Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Geumseong-san 금성산 (531m)    South Uiseong County, Gyeongsangbuk-do.


Geumseong-san - Golden Castle Peak (531m, foreground), and Bibong-san - Peak of The Soaring Phoenix (672m, obscured). Parallel peaks of a horseshoe caldera, above Geumseong-myeon.

Standing 17km south of Uiseong town, and 18km east of Gunwi, Geumseong-san holds a central position in the heart of rural Gyeongsangbuk-do, amidst the lush farmlands of Uiseong, and on the edge of ancient volcanic semi-wilderness stretching east to Juwang-san National Park.

The south-facing caldera ridge of Geumseong-san and it's eastern neighbour, Bi-bong, are born on a southern branch of the Bohyeon-jimaek, a low-lying ridge running east through this fertile area famous for garlic and dinosaur fossils, meeting the Palgong-jimaek, a branch of the Nakdong-jeomngmaek range, just east of Geumseong-san.

According to information at the mountain, Geumseong and Bibong are the most ancient volcanos on the Korean peninsula, probably born during a similiar period to that of Juwang-san, some 70 million years ago. Geumseong-san may have seen some action since then, however, as it's ancient name is Siru-ddeok-san, suggests. Siru-ddeok is a kind of steaming rice cake in a horse-shoe shape like this mountain. It's said to have got its old name as it resembled this when steam was seen to rise from the top of the volcano.

Uniquely for a small mountain in rural Korea, in my experience at least, you're unlikely to see any tombs on the slopes of Geumseong-san, due to a strong local belief.
Legend has it that if a grave is on this mountain, the Mountain Spirit of Geumseong-san will ensure the family of the departed will become extremely rich! - but there is a catch - as this comes true and one family gains wealth, there will be a terrible drought, affecting everybody in the area. The residents of Geumseong-myeon hold an annual rain ceremony on this mountain, which is not unusual in Korea, but as part of the tradition they hunt for hidden tombs, which if they find, they remove.

Lying in the southern shadow of the mountain, the small town of Geumseong-myeon is a typically beautiful and bustling Gyeongbuk settlement set just off National highway 28, which the majority of all visitors to the mountain will come in on.

A small country town nowadays, this area was once the capital of the little known Jumonguk Kingdom.
During the early Three-Kingdoms period Jumonguk operated as an independent minor kingdom right in the heartland of Silla, which it was eventually absorbed into.
There is very little information on the Jumonguk, and relics unearthed have given little insight into the longevity of the small kingdom, but records in the historical text Samgak-saji suggest Silla had political influence over Jumonguk by the second year of King Burhyu, in the year 185.

On highway 28 approaching Geumseong-myeon from the north is a huge park with over 200 tombs, many from the Jumonguk period, but centred around the tomb of King Gyeongdeok of the Silla Dynasty. Recent renovation has made this a wonderful place to visit with good walking tracks, green grass and gardens, nearby is a small Jumonguk museum. Also celebrated at the park are the Horseback Archer Warriors of the Silla Kingdom, who famously used this area as their training ground.

Geumseong-san, from the grounds of "Haknok-jeongsa" 


The entrance to Geumjeong-san is 5km to the east of Geumseong-myeon in Sujeong-ri, and getting to the mountain is fairly straighforward (see below for transport details).


We travel first though Seonun-ri, a fertile farming area with brilliant green rice fields and summer fruit orchards in the flat plains west of the mountain.

On the short drive (or walk) from Geumseong-myeon you will see an impressive Joseon dynasty traditional building complex on your left, this is "Haknok-jeongsa". built in 1750 as an education centre for junior students in honour of Lee Gwang-jun (pen name Hak-dong, 1531-1609). 


Lee Gwang-jun was the first of the Yeongcheon Lee clan to settle in Sanun-ri village, and held many important government posts, including provincial governer, during his life as a civil servant. The grounds of Haknok-jeongsa are open to the public, and there is a small carpark out the front.

The entrance to Geumseong-san is the next left after Haknok-jeongsa, and heads up a few hundred metres to the large parking area at the mouth of the mountain, where the two ends of the horse-shoe ridge meet. Just above the carpark area is a large modern play park with dinosaur statues, garlic dome play houses and more warriors on horseback! There is no campground as such at Geumjeong-san, but there is ample tent-space in this carpark/park area, and running water from the toilets in the park.


For non-hikers who just want a look around, the road continues along the river valley to the temple of Sujeong-sa, up near the pass between Geumseong and Bi-bong.

View to Bibong-san from the climb to Geumjeong-san


It's easily possible to walk the full horseshoe ridge, crossing both Geumseong-san and Bibong-san on a day hike. Whether you want to walk the circuit clockwise or anti-clockwise, both trailheads are located near the carpark.


The clockwise trail, heading to Geumjeong-san first, leaves right near the toilets in the lower carpark on the left side of the road. The anti-clockwise trail, heading first up the Bibong ridge, leaves up the road a bit, at the top end of the play park just before the resorvoir. Both trailheads are emblazoned with ribbons.


The full circuit is a shade under 10km, and can be completed comfortably by most hikers in 4hrs or so. These are not large peaks, and the climbs are not extended, but the beginning ascents (or ending) from the carpark on the edge of both ridges are very steep.


With the road continuing up the valley for 2km to Sujeong-sa, which stands high in the gorge between the two ridges, there is also the option of walking either side of the ridge and coming down via the temple.


I decided to walk clockwise from the carpark.


Carpark - 1.15km - Geumseong-san - 1.4km - Bongsu-dae - 2.4km - Bibong pass - 900m - Bibong-san - 1.6km - Sujeong-sa junction - 2.6km - carpark  (10.05km)
Side trails to Sujeong-sa:
From Sujeong-sa junction, 800m one way.
From Bibong pass, 1km one way

East over Geumseong-myeon, from the viewing platform below the peak

The trail up Geumseong-san heads into the trees between the toilets and the large signboard/map in the carpark, and pretty much immediately begins to climb northwest, and doesn't let up until reaching the peak.

The path follows the course of the Jomun-sanseong mountain fortress (also known as Gumhak-sanseong, Seokseong-sanseong and Geumseong-sanseong, depending on who you ask). The fortress once stood 4m high and ran 2.7km along the mountain ridge. It's unknown how old the fortress is, but it predates the reign of Silla King Munmu who rebuilt it in 673.

Signage on site says that old villagers here believe it is much more ancient than that, possibly harking back to the days of the Jumonguk. The local text Uiseong-hyeonji tells of the fortress being present in the age before Silla, with deep permanent water wells, and a grand palace built into the ridge of Geumseong-san.

Although just over a kilometre from the carpark to the summit, it's a hell of a steep jaunt, on a gravelly path that wants to slide your feet downwards with every step. Thankfully much of the steepest stuff is navigated on modern staircases, which take you up to the summit.
The summit sits in a very large clearing, which is enclosed by pines and undergrowth, so there is no significant view. Follow the path to the left for 100metres to the Jangmang-dae (viewing platform) for awesome views over Geumseong-myeon from a rocky outcrop, there's even a pair of fixed binoculars!

Yeongni-san Bongsu-dae


From Geumseong-san the trail joins the ridge in a north-eastern direction, through a low, thick forest, with occasional views to the west over the fields, and south to Palgong-san on a clear day. Some 200m on from the peak look out for Heundeul-bawi (흔들바위), a large rocky feature down a 90m track to the northwest.


A further 600m on the trail meets a junction, with tracks reaching the ridge from the north west and south east. This is the Baenamu junction (배나무골갈림) The northwestern track (to your left) heads down to Geumseong-myeon, there is a spring 120m down this track. The south eastern track heads steeply down a ridge shoulder to the main gorge and back to the carpark.


The ridge trail continues north east another 800m before coming into a clearing at the Yeongni-san Bongsu-dae.

Bongsu-dae fire towers were employed as warning beacons throughout Korea for about 500 years during the Joseon dynasty. The first recorded use of these was during the reign of Sejong The Great (1397-1450), and their maintenence was faded out by the 1890's.


It's not known when this bongsu-dae was built, although based on documents it was in use during the middle period of the Joseon dynasty. The Bongsu-dae was pretty much entirely buried until 2009, when an excavation was undertaken, even then the protective wall of the structure was found in place but little remained of the actual structure. What was found were a lot of roofing tiles and relics from the Silla dynasty, suggesting that this site was in use long before the bongsu-dae period.

Perhaps this was an extension of the ancient mountain fortress, perhaps it was the now mythical palace!

Many of the Silla tiles are piled into a carin as seen in the photo above.


This Bongsu-dae is in a very unusual place. I've seen dozens of these in my travels, and they're all on prominent ridges and peaks with outward views - important for a beacon tower! but not this one. Yeongni-san Bongsu-dae is enclosed on the eastern side of the Geumseong ridge, with it's only view that of Bibong-san just a couple of kilometres away. As far as I can tell the beacon could only be used to alert anybody standing on that nearby hill, or the monks in Sujeong-sa, but you could shout from here!


Sujeong-sa

From the Bongsu-dae the trail continues north-east and the ridge slowly loses some height as we head 2.4km to the Bibong pass.
There are a couple of junctions along the way, the first after about 800m, where a track runs west down to the Motdong-gol farming valley and another runs south down into the Jeol-geol, meeting the main valley a few hundred metres below Sujeong-sa. The second is about 2km in, where a track runs south to Nojeok-bong, an inner peak of 380m which splits the upper valley in two, standing west of Sujeong-sa. Bibong pass is 400m on from this last junction.

If you wanted to check out Sujeong-sa, as well as do the full hiking circuit, this may be the best place to detour from the trail. Sujeong-sa is 1km down the valley from Bibong pass junction. The other option is to take the steeper 800m trail down from the eastern ridge above Sujeong-sa, a further 2.5km along the trail.

A branch temple of Uiseong's famous Goun-sa (Temple of the Lonely Cloud), Sujeong-ss was founded by Uiseong-daesa (625-705ad). This mountain temple has long been a retreat for monks from theGoun-sa, and has hosted some illustrious Buddhist minds over its history, most notably the great master Sa-myeong, who worked it as a supply base for monk soldiers during the Japanese Imjin invasions (1592-99).

Sujeong-sa maintains an unassuming, rustic feel, and is apparently a popular place of retirement for older monks.

Sujeong-sa, "The Temple of Clear Water and Clear Mind". The natural energy of the mountain is transformed into spring water, which wells up from under the rock and bubbles to the surface at Sujeong-sa. The people of the villages come to take home this water, hence the name of our temple. Wishing you drink the spring water, and build an auspicious connection when you awaken the primordial purity in your mind.

A track behind Sujeong-sa heads 800m up to the eastern ridge, meeting the trail 1.6km south of Bibong-san.

Looking north over the Jeonnmang ridge to Bibong-san


Back at the pass our trail heads east, climbing steadily for 900m to the summit of Bibong-san, the tallest peak of the walk.

It's name "The Soaring Phoenix" comes from a Buddhist legend associated with the mountain.


Oknyeo was the youngest daughter of Okwang-seongjae, The Great Jade Emporer. Having broken the rules of the heavenly world she was set a punishment, to descend to the land of man, shave her beautiful long hair like a monk, and retrieve water from a sacred spring called Yongbu-jeong on the slopes of Bibong-san. Having retrieved the water, she prayed devoutly and honestly to be returned to the heavenly world. Bibong-san was shaped by her ascension into the other world, by the soaring phoenix which took her into the skies.


It is said that from the south, the ridge to Bibong-san resembles a young woman lying on her back, with her beautiful long hair untied, and flowing downwards and outwards. The young woman is of course Oknyeo, and her hair are the ridge arms coming off Bibing-san. Unfortunately I didn't know of this story when hiking the trail, so didn't look for a photo of the effect, but the one above gives some idea (and the photo further up the page from the slopes of Geumseong-san even more), if you imagine her face is Bibong-san in the background looking up.

Looking south from the Jimang ridge to Geumseong-san and Geumseong-myeon


From Bibong-san the ridge trail heads south, navigating over phallic-shaped rocks Namgeun-seok, the jagged edge of Oknyeo's face, and descending into a shallow pass above Sujeong-sa, 1.6km on from the peak, where a track heads west 800m down to the temple.


Climbing again the trail opens up to an open, rocky ridge, the Jeonmang-neungsan, and views are good from numerous outcrops. This eastern side of the ridge is far more open and exposed than the Geumseong-san side.


1.5km on from the Sujeong-sa junction the trail reaches the end of the high ridge, at an open spot at 433m. The area is cleared for a small fire tower, and views are expansive over the fields of the east (see large photo below) - another pair of fixed binoculars has kindly been provided for your use!


From here the only eastern track heads off this ridge, down about a kilometre to the small farming village of Gaeumjang-ri, our trail heads steeply down to the west, meeting the road above the carpark after 1km.

Getting There


By Car: Expressway 55 which runs from Chuncheon - Andong - Daegu, has an exit at Uiseong.

Get off at Uiseong IC 

Drive north briefly on NH 5 toward Uiseong

Turn right onto PR 927 to interseection of NH 28, 2km north of Geumseong-myeon.

Head south on 28 to Geumseong village, turn left at Kosa Mart, following large brown signs in the direction of Binggye Valley, under the railway tracks and onto PR68 until reaching the mountain entrance.


From Uiseong/Yeongcheon: NH 28 runs from Uiseong south-east to Yeongcheon. Uiseong 15km, Yeongcheon 45km.


From Gunwi: Gunwi is about 15km west of Geumseong-myeon on PR68


Bus to the mountain: A local bus runs from Uiseong Gongyong Terminal to Sujeong-ri at the case of the mountain. Times unknown but definitely infrequent.

Bus to Geumseong-myeon: More frequent buses can be taken to Geumseong-myeon town from both Uiseong and Gunwi.


Train: Tapri-yeok station in Geumseong-myeon is on the great Gyeongju - Yeongcheon-Uiseong - Andong - Yeongju line, and passenger trains stop several times a day. For bookings go to http://www.korail.com/