thin doltap, which are a prominent feature throughout the mountain, the views to the west are vast, over nakdong-myeon and the wider Nakdong river valley.

Sangsa-bawi and Gapjang-sa from the southern ridge


The completion of the ridge is fairly straight forward, following the ridge trail south from the summit.

The trail hugs the eastern cliffs for a short time, with a rope in place to aide those with vertigo around the large Naong-bawi and Baekgil-bawi, which divide Gapjang-san with Siru-bong.

Some 600m from the peak the trail reaches the yongpo-gallimgil four way intersection. Here a tracks head east down to Nakdong-myeon, South to meet the Giyeong-jimaek ridge, and west along the south ridge to Yongheung-sa.


It's a pleasant 2.8km walk from the junction down to Yongheung-sa, at a gentle steady descent, with occasional views north across to the northern ridge.



New restaurant near carpark

Getting there

By car: The Nam-Sangju Expressway exit on Expressway 30, running east from Sejong to Sangju, is right by the mountain. Off the expressway get on Highway 3 running south, the Sangjunambu Elementary school at the park entrance is about 2km south on your left.

Expressway 45, which runs through the country from Gyeonggi-do to Changwon, passes east of the mountain. Get off at the Nakdong exit and join expressway 30, getting of at Nam Sangju.

By Bus: Three buses run out to the mountain from Sangju City. The Saugu - Odae bus, Sangju - Seonsan, and Seongju - Magong. The Odae bus will drop you up at the Yongheung-sa carpark itself, while the others will drop you at the school on the main road.