Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Yeongchuk-san 영축산 (1081m)
Nakdong-jeongmaek Ridge
Habuk-myeon, Yangsan City

Eastern face of the Yeongchuk-jimaek (ridge), with Yeongchuk-san (right) and Tongdo-sa in the foreground.


Of all the great mountains of the Yeongnam Alps none gets more visitors than Yeongchuk-san, due to the presence of Tongdo-sa, one of Korea's 3-jewel temples, in its broad eastern valley.

Tongdo-sa (The Grand Monastery of Buddha) is the largest temple complex in Korea, with 19 hermitages in and around its grounds. The whole eastern face of Yeongchuk-san is temple land and the network of small roads and hiking trails linking the hermitages make for a great day of exploring and hiking, which is what most visitors to the area do, rather than climb the mighty face of Yeongchuk-san.

Tongdo-sa was established in 646 by Jajang-yusa who brought with him relics of the buddha from China, which are located in the Geumgang-dan altar behind the temples main hall. There are no deities of Buddha anywhere in Tongdo-sa, rather the main hall has a huge glass window looking out to Geumgang-dan. A carved sculpture of The Buddha is not needed when he is actually there!

For more on Tongdo-sa, see this entry at Koreantemples.com

Yeongchuk-san "Vulture Peak Mountain" is named for the small mountain in Rajgir, India, where The Buddha taught the Heart Sutra , one of the more important geographical sites associated with his life. The mountain is also occasionally referred to as Chuiseo-san, a reference to the abundance of mountain vegetables harvested in the area, and is labelled as such on some older maps.

The grand Pine Trail entrance to Tongdo-sa

 

To access the mountain trails and enjoy a good day hike, a good option is to make your way to Baekeun-am (White Cloud Hermitage), the highest of Tongdo-sa'a amja located about 700m absl on the ridge south of the main peak. To get there walk through the main temple grounds of Tongdo-sa and after looking around take the road which follows the river behind the temple (below, left), you'll come out into Tongdo-sa's vast farming area, and eventually meet up with the road which runs between all the hermitages.

Back entrance to Tongdo-sa


Take the road toward the mountain and you'll pass a large parking area from where a lot of hikers start. The road continues quite far up the hill toward Baekeun-am and Biro-am, you'll eventually have to take a left fork in the road to Baekeun-am - unless you wanted to start hiking from Biro-am, which is possible but is a much less walked, poorly marked and brutally steep trail.


The road eventually ends some 800 metres short of Baekeun-am and you join a rocky trail which follows a stream bed, which is sourced from the temple. Impressive rock cairns and relaxing buddhist chants played through speakers on the trail welcome you to this interesting hermitage.

Baekeun-am (White Cloud Hermitage)

At over 700m absl the highest hermitage of Tongdo-sa

 Baekeun-am is a great hermitage in a great spot, and worth a visit regardless of whether you're hiking further or not, with a vast view east over the town below. Baekeun-am is a retreat centre and often encourages silence which is worth remembering, but you are encouraged to look around the building respectfully, just don't venture along the wooden deck to the accommodation and meditation rooms, which are off limits. Make sure you drink the water from Baekeun-am's spring, and fill your bottles for the hike ahead - its excellent mul!

The trail continues from Baekeun-am past the toilets, which you'll surely smell if you can't see them, and joins a wooden staircase. The walk up to the ridge is steep, but the trail is very good with a number of staircases, and wooden park benches at viewpoints. You'll meet the ridge in a small pass north of the peak Sisal-deung.                                                                                                  

South along the ridge to Sisal-deung  

The ridge trail north to Yeongchuk-san is awesome, crossing a number of rocky vista points as it hugs the steep eastern face. A number of trails head west off the ridge down to Baenae-gol, the famous valley running between Yeongchuk-san and the western alps, occasionally the signage at these junctions can be confusing, and at least one wrongfully suggests Yeongchuk-san is down to the west, I think it gets blown by the wind. A general rule when heading north to the peak is to never take a left turn at junctions, as the trail follows the right hand edge of the ridge the whole way.

The ridge north to Yeongchuk-san

Yeongchuk-san is celebrated by a large stone stele marking its location and height on the great  Nakdong-jeongmaek, the eastern watershed of the Nakdong river running from Taebaek in Gangwon-do to the ocean in Busan. There is a small orange tent/shack below the peak which serves as a shelter from the wind and a store, the guy in there does coffee, makgeoli, and provides hot water for ramen. The shelter is a great spot in winter, the custodian has fashioned his own ondol heating system with pressurised water running through copper coils, the whole thing looks a bit dodgy to be honest but keeps the place cosy. Make-shift shacks like this are found throughout the Yeongnam Alps and give the place a certain hiking culture unlike anywhere else in the country.

Pines on the Jisan-ri Trail 

From the peak the main ridge trail continues north through the open grass highlands toward Sinbul-san, the next major peak, a great walk if you've got the time. To complete the circuit back to Tongdo-sa however, you want to leave the ridge to the east of Yeongchuk-san. The trail running off here is not marked well initially, despite being a popular route, but by not going down to the grassland, or going right (off the cliff face) you'll find it ok. The trail heads down about half a kilometre to another shack - this one more permanent - located at the end of a gravel road. Our trail joins the road for about 2 kilometres, you can either stay on the  very windy road, which turns no less then 13 sharp corners on its descent, or follow the trail which runs between the corners. The trail eventually leaves the road for good though, and you have to keep your eyes open for a signed trail on the right heading to Jisan-ri, the small village at the end of the trail, you'll hike about a kilometre from the road to the village. If you choose to stick to the road it eventually comes to an end near the Tongdo Fantasia amusement park.

Jisan-ri supa

 Jisan-ri is one of 3 or 4 really nice villages around the northern edge of Tongdo-sa, and has an interesting mix of people living there, from toothless old farmers to artists and very rich business men with weekend houses. There are a lot of really good restaurants down in the village, and even a micro-brewery (neulham-ge).

You'll end up at the Jisan-ri Supa on the edge of the village and you've got a few options from there, you can walk the main road down through the village which ends up at Tongdo Fantasia Amusement Park, and ulimately Sinpyeong town, or you can take the small road back into Tongdo-sa temple grounds and complete the full circuit. Local Village Bus 1 runs from Sinpyeong to Jisan-ri supa every hour or so if you don't want to walk.                                                                                    

Transport:

From Busan direct express buses run from Nopo-dong express bus terminal to Tongdo-sa every half hour until 9pm, its a 25min ride.

From Ulsan KTX terminal, bus 13-1 heads to Tongdo-sa.

Bus 12 runs from Eonyang Terminal - Tongdo-sa - Yangsan City - Busan and back again, buses are about 12min apart until after midnight

 A couple of maps of the route