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Ilwol-san 일월산

Branch of the Deoksan-jimaek ridge, Yeongyang-gun, Bonghwa-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Located deep in remote Northern Gyeongsang-bukdo, Ilwol-san- the Sun Moon mountain - is a haunted peak, roamed by the ghost of Hwangssi-buin.

The wife of a Mr.Hwang, Hwangssi-buin lived in the northern area of Andong two or three hundred years ago, and was horribly mistreated by her husband and her family.

One day she fled to Ilwol-san and out of desperation, and possibly protest, committed suicide on the mountain.

Her soul could not rest, and she continues to haunt these slopes of Ilwol-san.

It is said she brings misfortune to the greedy and abusive, and good fortune to the sincere and generous.

The mountain itself has basically become a shrine to Mrs Hwang, with a number of shrines in the valleys, particularly on the north-eastern side, as well as high on the summit ridge beneath the Moon peak, where pilgrims make offerings to her spirit, and claim that through her power their wishes can be granted.

Hwangssi-buin, from one of many shrines to her memory near the mountain

The largest concentration of shrines, and the major temples of the mountain, are on the north-eastern side in the Keun-gol valley, the start and end of our circuit trail. This is one of the most active areas of Shamanism in Korea today, with dozens of Mudang working from shrines along the headwaters of the Banbyeon-cheon stream, near the temples of Yonghwa-sa and Seonnyeo-am. This is a fascinating place for respectful visitors, and makes the long trip to this otherwise rather featureless large mountain well worth it.

For more on Ilwol-san and Hwangssi-buin, visit David Mason's excellent Sun-Moon Mountain page

The northern trails for Ilwol-san leave from the small, sleepy village of Uitdae-ti in Yonghwa-ri, or from nearby Seonya-tang behind Yonghwa-sa temple, 22km north of Yeongyang on National Highway 31.

Uitdae-ti has a car park for hikers and is probably the best place to start the hike. Continue about 300m past the entrance for Yonghwa-sa on NH31 and you'll pass a big brown sign to the source of Banbyeon-cheon stream to the left, this is our trail head. There is ample parking and toilets near a large park map at the entrance.

I decided to walk the circuit counter-clockwise, heading through the village to the source of Banbyeon-cheon, up to Moon Peak and the Hwangssi-Buin shrine, across to Sun peak and returning to Uitdae-ti down a ridge arm.

From the carpark the trail follows the road north-east through the Keun-gol Valley, which is more well known as Daeti-gol, a lovely quiet village setting with friendly locals.

Located on the head-waters of the famously clean Banbyeon-cheon stream, Daeti-gol has taken on a new identity as a place of health, well-being, clean organic food and relaxation, and the village has changed to accommodate the slowly growing numbers of domestic tourists who visit here. Old run-down farm shacks are giving way to modern adobe home stays, and farm trash has been turned into pieces of art on the roadside. There are a few accommodation options in the village, information on these, and Daeti-gol's products can be found on Daeti-gol's very own website (korean only).

Buri-saem Spring - source of the Banbyeon-cheon.

At the edge of the village the road passes a small temple (above left) before turning to trail and reaching a junction, where you can turn left and head southwest up a valley toward the mountain or continue northwest to Banbyeon-cheon spring (right), which is the nicer approach to the mountain.

The trail follows the much narrowed Banbyeon-cheon stream, now only a few feet wide, to it's source, Buri-saem, a curious spring which opens from a cave, and emits the most beautiful clear water.

Buri-saem (also known as Balwol-ji) is a famous and treasured spring, flanked by two granite tablets and visited by many who take home gallons of it's water, which is delicious.

Buri-saem is the source of Banbyeon-cheon, the centre artery of a 110km system of streams flowing through Yeongyang and extending into the areas of Andong to the west and Cheonseong to the south. Banbyeon-cheon is cherished by the people of Yeongyang as the fertilizer of their crops, provider of all their water and inspiration for many artworks, including the famous poems of Jo Ji-hun (1920-1968). It is also treditionally considered as one of the main sources of the Nakdong River.

From Buri-saem our trail turns south-east, passing through former farmland now reclaimed by forest for a few hundred metres before meeting the trail running directly from Daeti-gol, here turn right (southwest) and climb a couple of kilometres to the summit ridge, meeting a paved road which runs along the ridge from Ilwol-san (sun-moon peak), about a kilometre to the left (south-east) to Ilwol-jae pass on Highway 31 a couple of kilometres northwest of Daeti-gol village area.

The road serves the communications facility which dominates the Sun Moon peak, and is also used by visitors to the Hwangssi-buin shrine below Wolja-bong, this road can be driven up by anyone, but is sometimes chained closed at Ilwol-jae.

Wolja-bong (Moon Peak)

Ilwol-san has three peaks along its high ridge, Wolja-bong (Moon Peak) to the north-east, Ilwol-san (Sun Moon Peak) 1km south-east and Ilja-bong (Sun peak) a further 500m south-east.

Ilwol-san itself is off limits due to the military communications tower which dominates the peak.

From our arrival point on the ridge follow the trail to the right, which leaves the road and tracks the ridge to the summit of Wolja-bong, about 200m to the northwest. If you want to bypass the Moon Peak you can just walk down the road to the Hwangssi-buin Shrine.

Wolja-bong (1205m) is a slight rise in the ridge, with low highland scrub forest to its summit, however there are great views off the east over the lonely hills breaking from the Nakdong-jeongmaek ridge line as it makes it's way through Yeongyang-gun.

I trekked that ridge, 10 kilometres east of here, on my walk from Busan to Taebaek in the fall of 2008, and it was the quietest section of trail I've enjoyed anywhere in this country. At one point I followed an old fortified trench, which I later learned was built by North Korean guerrilla soldiers after the Korean War. They had followed Korea's ridge system from Daegu to here, in an attempt to bust through to the North, but were eventually stranded here between Tongo-san to the north and Yeongyang town to the south. Apparently they lived almost 5 years in those lonely hills, surviving on food they stole in midnight raids of the villages below, and extracting pine resin for fuel. Looking out in that direction it's easy to imagine how hard it would've been to capture these guys. Eventually South Korean and U.S forces turned to their last resort and burnt them out of the mountain, setting fire to the ridges, trapping them in fire, and killing most, if not all of them.

High ridge shrine to Hwangssi-buin, just below Wolja-bong

The high shrine to Hwangssi-buin is located just below Wolja-bong on the south-western side of the ridge, on the road which runs from Ilwol-jae to the north, right across the mountain to the facility on Ilwol-san. You shouldn't have to walk all the way back to the junction to access the road, take any trail running west off Wolja-bong peak and you will meet the road.

The shrine complex covers a large area and is very well visited. The shrine itself resembles a well kept village house, and even has it's own post box number. In addition to the shrine is a large Sanshin-gak behind the main building.

Inside the shrine

Mrs Hwang is presented as a national figure, with peninsula shaped bouquets of Mugunghwa (Hibiscus syriacus), the national flower of Korea, and a Taeggukki hanging on the ceiling above her portrait.

The altar is generally overflowing with offerings such as candy, Gingko berries, liquor and copious amounts of rice. Larger offerings are piled up on the floor, some so large they're in sacks.

The inside wall of the shrine is a large wardrobe, with dozens of grand Shaman dresses stored for ritual celebration, the most I've seen in any shrine - It must really go off up here some nights.

The Gong and well-worn book of chants of the Sanshin-gak behind the shrine, and the wardrobe of the shaman, that glitters and shines in the shrine to Hwangssi-buin.

From the shrine area a track heads south off the ridge down a steep valley to Cheonhwa-sa temple in the Chaldang-gol gorge.

Our trail to Sun Peak follows the paved road, heading back uphill to the point where we arrived at the ridge from Daeti-gol. Here we leave the road, taking the trail off the southern side of the ridge. The path turns southeast, running parallel to the road heading to Ilwol-san, about 50 metres below the ridge for about 1km to a four-way junction south of Ilwol-san called KungKung-mogi. Here a large ridge shoulder flanking the Chaldang-gol gorge to the southwest meets Ilwol-san, and a trail to the south-east runs up from Bulhyang-sa temple.

Stay left, as our trail circles around Ilwol-san's enclosed perimeter toward Ilja-bong, the sun peak, which is 600 metres from Kungkung-mogi on good trail.

Ilja-bong is celebrated by a large granite monument representing the sun, which stands atop a huge wooden stairwell, with awesome open views over the mountains to the east.

East from Ilja-bong

Our trail leaves Ilja-bong to the left of the peak, continuing on a north-eastern path for about 100 metres before reaching a junction.

The track to the right heads down the eastern side of the ridge nto a gorge and on to Seonnyeo-am and Yonghwa-sa, by way of the Seonnyeo-tang pool.

Continuing north-east the trail follows a thin arm of the ridge back to Daeti-gol, near the Ilwol-san carpark. Both trails are a similar distance and time - I took the northern trail to get back to the car, but if it were not there I'd have likely taken the eastern route and finished at the interesting temple site Seonnyeo-am.

Sanshin-gak and Hwangssi-buin shrine at Seonnyeo-am, alongside it's outdoor prayer altar.

If you start and end at Daeti-gol, it's well worth stopping down the road at the temples of Yonghwa-sa and Seonnyeo-am before heading out, as well as the Shaman shrine grotto in the valley between.

We spent a lot of time in the shrine grotto, and didn't get time to visit the main temple of Yonghwa-sa, but had a good look around it's hermitage Seonnyeo-am, located on the stream which flows through Seonnyeo-tang pool and on to meet the Banbyeon-cheon stream.

The abbot of Seonnyeo-am, guiding us up the stream to a shrine near Seonnyeo-tang (left)

Sanshin-gak in an abandoned coal or copper mine near Seonyeo-tang (above)

Seon-nyeo are usually female angels, fairies, sirens, or nymphs in Korean mythology.

A signboard near Seonnyeo-am tells that the San Shin (mountain spirit) of Ilwol-san, who ruled over the Seonnyeo, descended from the sky to the pools of the stream here. He decided this was a good place for the Seonnyeo to bathe themselves.

However the Seonnyeo in this case may be Hwangssi-buin herself, as David Mason describes on his Seonnyeo-am page. That could explain why this is one of the busiest areas of Shaman worship on the mountain, with a number of very active shrines along the stream. Follow this link for information on and photos of nearby Yonghwa-sa

Signboard at the shrine grotto between Yonghwa-sa and Daeti-gol

Between Yonghwa-sa and Daeti-gol is a massive area of shrines and areas of worship to the San-shin, Hwangssi-buin and other deities of Korean shamanism and Buddhism.

This is a fascinating area to walk around, and is very active throughout the year. As well as being a pilgrimage point, this location is also home and workplace to a large number of Shaman who base themselves here.

Through donations and income earned from performing rituals, a number of large new shrines have been built in this area, including these to Hwangssi-buin (left), and San-shin (below), the largest I've ever seen, as big the Daeun-jeon of a major Buddhist temple.

These are the centre pieces of the valley, but are by no means the centre of worship. Most activity takes place in the small shrines downstream from the main car park, simple rock shrines and tree shrines where individual Shaman perform rituals, sometimes simple and at times very elaborate, acting as an intermediary between the spirit entity they are in touch with, and the paying customer.

The more elaborate rituals seem to take place indoors, in the number of rooms running along the stream opposite the large car park.

Getting there

Daeti-gol is 23km north of Yeongyang on National Highway 31.

To get to Yeongyang you'll have to first take National Highway 34 which runs west-east from Andong (50km from Yeongyang) to Yeongdeok (52km from Yeongyang) on the east coast and intersects with NH31 midway. Expressway 55 passes through Andong on its way from Chuncheon and Wonju down to Daegu.

Coming from the north (ie Seoul) it is probably best to get off the expressway at Punggi IC and take NH5 into Yeongju, then NH36 through to Bonghwa (25km).

From Bonghwa continue east on NH36 for about 23km to the intersection of 36 and 31, turn south (right) in the direction of Yeongyang. Stay on 31, after about 20km you'll pass through the Bonghwa tunnel, Yonghwa-sa and the trails to Ilwol-san are just a few kilometres along from this. 

By Bus: The bus service out to Ilwol-san is not what you'd call regular.

From Yeongyang bus terminal buses head to Yonghwa-ri at 10am, 1:30pm and 6:10pm

The road out to the mountain from Yeongyang passes a disused copper mine, now converted into an odd park. Here I found a monument to the famous 20th century poet, Jo Ji-hun (1920-1968) who is much celebrated in this area. Upon the monument is inscribed his most famous poem; Seung-mu, Dance of The Buddhist Nun.

Flimsy white silken hood, softly and fairly folded,

I wonder it be a flying butterfly!

Pale bluish color of shaven head

Hidden under flimsy silken hood,

The rosy gleams streaming down her cheeks,

Reveal her sheer beauty, yet airing rueful sorrow.

A night when a wax candle on the empty stage silently melts

The moon wanes through paulownia leaves;

Long sleeves flutter in the sky

White socks folded up with soft curve fly!

With her dark pupils gracefully lifted,

To a starlight in the distant sky;

On cheeks of peach flowers, two drops are about to glare from her eyes;

Ah, it is the star glow of tormenting agony, stricken by mundane life.

Her hands, flexingly wrapping around and extending again,

As if posing sacred bows deep inside with palms together;

On this deepening night of crickets all crying awake,

Flimsy white silken hood, softly and fairly folded,

I wonder it be a flying butterfly!