Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

The Sky Reed Trail 영남알프스하늘억새길
  Yeongnam Alps Haneul Eoksae Gil

Crows rule the winter sky on the Haneul-Eoksae Gil (Sky Reed Way)


 The Sky Reed Trail is a 30km, high ridge circuit trail incorporating seven of the Yeongnam Alps major peaks; Sinbul-san, Yeongchuk-san, Jaeyak-san, Cheonhwang-san, Neungdong-san, Baenae-bong and Ganwol-san.

These peaks form a semi-circular ridge above the famous Baenae-gol Valley. On its eastern side Yeongchuk-san, Sinbul-san, Ganwol-san and Banae-bong are a part of the Nakdong-jeongmaek ridgeline. From the pass at the northern end of Baenae-gol a subsidiary ridge breaks off the main line and runs south-west, forming the peaks of Neungdong-san, Cheonhwang-bong and Jaeyak-san.

The trail runs along the high point of these two ridges,  connected at the north by the high Baenae-gogae pass, and divided by the Baenae-gol valley to the south, the only low-point to be crossed on the circuit.


The Yeongnam Alps Haneul (sky) Eoksae (miscanthus reed) trail, is so named as much of this high ridge is naturally high and forest free, instead covered in  sub-alpine Eoksae reeds. Views can be very sweeping and beautiful, as your walk is unimpeded by forest in these parts - it's just you and the grass - under the sky!

The official (Ulsan based) homepage for the Yeongnam Alps calls this walk  "The most beautiful road in the world for meditation, communication, healing and freedom" - and, even better - "The most beautiful walk in the world, with the themes 'sky, reed, clouds, view, and scenery'!"

These are bold claims! but having walked along this trail a few times, I recommend it highly. It's a well put together path, on a high open ridge crossing some major impressive peaks, and has a real feeling of isolation, despite the close proximity to the centres of Busan, Yangsan and Ulsan.


This is the perfect trail to tackle if wanting to get a taste for hiking Korea's ridges, away from the more popular National Parks, where freedom camping is not allowed, and the trails can be overcrowded in peak season. The Sky Reed Trail has options for exit every few kilometres with reliable public transport at all major trailheads, and is relatively easy-going as far as Korean ridge trails go. Above all, it's an enjoyable, beautiful trail in a spectacular mountain range.

Map of the Sky Reed Trail

The governing body behind the trail has split it into five mini-trails, indicated on the map above by the different colors. Clockwise from Baenae-gogae pass in the north-east they are...


Moonrise Trail (달오름길), running south from Baenae-gogae pass over Baenae-bong and Ganwol-san into Ganwol-jae pass (4.8km, 2hr30min).


Reed-Wind Trail (억새바람길), from Ganwol-jae crossing Sinbul-san, through the reed fields between Sinbul-san and Yeongchuk-san (4.5km, 2hr).


Danjo Castle Ruins Trail (당조성터길). Western descent from Yeongchuk-san down to Jukjeon-maeul in Baenae-gol (6.6km, 2hr20min)


Saja (Lion) Reed Field Trail (사자평억새길), climbing from Baenae-gol to Jaeyak-san, down to Cheonhwang-jae pass and up to Cheonhwang-san (6.8km, 3hrs).


Maple Memories Trail (단풍사색길), Cheonhwang-bong through the wide open fields to Neungdong-san, and descending to Baenae-gogae pass (7km, 2hr45min).


Total Circuit Time: 29.7km 12hr35min - One full-on day, 2 decent day hikes, or 3 cruisy days. 

My circuit time is more than 3hrs quicker than that given on the official map above. I'm not trying to be a hero, it's just how long it takes me. I'm a steady hiker and certainly no trail runner, but I generally average 3km an hour in the mountains with a day bag and short breaks, and this trail is not in overly challenging country, for much of the ridge you can easily get along much quicker, particularly along the section from Cheonhwang-san to Neungdong-san. My times are fair walking times, I figure the time-keepers above are taking into account stoppages etc which I don't in my records, but anyone on a mountain should be aware of that. If carrying a full pack the map times are more accurate.

 Ganwol-jae pass and it's newly built facilities, the advertised starting point for the Sky Reed Trail


On all official maps and publications for the trail, Ganwol-jae is always listed as the starting point. There is no clear reason for this, other than the fact that there is a newly-built hyuge-so (rest area/store) on the pass and the best examples of reed fields are found here, and in the first few kilometres of trail south from there. Wherever you start though, you will of course go through this area. Starting from Ganwol-jae you're adding at least a couple of hours onto the journey each way, as you're going to have to get youself up there and back down - see walking times from the east under Sinbul-san/Ganwol-san section - there is an old road running over the pass, but it is often closed at the bottom, has no parking at the top, and is a hairy road generally only used by mountainbikers and Forest Service staff.

For transport options to the Ganwol-jae trailhead, check the Ganwol-san/Sinbul-san section.

For mine, the logical trailheads are the two points where the trail crosses road 69 at the high pass Banae-gogae, and at Jukjeon Village down in the Baenae-gol valley.

If splitting the trail into two days I recommend starting at Baenae-gogae pass, in that way, if you choose to walk anti-clockwise you can have a day of 7hrs and a day of 6hrs hiking, and spend the night in the village of Jukjeon in beautiful Baenae-gol Valley, which has a range of accommodations, meaning you could walk without a heavy pack of camping gear.

Looking west from Baenae-bong, with Jaeyak-san (left) and Cheonhwang-san (right) in the background.


There is an interesting and convenient third starting point from the Eoreum-gol ice valley, north below the ridge between Cheonhwang-bong and Neungdong-san. The walk to the ridge from Eoreum-gol has always been one of the toughest climbs in the alps, but this year a cable car has been constructed, delivering passengers right to the trail! A return ticket on the cable car costs 9500won. The cable car departs from Eoreum-gol ice valley entrance. For transport options and directions to Eoreum-gol check the Jaeyak-san/Cheonhwang-san section.



UPDATE: AS OF NOVEMBER 2012 THE EOREUM-GOL CABLE CAR HAS BEEN SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE DUE TO BUILDING STANDARD AND SAFETY VIOLATIONS 

Sky Reed Trail information, from Baenae-gogae walking anti-clockwise.


Leg One: Moonrise Trail (달오름길) Baenae-gogae - Ganwol-jae: 4.8km, 2hr30min


The first leg from Baenaegogae pass to Ganwol-jae is fairly straighforward, with few junctions and little possibility of losing your way, as it stays on the well walked Nakdong-jeongmaek ridgeline path.

Baenae-gogae is a major pass of the alps, at about 600m above sea level between the peaks of Neungdong-san to its north-west, and Baenae-bong to the south-west. Provincial road 69 crosses the pass, heading from Seongnam-sa temple to the north and Baenae-gol in the south. A new restaurant and cafe has just recently opened at Baenae-gol. 

From the large carpark at the pass the trail leaves from the eastern end, closest to the large Jeongja (resting platform) and heads into the forest. Climbing quite steeply for just over a kilometre to 966m Banae-bong. From here the trail follows the well defined ridge trail, in thick forest to a peak of 912m, before turning south/southwest for the climb to Ganwol-san (1083m). From Ganwol-san the trail is clear of forest and there are awesome views on all sides on the south-west descent into Ganwol-jae pass. The grand building on the pass is a small convenience store, they sell coffee and ramen etc and have hot water, it also has a fantastic deck with picnic tables looking over Ulsan city to the east. The building on the western side of the pass is an office for forest service staff. The mountain road crossing the pass winds east down to Deung-ak hotsprings area of Eonyang, and to the west it runs down to Baenae-gol valley.

Eoksae Reed Fields between Sinbul and Yeongchuk-san.


Leg 2: Reed-Wind Trail (억새바람길) Ganwol-jae - Yeongchuk-san: 4.5km / 2hrs


From Ganwol-jae continue south along the ridge, past the  huge cairn and decked area, climbing the stairs east up to Sinbul-san (1159m). The trail straightens to the south for the 10min descent into Sinbul-jae pass (1000m).

At the pass there is an option of leaving the ridge, a western trail heads down to Jukjeon village in Baenaegol via the Baengryeon-cheon gorge and temple.


Our trail continues along the open ridge to Eoksae-bat, the largest and most impressive reed fields, and a beautiful wide-open area begging to be camped on. The main path here is largely board-walked, with smaller paths criss-crossing occasionally through the reed fields to the west and to viewpoints looking east. Despite the amount of intersecting trails it's virtually impossible to get lost heading to Yeongchuk-san, you can see it right in from of you all the time, just keep a track of the main large trail heading south.

Yeongchuk-san (1081m) is a great, rocky peak with a fine view of pretty much the entire Yeongnam Alps. From here the next leg on the Sky Reed Trail is getting down to Baenae-gol, the deep valley to your west. You can do this a couple of ways, by taking the Danjo Fortress trail described in blue below, or an alternative extension of the Sky Reed trail possible from Yeongchuk-san - described below.

 Looking north-east along the Yeongchuk-jimaek ridge to Yeongchuk-san, from Hambak-deung, a worthy extension to the Sky Reed Trail. The Eoksae fields of Sinbul-san can be see in the centre background in yellow. 


Leg 3 (optional extension): There is an option of extending the circuit from Yeongchuk-san, and walk 4km of it's impresive southern ridge, the Yeongchuk-jimaek, before heading down to Baenae-gol. To do this, rather than leaving the ridge west via the Danjo Fortress trail, continue along the ridge over Yeongchuk-san, and follow the well-worn ridge trail to the south-east. Follow the ridge for about 45min to Hambak-deung, a rocky protrusion about 1030m high.

The ridge continues south-west from here, crossing Chei-deung and Jukbau-deung into the pass of Hanpigi-gogae, roughly 50min hike from Hambak-deung. The trail west from this pass follows the Cheongsuwoo Gorge top the north-west, and meets the Danjo Fortress trail about a kilometre from Jukjeon village, and takes about 1hr40. This extension will add about 1hr30-2hrs onto your journey, but it adds a bit of variety to the hike as the Yeongchuk ridge is rockier and sharper than much of the reed habitat ridge.

For Transport/buses to Yeongchuk-san, see its section

Leg 3: Danjo Castle Ruins Trail (당조성터길) Yeongchuk-san - Jukjeon Village: 6.6km, 2hr20min


From Yeongchuk-san the trail drops off the northern face and back-tracks parallel to the reed trail, along a firebreak in the centre of the ridge (left). This wide path ends after little more than a kilometre at the sign left, heading west for a couple of hundred metres to the Danjo Fortress remains. 

The fortress dates back to the days of the  Silla dynasty, and was built as a highland base, viewpoint, and fort to keep watch and defend inland Korea from invaders heading east in from the ocean, namely the Japanese.

So many men were killed repelling initial attacks from the Japanese Imjin Forces in the late 16th century, that their blood is said to have created the famousswampy conditions on the high ridge from Yeongchuk-san to Sinbul-jae, from which the reeds grow.

The jar-shaped fortress has been somewhat restored and stands on the northern side of the trail, while its scattered walls stretch for a couple of hundred metres in each direction.

 Looking north along the Danjo fortress (right)


 From the fortress the trail begins to descend in a north-westerly direction, and is soon out of the reeds and under a low canopy of forest. This is not a major path, it just runs for 800 metres before connecting to the main Sinbul-jae trail heading down to Baenae-gol. You'll need to follow the yellow ribbons on the trees before crossing a stream and connecting to the main trail, 700 metres below Sinbul-jae and 2.3km above the Sinbul-san Recreational Forest complex.

The trail heading down is a good one, staying on the mid-ridge on the northern side of the stream through good forest. You'll see the buildings of Baenae-gol below about a kilometre out, and once down will exit on a staircase onto the metal road running up to Ganwol-jae from the recreational forest.

At this point you are 800 metres below the famous Parae-so Waterfall if you fancied a mission up the road path, otherwise it's only a couple hundred metre stroll to the park entrance down the road.

Sinbul-san Recreational Forest 신불산자연휴영님 (left)

 

Continuing down the road you'll pass Baekryeon-am temple on your right and enter the sprawling Baenae-gol accommodation area, eventually coming to a Sky Reed Trail sign, 1.4km short of Jukjeon village, which will take you off the main road to the right and along the small concrete road servicing some of the pensions and houses

Baenae-gol has become a very popular place, especially over summer, and there are dozens of modern pensions all up the valley. Folllowing the road you'll come to the "Venecia Pension" (below), from where a footbridge takes you across to provincial road 69. The trail joins this road for just over a kilometre north to Jukjeon village proper.

Look out for official trail signs to Jaeyak-san on your left, they're right next to a new public toilet, which you'll hear. It plays quite loud Vivaldi, and is below a huge rock retaining wall, through which the trail will follow on a driveway.

Accommodations: As mentioned there are a number of options for staying in Baenae-gol. The pensions are the obvious, they are everywhere, and range from 60 at the low-end to upwards of 150,000 for a room. The Sinbul-san Recreational Forest has cabins which can be pre-booked online for upwards of 30,000won. Amongst the pensions are a few cheaper minbak, there is one up in Jukjeon-maeul near the store by the Jaeyak-san trail. For campers, there is a designated Tent Zone ????, on the left hand side of the road, about 100m short of Jukjeon-maeul.

Looking northwest from Jaeyak-san to Cheonhwang-san

 Leg 4: Saja Reed Field Trail (사자평억새길) Baenae-gol - Cheonhwang-san (6.8km, 3hrs)


From next to the toilets at Jukjeon-maeul, the trail to Jaeyak-san heads west off the road, following a paved driveway which leads to a pension and ends at an empty section 150m from the road. Here the path heads into the forest, following ribbons for 1.7km of quite steep trail, which breaks into thin switchbacks for the last half, to the Jukjeon-samgeori three way intersection on the edge of  the Jaeyak-san High Moor protected area.

Here a track heads left (south) to 970m Hyangryo-bong, the most southern peak of this western ridge.

Our trail heads right (northwest) over a small rise in the ridge, and down to the northern edge of the Jaeyak-san Moor. 600m from the samgeori we arrive at another junction, which shows us to be 2.8km from Jaekak-san. Here we meet a wide trail, which they are up here in the western highlands, as they are popular with mountain bikers. The track heading south from this junction eventually joins runs down to Pyochung-sa in the west, while our trail continues north-west, climbing over a rocky vantage point and heading down to meet a small stream which flows down from Jaeyak-san. Fording the stream follow the trail northwest and you'll come to a Pojang-maja (right), a large tent restaurant selling a bit of alcohol, hot food and coffee with a number of picnic tables outside, a good place to break.

The junction to Jaeyak-san is 100 metres past the food tent, and heads south off this wide trail cutting up the northern face for 1.1km to the peak. The wide trail we turn off merely bypasses the peak, circling around it's northern face to Cheonhwang-jae, so is an option for taking some time and distance off the trail if you don't want to climb Jaeyak-san.

The trail heading up to Jaeyak-san from this junction is a thin one, and meets the high ridge 200m north of Jaeyak-san's summit itself. 

Rising above the open grasslands, Jaeyak-san is a proud, rocky peak, with a small but sharp summit. From here you'll see the whole trail, and the path ahead to Cheonhwang-san, which heads northwest off the peak. 

Backtracking north to the junction on the ridge, the trail then descends along a tight ridge before reaching semi-grassland below the peak. The trail is then largely boardwalked to protect the grasses, and also because much of this area becomes swampy after rain. 

We head down to Cheonhwang-jae pass, which has a large decked area with picnic tables, and a seasonal coffee tent, which has been removed this winter. The rest area is the site of a four way junction, to the southwest is the Pyochung-sa temple trail, northeast a boardwalk trail heads across the grasslands, eventually forking, southeast back to our start point and northeast across the grasslands to the former Alps Ranch.

Our trail continues northwest, climbing for another kilometre up to Cheonhwang-san (1189m). Strangely there is another mountain restaurant/booze hall on the initial slope, less than a kilometre from the one at the pass. This south face of Cheonhwang-san is the sharp one, you'll have a bit of a scramble up the rocky face littered with cairns to its bald, open summit.

Alps Ranch and the Sky Reed Trail, circling anticlockwise toward Neungdong-san


Leg 5: Maple Memories Trail (단풍사색길) Cheonhwang-bong to Baenae-gogae pass (7km, 2hr45min).


This final section of the trail is a good easy-going stretch along the open ridge at the edge of the reed plains, with, rarely for a Korean ridge, not a lot of up and down! For the first 5.5km to Neungdong-san the ridge we follow never drops below 900m and rises twice over knobbly peaks of 1060m and 970m before 983m Neungdong-san and a staircase down to Baenaegol.



The new Eoreum-gol cable car  (left)


From Cheonhwang-san follow the signs heading to Eoreum-gol and Neungdong-san. The trail heads due north for a couple of hundred metres on a boardwalk, before turning east (right) at a junction. A kilometre on from the junction you'll pass the track heading down to Eoreum-gol ice valley, a very steep exit trail.

The trail goes in and out of trees but is predominantly grasslands and azaleas, flanking the now closed Alps Ranch, an area now hugely popular with mountainbikers, who ride in from Baenae-gogae. Crossing 1059m peak, you'll meet the new Eoreum-gol cable car arrival point, which has undoubtably made this recently peaceful ridge incredibly busier. The cable car is 9500won round trip, probably 5000-ish to get down one way .

From the cable car the trail merges with the farm service road/mountain bike trail which runs through to Baenae-gol, walking is very easy and  the views are sweeping, we leave the road as it turns east toward Baenae-gogae and our path becomes trail for the 500m to Neungdong-san.

Neungdong-san is a rather featureless peak, largely wooded on all sides, but with decent southern views through the trees. If you've started in Baenae-gol and looking for a halfway point near Baenae-gogae for camping, there is a great cleared area walled by tall reeds 100m on the northeastern side of the peak, it's technically a helipad but I thought campsite as soon as I saw it.

From Neungdong-san the trail descends northeast for about 200 metres before reaching a junction with the Nakdong-jeongmaek ridge trail, which bypasses Neungdong-san peak proper, heading north to Gaji-san and south-east down to Baenae-gogae. We of course head southeast down to the pass, it's only a 20 minute walk on a largely staired path to the end point at Baenae-gogae.

Getting to the Trail


To Baenae-gogae pass

By Road:

Get off Seoul-Busan Expressway 1 at Eonyang (West Ulsan). Take National Highway 24 west, exiting onto Provincial Road 69 following signs to Seongnam-sa. Continue south past the temple staying on 69 to the pass. PR 69 continues south down to Baenae-gol.

By Bus: Ulsan City bus no.328 runs from Ulsan KTX station and Eonyang Terminal to Baenae-gol and back again, passing through Eonyang Terminal, Seongnam-sa and Baenae-gogae.

 The first buses leave Eonyang terminal (not KTX station) at 6:20am and 7:50am, arriving at Baenae-gogae at 7:05 and 8:35 respectively.

The later buses leave from KTX terminal at 9:40 13:30 and 15:10, leaving Eonyang Station 10-15min later, arriving at Baenae at 10:40, 14:30 and 18:10.