Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Gariwang-san 가리왕산, 1561m
East branch of Jungwang-jimaek ridgeline
J
eongseon-gun, Pyeongchang-gun

Looking north up the Hoi-dong Valley to the main southern entrance of Gariwang-san


Gariwang-san is the dominant peak of the Pyeongchang/ Jeongseon county borderlands, and one of the tallest of mainland South Korea outside of the Baekdu-daegan ridge line, standing just 10m shorter than those of western Odae-san National Park, some 50km to the north.

Surrounded by the densest area of +1000m peaks in the country, Gariwang-san's open summit offers sweeping views over some of South Korea's most dramatic landscape, yet her trails see less traffic than others of this size in Korea, largely due to the relative isolation of the area. Added to this, there is no major Buddhist temple or hermitage within Gariwang-san, surprising for such a commanding south-facing mountain, from which powerful gorge streams open into the lush Hoi-dong valley (above), presenting a pleasant geomantic scene. This lack of  infrastructure leaves the valley approaches largely uncluttered, adding to the highland wilderness allure of the mountain.


'Wang' is the Korean name for King, and Gariwang-san is named for a ruler from a very early period of civilization on the peninsula.
King Gal (갈왕) presided over a small kingdom/fiefdom called Maekguk (맥국), which held it's capital in what is now current day Chuncheon and was one of many micro-states which existed throughout the peninsula between the collapse of the Gojoseon Kingdom (2033BC? - 108BC) in the northern peninsula, and the establishment of the Three Kingdoms (18BC - 660AD). Local legend tells of Gal and his entourage fleeing to the high slopes of Gariwang-san once this land was taken over and living the rest of his days on its high slopes, looking mournfully over his lost kingdom. His legacy remains in the names of a few features throughout the mountain such as rocks from where he kept watch, and pools where his maidens bathed.

The mountain was originally called "Galwang-san" but over time the "i" was added. I asked a local about this, her answer simple; if you repeat 'Galwang-san' long enough, you just naturally find yourself saying 'Gariwang-san'. Makes sense.

The Juwang-jimaek ridgeline (yellow)

The three peaks of Gariwang-san: Sang-bong (1561m), Jung-bong (1433m) and Ha-bong (1380m) make up a 9km branch-ridge running south-east away from the Juwang-jimaek ridgeline at Ju-wang-san (1381m), also known as Jungwang-san.

The Juwang, or Jungwang-jimaek, runs parallel to the west of the Baekdu-daegan ridge line, and stretches south from Odae-san National Park for some 80km, feeding the Pyeongcheong-gang river (west) and the Odae-cheon stream into the Dong-gang river (east), before terminating in the town of Yeongwol, where the two rivers meet to become the greater Namhan-gang.


The southern continuation of the jimaek, the ridge to  Gariwang-san, and its continuation to Jung-bong and Ha-bong, form a south-east facing horse-shoe ridge above the beautiful Hoidong-gyegok valley (above), the most accommodating entrance to the park.

Legendary Korean ridge hiker Fred Cho's Juwang-jimaek blog post, including maps  (Korean Language).

Eoeun-gol gorge, Gariwang-san


My time on Gariwang-san was spent within thick wet-season cloud, which although not great for views, added weight to its streams and drama to a woodland which has been long revered for its beauty.


Gariwang-san's forest, much of which is primeval, is rich in diversity with a large variety of wildflowers, mosses and ferns below a thick understory and vibrant canopy. 

The quality of the forest was officially recognized during the Joseon dynasty, when it was designated a site of preservation due to the abundance of species living here and in particular conditions favorable to the growth of high quality ginseng, which for centuries supported a small community of gatherers in the southern gorges until the war years of the mid 20th century. 


The long-standing understanding of ecological preservation on the mountain has recently been tested, however, with the planning of ski slopes on Gariwang-san's eastern face as part of the 2018 Pyeongcheong Winter Olympics.

Despite ongoing local resistance, destruction for construction began in September, 2014. - see below.

Eoreum-donggul, The Ice Cave


The Korean Forest Service, 'Gariwang-san Recreational Forest' facilities entrance  at Hoi-dong is at the north end of Provincial Road 424 in western Jeongseon county.

This is the start/end point to rewarding loop trails including all three peaks and the famous Eoeun-gol gorge, making it the logical trail head for most hikers.

 

Just before the entrance is the bus stop for Jeongseon, and a small number of minbak and pension accommodations - see below for details.



Entrance to the mountain from here (through the main gate) is 1000won, and the trail follows the continued paved road, alongside the Mihang-gol stream for 2km to the trail head at the Recreational Forest Accommodations. There is parking for vehicles further up, but interestingly motorbikes are not allowed through the front gate.


Before heading up to the trail, it's worth checking out the Eoreum-donggul (Ice Cave), just beyond the entrance. The mouth of the cave is at the base of a steep overhanging cliff-face, and it exhales ice cold air from its depths all year round. Eoreum-donggul is particularly impressive on a humid summers day, as above. The freezing air can be felt from over 10m away, and a spooky blanket of cloud hangs over the entrance, formed from cold air meeting the hot, wet summer.  Entering the cave mouth itself is prohibited.

                                                                      Major Trails of Gariwang-san

Map shows the major trails of Gariwang-san. From the south I followed the major Eoun-gol trail to Sang-bong and the south-east ridge to Jung-bong and Ha-bong, returning to the entrance on the Jung-bong-Hoi-dong trail.


The Recreational Forest facilities are dotted through both sides of the Mihang-gol gorge for the 2km leading to the trail head. Accommodation options include a standard campsite, auto-campground and cabins sleeping two to dozens. See below for booking details.


The Recreational Forest ends at the meeting point of two streams. The road continues to follow the Mihang-gol upstream north-west from the cabins, toward its source on the southern slopes of Jungwang-san. Our trail to Gariwang-san follows Eoeun-gol stream, which heads north to its source on Gariwang-san's south face.


Step bridge over lower Eoeun-gol


Simani-gyo Bridge - Gariwang-san Summit. 5.35km, 1100m elevation gain. 2hr45min


Leaving the road, the Gariwang-san trail crosses Mihang Stream on  Simani-gyo bridge, named for the Simani (Ginseng gatherers), who forged a tough existence in these hills until the mid 20th century. Across the bridge the trail passes beside the last cabins to a wooden step bridge across Eoeun-gol stream (left).


Eoeun-gol 어은골 - The Place Where Fish Hide (어 - fish 은 - hide)

A large rock near the mouth of the Eoeun-gol is said to resemble an Imugi 이무기; a giant mythical snake who wished to transform into a dragon, but failed, and is trapped in the watery depths of Eoeun-gol. The fish in this stream are terrified of the Imugi, and hide in terror amongst the rocky nooks and crevices of the gorge.

Upper Eoeun-gol

Across the foot-bridge and to the left of the trail is the small cave 'Cheonil-gul' (천일굴), '1000 Days Cave', named for the belief that eternal enlightenment can be attained after 1000 days of silent solitude within the cave. It is said that many have come here to undergo this pursuit. The last known hermit to reside here was a woman in her 30's, who in the early 1990's spent three years in the cave, after which she simply disappeared. Her whereabouts are now unknown.

The trail traces Eoeun-gol north into the mountain for some 3km, generally flanking the stream, but with a few unbridged fords to deal with. For much of the year these are rock-hops, but the rocks are heavy with moss and slippery. In high water a couple are quite tricky, and you'll be doing well to keep your feet dry.

Highland Forest


Shortly before leaving the upper gorge,  the trail passes a terraced area, which I believe to be the location of the Simani ginseng gatherers village, which once housed 10 small dwellings.


The trail meets an imdo (forest road) 1.7km short of the summit. This old path is a mix of grass, dirt and gravel surface which winds 76km around the entire mountain between the heights of 850 -1000m. This has become a fairly popular mountain bike trail, and would also make for a good hike or trail run - there are a number of access points to the mountain road, I believe the easiest would be from Sukam-ri on NH59.



The summit trail continues climbing north from across the road to the Sangcheon-am boulders, which stand at exactly 1000m absl.

The following kilometre is steep on loose ground, however new steps and guide-ropes were being installed at the time of my hike.

The Highland Trail above Mihang-samgeori

The trail meets the ridge at the Mihang-samgeori, 미항삼거리, three-way intersection at 1440m/absl.
The western ridge trail heads 3km to meet the Jungwang-jimaek ridge at Jungwang-san, while Gariwang-san's summit is signposted as 1km to the east, I believe it is actually closer to 2km.

At this height the forest is still thick and lush, but lowers dramatically from the helipad 500 metres short of the summit, becoming dominated by chest high shrub and wild grasses.
 The summit itself is a large grassed area devoid of trees, with a large bizarre looking stone pile (below) celebrating its high point. Standing over 2m  tall, the summit marker faces north at an obtuse angle with antennae like rocks rising from its head. It is certainly an unusual site, resembling more an altar than a mere stone cairn. I've found no evidence to suggest however that it is, or was, anything but.
One thing is for sure, the summit marker is a very good windbreaker from all angles and provided adequate shelter for the group I joined, all hoping for a break in the clouds and a peek of the view, which wasn't be to be. I bet it's incredible though, a fellow hiker suggested that from here you can see Odae-san National Park to the north, Chiak-san National Park to the west, and Taebaek-san to the south-east among the dozens of other +1000m peaks to be found in a 50km radius around Gariwang-san.

Gariwang-san - 2.2km - Jung-bong: 45min

From the summit the trail heads south-east 200m to the Janggumogi trail junction (장구목이기점). This is where the 4km track from Janggumogi trail entrance, to the north-east on NH59 in the Odae-cheon gorge,  meets the ridge. The main ridge trail continues south-west toward Jung-bong and is easy-going through thickening forest with some excellent examples of  Jumok-namu, 주목나무, the Korean Yew tree, which is only found on the highest of ridges throughout the peninsula. The summit of Jung-bong (1433) is within the forest and offers no outward view.

Jung-bong - Main Entrance 3.9km, 1hr30mins

A three way junction, the Jungbong-samgeori, is just beyond the summit. From here a track leaves the ridge running down to the main entrance.

Jung-bong - Entrance/Bus stop - 4.8km - 2hrs: The track follows a ridge shoulder south off the main ridge trail, meeting the Imdo mountain road at 820m absl. Shortly after the trail turns toward the south-west and sidles the Samak-gol gorge, joining unsealed road for the final kilometre or so to the village at the entrance.


The following trail and trail junctions at and leading to Ha-bong may have changed slightly since ski-slope construction.


Jung-bong-Ha-bong - 1.7km - 30min

The main ridge trail conitnues south-east from Jung-bong. Ridge trail descends slightly at easy gradient before short climb to Ha-bong. Beyond Jungbong is the trail junction for Sukam-ri, 4.2km north-east on NH59.

Ha-bong was previously a treed summit, but I have no idea of what it looks like now, as ski slope construction to this peak began a month after my visit.


Ha-bong - 2.8km - Gwangsan-gol Intersection - ?km (approx3km) - Entrance

From Ha-bong follow the signposted trail heading south toward 광산골삼거리 Gwangsan-gol Samgeori. The trail follows a shoulder ridge which arcs south-west as it reaches the Gwangsan-gol junction, at the circular mountain road. Here is the option of turning north (right) and following the road for 500 metres or so to a trail heading down to the entrance. The second option is to take the trail continuing south across the mountain road. This ends up in Hoidong farming village about 1km from the entrance. 


Construction of the Olympic downhill ski run, Ha-bong summit, September, 2014.
- photograph courtesy of Jo Myeong-hwan

Following Pyeongchang's winning bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics the eastern face of Ha-bong was chosen for the construction of a downhill ski-run to be used for the event. Despite there being 17 ski resorts in Korea, 9 of which are in Gangwon province, there are no existing facilities with enough vertical drop to host the long downhill races, events which will involve only three days of skiing.


To construct the 3360m mens and 2500m womens courses, the initial government proposal called for the two courses to start at Ha-bong and near Jung-bong respectively, meeting in the Sukam gorge off NH59. This would require the clearing of 73ha and the removal of almost 60,000 trees, with a plan to replant the area at the conclusion of the games. Reference was made to the forest being only 70 years old, which angered local residents and activists who claim the forest has been preserved since the Joseon dynasty, and who numbered approximately 250 trees within the zone to be over 500 years old. Faced with mounting pressure the government decided to reduce their proposed area by 30%  to 51ha by combining the men's and women's slopes - which was considered adequate to the Ministry of Environment.
A lone protester in Seoul
- photo Jo Myeong-hwan

Protests continued however, with activists bringing attention to precedents set by past host nations; the withdrawal of Denver in 1976 due to environmental concerns - having ALREADY been awarded the games, and the Japanese decision to build no new facilities for the Nagano games of 1998. Small demonstrations were held in Seoul and in pockets of Korea, but national interest was never fully captured and as mentioned above clearing of the forest began in September 2014.

Obviously the Olympic Games are a big deal and constructing a suitable ski-field could be seen as necessary, but I wonder why a more suitable candidate slope couldn't  be found in Gangwon-do, where a number of large peaks were, without any question, cleared during the past century, some of which remain so.

Gariwang-san represents pure wilderness, and is one of the few great mountains in this country which retains large tracts of primeval forest. No amount of replanting can replace it,  it doesn't work that way. It's a tragedy that in this modern, industrial, educated, overpopulated and small country that a virgin forest is not considered an absolute treasure.

Gariwang-san '3 days vs 500 years' video
Janggu-mogi Trail head, NH59

Eastern Trailheads
There are two trail-heads heading to the ridge from NH59 which runs north-south between Jeongseon and Jinbu towns.

Janggu-mogi
The Janggu-mogi trail head is 20.5km north of Jeongseon, 21.5km south of Jinbu and 900m north of the Solbat Garden Hyugeso on NH59. Here the Janggu-mogi-gol gorge opens into the Odae-cheon gorge, which the road traces. This is the major trail head of the eastern mountain. The trail heads 4km up the gorge to the main ridge, 200m east of Sangbong summit.  There is parking space for 2 or 3 vehicles on the wide verge at the trail entrance.

Sukam-ri

The Sukam-ri Hyuge-so, gas station and restaurant is 16km north of Jeongseon on NH59. A further 400m north up the road a small concrete road runs west into the mountain. This road continues up the mountain to meet the imdo trail which circles the mountain at 800-1000m absl, and connects to the trail reaching the ridge near Jung-bong (4.2km). The only option for parking is at the Hyugeso. This is the easiest access point for mountain  bikers hoping to reach the imdo circling the mountain.
Transport
BUS: To Gariwang-san Recreational Forest (Hoi-dong 회동) entrance.
The bus to Hoi-dong 회동 leaves Jeongseon Bus Terminal 8 times a day between 6:20am and 8pm. The last stop is the main mountain entrance.

City buses to Sukam-ri. Jeongseon to Sukam-ri 6:20am, 3:40pm, 6:50pm

An intercity bus running thrice a day from Jeongseon to Jinbu stops at Sungam-ri (숙암리). The bus leaves Jeongseon terminal at 8:30am 12:40pm and 6:20pm. The bus stops about 500m past the trail head at Sukam-ri.
No stop at Jangu-moki


DRIVING: From Seoul take the Yeongdong (영동) Expressway (50) to Saemal IC 9 (새말). Join NH42 south east 35km, turning south onto NH31 into Pyeongchang(9km), before rejoining NH42 to toward Jeongseon. Turn north after 27km onto PR424 which runs north 8km to the mountain. Approx 200km/3hrs
From the south (Daegu/Busan): Take the Jungang (중앙) Expressay north to Buk-Danyang IC. Take NH5 north 15km. Turn east onto NH38 - to Yeongwol. North on NH31 toward Pyeongchang, North-east on PR415 which connects with NH42 between Pyeongchang and Jeongseon.

Accommodation
Gariwang-san Recreational Forest 가리왕산자연휴양림 has 24 rooms/cabins and 45 campsites
Booking can be made here  (Korean language).

Pensions: There are a few near the entrance at Hoi-dong including Gariwang-san Gwangwang Nonghyeon Pension (010-4510-7144), and Gariwang-san Hwangto Pension (010-9669-4735)

Camping:
There is an excellent public campground 1.5km down stream from the main park entrance, across a small bridge off the road. The Hoidong-maeul-Hyuyangji is a large reserve under pine trees next to the Hoidong stream. There are bathrooms and a small supermarket. It's a great spot next to a dammed up section of the stream which is great for a swim. During the summer season one of the locals will come by for a camping fee, about 7000won for the night.
Adjacent to the reserve is the Gariwang-sanjang Minbak/Pension - (033) 563-9100