Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Saryang-do 사량도 (Jiri-san 398m)

South Sea, Tongyeong City, Gyeongsangnam-do

Above Image made using Daum지도3DLab

The rugged northern face of Saryang-do Uit-saem, taken from the east as the Tongyeong ferry approaches


The twin south sea islands of Saryang-do, Sang-do/Uit-saem (upper island) and Ha-do/Araet-saem (lower island), lie about 8km off the mainland in the harbour created by the Tongyeong peninsula to the east, and Namhae island to the west.


The rugged islands are formed of massive granite cliffs soaring straight out of the sea; stand alone mountains running to a predominantly rocky seashore, with precious little arable land in between for their 1700 inhabitants.

A thin, sheltered straight seperates the two islands, along which ferries from Tongyeong pull into ports at Deokdong in Ha-do to the south, and at Saryang-myeon, the only town on the islands, on the main northern island Sang-do.


Both the islands have good highland trails, with peaks rising close to 400m - very respectable straight out of the sea. The quieter island, Ha-do, has a good circuit from Deokdong harbour along its high ridge to Chilhyeon-san (348m), but the truly impressive route is the traverse of the northern island, along what is known as the "jagged ridge trail" from Saryang-myeon to Jiri-san.

The name "Saryang"  has a couple of possible origins. According to information found on the island it was thus named because of the large number of snakes found on Saryang-do, further info suggests it is because the coastline curves like a snake.

The other explanation comes from it sounding like the Korean word for love, "Sarang". Many people seem to think this is the most plausible meaning of the name, love island, that has been changed through the years to "Saryang" 

Oknyeo - the ghost spirit of Saryang-do, in her shrine at Oknyeo-am


Jiri-san is the major peak of the northern island, and one of only five island mountains on the 100명산 list, the others being Halla-san on Jeju, Seongin-bong on Ulleung-do, Mani-san on Gangwha-do and Gitdae-bong on the remote south-western island of Hong-do.


The peak is named after the much more famous mountains of Jiri-san, the highest range in South Korea, and one of the most sacred mountain systems of the whole peninsula. 

Our Saryang-do Jiri-san stands with a great view north-west to the summit of mainland Jiri-san's highest peak, and is a receiver of pungsu-jiri energy flowing south-east from the mountain - an indication that not even an ocean seperation can truly diminish the connectivity and power of the Baekdu-daegan ridge system, or the desire of locals to feel a part of it.


Although Jiri-san is the main summit, the rocky outcrop of Oknyeo-bong is the most celebrated peak of the short ridge, and holds a real influence over the lives of the people of Saryang-do, due to the tragic story of the orphan Oknyeo.


Long ago a young couple lived in poverty beneath the rocky cliffs of the eastern ridge. They barely had enough to survive, and upon giving birth to a baby girl, the mother perished of malnutrition. She was followed soon-after by her husband, who died of a broken heart.

Their daughter, Oknyeo, survived and was taken in by their neighbour, an unmarried man who brought the young girl up to believe he was her father.


By the age of 16, Oknyeo had grown to be a famous young beauty on the island. It was then she discovered that her caretaker was not her true father, as he began to make unwanted advances and propositions. Oknyeo was heartbroken to realise she was not looked upon as his daughter.


After a series of refusals, Oknyeo made a plan.

One night she told her step-father to wake the next morning before sunrise and put on his funeral clothes, with a straw mat covering his head. He was to eat grass like an animal and cry like a calf, then crawl on his hands and knees to the summit of the rocky peak (now Oknyeo-bong).

If he did this, she would give herself to him.


Tombs below Oknyeo-bong


Oknyeo climbed to the peak during the night and waited. She maintained hope that the man she loved as a father would not go through with these humiliating tasks.

She had asked him to cover his head with a straw mat because he was beneath human - not deserving of seeing the sky. Eating, wailing, and crawling like an animal would prove he was one himself, nothing more than a beast.


Not long after dawn Oknyeo's step-father arrived at the peak, crawling and bleating beneath his straw mat. Oknyeo's hope was gone, and the grief-stricken girl threw herself from the sharp rocks of the cliff to her death. The mosses below the peak now permanently grow red, forever stained by her blood.


The Oknyeo story has changed traditions on the island. According to local information, marriages do not take place on Saryang-do out of respect and fear for the unmarried beauty who was cheated out of a full life, instead couples are considered married after spending the night together. The fear is that the bitter young girl will seek revenge if a wedding is held here.


Different information says that if couples did marry on the island, the bride would not be carried in a carriage past Oknyeo-bong, but would be required to walk this stretch. Nowadays it is considered bad luck to be married in any location from where Oknyeo-bong can be seen, and this apparently extends to mainland areas.

The Trail - Saryang-myeon - 0.8km - Oknyeo-bong -  0.5km - Gama-bong - 0.6km - Bulmo-san - 0.3km - Wolam-san - 0.7km - Seongja-am - 1.1km - Jiri-san - 1.7km - Donji Village

Being a relatively small island, getting to the head of the Jagged Ridge Trail is fairly simple, simply walk west along the main street from the ferry terminal, following the waterfront until the main road turns in toward the mountain. Here you'll see the Saryang village administration building 사량면사무소, and a parking area. The trail follows the western road from here a short distance, before heading north briefly through farmland and into the climb to Oknyeo-bong.


Although this is the simplest way to get started in a hurry, I'd recommend getting on the island bus and walking the route east along the ridge from Jiri-san back to town, thus removing the hassle of finding your way back to town from the far end of the island if you don't time the (infrequent) bus right. This is something I didn't do, and the end of my day was a bit of a freak-out when the bus didn't show and I had a ferry to catch back in town - hitching proved OK.


The one bus leaves the harbour 7 times a day running around the island.

In the morning it runs clockwise at 6:50am, 7:45, 9:45 and 11:45

In the afternoon she runs counter-clockwise at 1:45, 3:45 and 5:35. 

The afternoon buses leave Donji at the far west of the island, bound for the harbour, at 2:10, 4:10 and 6:10 - and they don't wait around long...


As the above statement by both the Mayor of Tongyeong and the Chief of Police suggests, it's a gnarly trail over the ridge, but certainly not ridiculously dangerous. The trail is rocky, and incredibly steep in places, but like most in Korea has a number of staircases, and guideropes in place over the trickiest sections.

I also kept an eye out, but saw no evidence to suggest that womenfolk were any more prone to accidents than men, on this mountain at least.


The three boulder peaks between Oknyeo-bong and Gama-bong have always been crossed by crude wooden ladders, or walked around altogether - construction was going on here when I walked, and through an online search I see that a series of sky suspension bridges have been opened between these mighty peaks, just like in too many of Korea's great rocky places - it's a bloody shame. 

Looking down on Saryang-myeon from Oknyeo-bong's eastern face. The crane in the strait is building a bridge to connect the two islands, projected to open April, 2015.


Leaving the farmland outside of town the trail climbs steeply through pine forest for a few hundred metres before leveling out a bit once reaching the rocky ridge.

Oknyeo-bong looms ahead, a massive boulder which would be a very tough climb from this side, if not for the staircase which snakes up its face.

Once over the peak, the tricky stuff begins with a series of ropes and ladders on the very gnarly section between Oknyeo and Gama-bong. The hiking through this section is tough and slow, but supreme, up there with the most impressive sections of ridge in the country, and for the most part the trail sticks to its Jongju (apex), allowing open views south to Ha-do, and north over Dahang Beach and fish farms stretching to the mainland.

With the recent addition of the "sky bridges" through this section, I imagine its a bit of a breeze walking to Gama-bong from Oknyeo-bong. If the Jongju trail is still open I recommend giving it a cautious crack, it was a real highlight for me.
The West face of Gama-bong, left, has the trickiest section of knotted rope. The gradient is not overly steep, but this mohawk of rock is bald on its southern side, and it's a long way down - bit of a worry for anyone with vertigo.

Continuing on thin rocky Jongju the trail heads north west for the climb to Bulmo-san (399m), the highest peak of both islands. Before reaching the peak the trail meets a junction, where a track runs south down the Dalbawi (Moonrock) gorge to Okdong village.

Bulmo-san has a good open top, along which the trail turns south-west and past its neighbouring peak, Wolam-bong. From here is the option of heading down to Seongja-am, the island's major temple. Seongja-am is located in a flat pocket of the mountain where two shoulders, running southwest and southeast off the mountain, meet. The 700m loop trail running down to the temple follows these shoulders, and meets the ridge trail at the base of Jiri-san. Here a trail also runs northwest 1.3km off the ridge to the small coastal settlement of Naeji.


Daehang Beach, the only sandy beach on Sang-do

Jiri-san (398m) stands 1.1km from the junction, and the trail climbs steadily southwest to its summit. There is an occasional little rest area here where a jolly character, who plays a big Korean drum in a cowboy hat, sells makali.
Jiri-san is an impressive peak, especially it's southern side, which has a huge near vertical cliff face, and a large outcrop, Dalbawi (moon rock) standing on its western approach.

The ridge trail extends a further 600m west from the peak before splitting into the northern and southern approach tracks. 1.9km north to the small settlement of Geummok-gae, and 1.1km south down to Donji, the island's second "town" from where most hikers start/finish the hike.

Time: In normal Korean mountain conditions you wouldn't expect a 6km hike to take too long. Saryang-do is a bit different, it's tricky and slow, and on the rope sections you'll have to wait your turn if the trail is busy. It's also very beautiful, and a great place to spend a day, not a mountain for moving all that quickly. I'd say allow 3.5 hours minimum, and take note of exit trails if returning to the ferry becomes an issue.
I was up there over 6 hours, made a real day of it, slowly wandering along and taking in the ocean from rocky vantage points.
Getting there

The quickest ferries to the island leave from The Saryang-do-yea-gaek-seon-terminal at Gauchi Harbour 가우치항, 15km north west of Tongyeong city centre.

Ferries leave for Saryang-myeon (Geumpyeong) on Sang-do at 7am, 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. The ferry takes 45mins to an hour, and also serves Deokdong on the south island.

Ferries return from Saryang-myeon at 8am, 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm - all leave first from Deok-dong 10mins earlier.

It's 5500won one way per person, plus anywhere between 10,500 - 16,000won for your car, depending on its size.

Bus 607 runs from Lotte Mart in Tongyeong out to Gauchi Harbour.
Buses leave Lotte Mart at 6am, 8:05, 10:05, 12:05, 14:00, 16:00 and take 45-50mins.
Bus 607 starts its route at Seoho Market 20mins earlier, with the exception of the 6am bus, which starts at Lotte.

Accommodation

Within town there are some clean looking minbaks above some of the stores on the main street. there are a large number of pensions along the south coast from Saryang-myeon - Donji, and also to the north in the Daehang beach area.