Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Jaeyak-san 1108m / Cheonhwang-san 1189m
Yeongnam Alps, Milyang City, Gyeongsangnam-do

Looking north from Jaeyak-san to Cheonhwang-san


Jaeyak-san and Cheonhwang-san stand a parallel west of Sinbul-san and Ganwol-san, and together  form an isolated stretch of ridgeline in Milyang's remote eastern highland, rising from the Baenaegol gorge and connected to the Nakdong-jeaongmaek ridge by broad open high grasslands to Neungdong-san.


With steep drops on all four sides, expansive highland features, stunning rocky out-crops and fascinating opportunites for exploration in the surrounding area - these two peaks offer a great day of challenging hiking and a gateway to multi-day trekking opportunites.


Trails reach the summits from Baenaegol Valley to the east; by way of ridge from Neungdong-san to the north-east; from the Eoreum-gol ice-valley to the north, and from Pyochung-sa Temple to the south-west. The mountains face south-west and the most popular and most accessible circuit trails begin at Pyochung-sa. Here I'll describe the full 5 hour circuit from Pyochung-sa, and below that the route from Eoreum-gol ice valley.
Entranceway to Pyocheong-sa, with Jaeyak-san in the background

 

Pyochung-sa was originally founded by the great travelling master, Wonhyo-daesa in AD.654. Legend tells he was meditating at a nearby temple when he looked to the foot of Jaeyak-san and beheld a group of auspicious clouds rising from a stand of bamboo. He immediately set to work on building a temple here, which he named Jungnim-sa (Bamboo forest temple), traces of which can be ound behind present day Pyochung-sa.

In 829, the third son of King Heungdeok suffered a stroke, but after drinking water from the well at this temple his symptoms miraculously disappeared - Jungnim-sa was then renamed to Yeongjeong-sa (temple of the eternal well), which it remained until the late 16th century when it was bestowed with the name Pyochung-sa "Expression of Loyalty", in honour of the three patriot monks Samyeong, Cheongheo and Giheo, who gave great service during the Imjin Japanese invasions, and were largely credited for mobilising and defending Milyang from invasion.

Right - Seosang-am hermitage, on the trail to Cheonhwang-san


There are four trail options from the temple, all of which allow for a circuit including both peaks. You can follow the Okryu-cheon stream to the right of the temple up an old road via the Hongryong and Cheungcheung waterfalls attacking Jaeyak-san from the south. Climb above the left of the temple on a mountain path with views over the falls, eventually meeting the same trail. Take the central Naewon valley trail running between the peaks or walk north past Hangye-sa and Seosang-am hermitages, climbing Cheonhwang-san and walking the ridge south over Jaeyak-san - see map below for illustration of all routes.


I'm going to describe the circuit in the clockwise, heading north to first to Cheonhwang-san, onto Jaeyak-san and back to Pyochung-sa. You can expect this this 11km circuit to take about 4.5hrs walking time - the distance can be shortened or lengenthed depending on which options are taken along the route.


Pyochung-sa - 4.8km 2hr - Cheonhwang-san


From the carpark at Pyochung-sa take the road to the left which follows the Geumgaseo stream north from the temple. After a few hundred metres you'll reach a junction, to the right is the Naewon valley trail which heads past Naewon-am and climbs to Cheonhwang-jae, the pass between the two peaks - this 2.5km trail climbs 650m to the pass and is a good option if you want to visit only one of the peaks, or do a circuit of both including Jinbul-am hermitage - again see the map.


Our path continues along the north road, which crosses the river and turns to hiking trail shortly thereafter. The trail climbs gradually along the western side of the stream past the Geumgang waterfalls and onto Seosang-am (right), a really beautiful hermitage set amongst waterfalls where two streams meet.

Western views from the summit of Cheonhwang-san


The trail leaves the stream at Seosang-am, climbing steeply north to an open scree slope decorated with cairns and into a lowering, sub-alpine forest. Once above the scree the trail turns north-east toward the summit and opens up, allowing views to the south and east from rocky ridge teeth protruding above the tree line.


The trail continues arcing to the east before reaching the high ridge just to the north of Cheonhwang-sans' summit. From here a trail heads left (north) - this trail soon turns east, crossing the grassland plain to Neungdong-san, and is a popular path for mountain bikers as well as hikers. About a kilometre along this path is the path down to Eoreum-gol, the icevalley.

East from Cheonhwang-san across the open grass plain to Neungdong-san

 Cheonhwang-san is a bold, open, bald peak with great views in all directions. It's south-eastern face is a sharp drop off the rocky outcrop just below the peak (pictured above). Standing there, one winters day, we had massive eagles flying below us, playing in the thermals and swooping up over our heads.

Cheonhwang-san - 2km 50min - Jaeyak-san 

The trail to Jaeyak-san heads south off the peak, the rocky side, which is  littered with hundreds of crude cairns creating quite the dramatic scene. We drop off the peak and enter  the highland plain (right) leading down to Cheonhwang-jae pass. There are two highland shelters in the pass which serve as restaurants and can be very welcome on this windswept plain in the winter. These are the prime lunch spots for hikers, so if the trail is busy and you like solitude, it might be best to plan on picnicking elsewhere!


Jaeyak-san from below Cheonhwang-san


Cheonhwang-san - 2km 50min - Jaeyak-san




The trail to Jaeyak-san heads south off the peak, the rocky side, which is  littered with hundreds of crude cairns creating quite the dramatic scene. We drop off the peak and enter  the highland plain (right) leading down to Cheonhwang-jae pass. There are two highland shelters in the pass which serve as restaurants and can be very welcome on this windswept plain in the winter. These are the prime lunch spots for hikers, so if the trail is busy and you like solitude, it might be best to plan on picnicking elsewhere!

Jinbul-am, high on the eastern face of Jaeyak-san


The Naewon Valley trail leaves the ridge at Cheonhwang-jae, heading right from the lowest shelter, heading back down to Pyochung-sa. If you want to check out the remote hermitage of Jinbul-am (left) take this path and turn left after 500m at a marked junction, you can then continue past the temple and join our trail south of Jaeyak-san, alternately you can cross Jaeyeok-san on our ridge trail and walk down Naewon valley via Jinbul-am.

Leaving the lower rest area the trail joins a boardwalk for much of the roughly 1km stretch to Jaeyak-san, which has a rocky, much smaller summit than Cheonhwang-san.

The ridge leading to Jaeyak-san, southern approach

 

Jaeyeok-san - 3.7km 1hr50min - Pyochung-sa


Heading south off Jaeyak-san there are a couple of options soon-after for heading back to the temple.  In the first 20mins of walking off the peak there are two right forks,  both of which are options for heading to Jinbul-am hermitage and on to Pyochung-sa down the central Naewon Valley track, the last of these junctions is 900 metres below the peak (below).

 

Follow the sign toward Pyochung-sa to complete the full circuit of both mountains. The path hugs the southern face of Jaeyak-san and sidles along the midslopes above the Okryudong-cheon stream below, with a couple of very good viewpoints looking out over the large Cheungcheung and Hongryong waterfalls below, you will eventually turn west and walk through a good forest path into the rear of Pyochung-sa.

Getting there:


By road - On Expressway 55 running between DongDaegu and Busan get off at Milyang IC (exit). Head East on National Highway 24 in the direction of Eonyang. Turn onto Provincial Road 1077 at the small village of Sanui (??). The turn-off from 1077 to Pyochung-sa is just after the Sijeoneon-cheon stream (???) bridge. From the Expressway exit its about 40mins to the temple.  By Bus - From Milyang Intercity Bus Terminal (?????????), three buses Pyochung1 (??1), Pyochung2 (??2) and Pyochung3 (??3) head out to the temple. The buses take the same route as you would in the car, and stops in the tourist village less than a kilometre from the temple. The trip is about 45min to an hour.

 

Accommodation/Restaurants


The entranceway to Pyochung-sa is a thriving tourist village with dozens of restaurants serving typically excellent mountain variety Korean meals; Sanjae-jeongshik's and Bibimbab's, Dubu (tofu) meals, mushroom and Dadeok - with a couple doing chicken and pork. In the same area are half a dozen motels and as many minbak. The thin band of grassy forest on the right hand side of the road between the tourist village and the temple is reserved for camping, and is pretty busy over summer.

Hiking from Eoreum-gol

Off limits and under CCTV observation; "The Freezing Place" (left)


Gamabul Canyon/Falls (right)


The Eoreum-gol Ice Gorge flows from Cheonhwang-bong's sharp northern slopes, and is a dark, damp, enclosed area with some spectacular waterfalls such as the Gamabul-pokpo (often referred to as Gamabul Canyon).


Eoreum-gol is one of the Milyang areas biggest tourist attractions, due to the mysterious appearance of ice in the valley every July and August; Korea's hottest months.

Long a mystery, Scientists now attribute the phenemenon to freezing local airflows rising from deep under the piles of strewn rock which make up the floor of the gorge, deep within this sunless rocky pile,  ice is likely to present all year round.


Locals and tourists, however, largely choose to believe it is one of the world's unexplainable treasures and flock here every summer to be amazed - and it is pretty amazing! especially on a baking hot summers day.


Eoreum-gol flows into the headwaters of the Dong-cheon, an awesome alpine stream which in its first 7 or 8 kilometres collects its water from Gaji-san, Neungdong-san, Baekun-san and Cheonhwang-san which all tower above this narrow gorge, making it a very impressive, if a little shady and dark place to be.

Scree-slope trail heading to the ridge


Eoreum-gol - 3.3km 2hr - Cheonhwang-san


Generally speaking, when carrying only a daypack in Korean mountains I'll average about 3km to the hour without too many problems. There are exceptions, and the walk from Eoreum-gol to the high ridge between Neungdong and Cheonhwang-san's is one of them, particularly in the winter, although in this place one should be on the lookout for ice at any time of year!


Crossing the Dong-cheon bridge next to the large restaurant in the carpark, the trail follows road for a couple hundred metres before turning to trck near the "Ice Valley Motel", from here its a 300m wlk to Cheonhwang-sa temple.


From the temple the track forks,its well worth taking the left trail which circuits the waterfalls and "Freezing Place", just past which it meets the trail of the right fork. From the freezing place the trail joins a steep scree slope which pretty much continues to the ridge. Although only 1.9km you can expect this walk to takean hour and a half. Its brutal, a bit dodgy at times, and not worth rushing.

Northern views above Eoreum-gol to Unmun-san (left) Gaji-san (back right) and Baekun-san (white rocky centre)


The trail hits the ridge 1.3km north-east of Cheonhwang-san and 4.5km south-west of Neungdong-san -this is the high grassland triail which has become relatively popular with mountain bikers.


From here to the summit of Cheonhwang-bong hiking is a breeze, and you can expect to be there in around 30min. Unfortunately there is no circuit route to Eoreum-gol.



Getting to Eoreum-gol Ice Valley

By Road

Eoreum-gol is located on "Old Highway 24" which climbs past the entrance to Baekeun-san, crosses the high ridge of the Nakdong-jeongmaek and winds down the other side to Eonyang. The modern highway 24 goes through the Gaji tunnel, Korea's longest traffic tunnel meeting both ends of the old after theyve crossed the mountain.

The Eoreum-gol turnoff leaves highway 24 at the small town of Nammyeong-ri, turning left from Milyang, right from Eonyang at Nammyeong Elementary School, just a few kilometres west of the Gaji tunnel. The old road 24 runs parallel to the elevated highway 24 running above the valley to the tunnel.


By Bus

Three buses run from Milyang Bus Terminal to Eoreum-gol. Eoreum-gol 1, 2 and 3??? 1, 2, 3  - all take the same route.

From east of the ridge public transport is not certain. A couple of years ago I took a bus from Milyang to Eonyang that went to Eoleum-gol, then climbed over the ridge and dropped me at Seongnam-sa, the eastern gateway to Gaji-san, from where I connected to an Ulsan city bus to Eonyang. From all the searching I've done I've found no evidence of that bus existing anymore, so it looks like Milyang is the only transport hub to Eoreum-gol.

Trail Map - Pyochung-sa circuit in yellow. Eoreum-gol to Cheonhwang-san in purple.