Unmun-san 운문산 (1188m)
Unmun-san 운문산 (1188m)
Cheongdo-gun (Gyeongsangbuk-do), Milyang-si (Gyeongsangnam-do)
Cheongdo-gun (Gyeongsangbuk-do), Milyang-si (Gyeongsangnam-do)
The famous temple of Unmun-sa, nestled in the northern valley below Unmun-san - photo taken from Bukdae-am hermitage.
Unmun-san is the bold feature mountain of the 34km Unmun-jimaek ridgeline, stretching south-west from the Nakdong-jeongmaek ridge at Gaji-san to the city of Milyang. The ridge divides Cheongdo county of Gyeongsangbuk-do to the north and Milyang city in Gyeongsangnam-do to the south.
The northern and southern entrances to Unmun-san County Park offer very different hiking experiences; the northern side being home to the famous and very popular Unmun-sa temple complex, while the south is much quieter with quaint mountain villages leading to remote, hermitage trails.
From the more popular northern side the mountain trails from Unmun-sa have been closed from 2009 for conservation reasons, and will not re-open until Jan 1st 2012*. Although a bit disappointing this has given me the opportunity of exploring the remote southern circuit which I'll explain below.
Originally founded as Daejakgap-sa in 557, the temple was renamed Unmun-sa by the Goryeo King Taejo in 937.
The famous monk Ilyeon-seonsa, author of the Samguk-yusa history of Shilla was the chief monk here in the 1230's. In 1958 a University for Bukkhini (female monks) was opened nearby and is now one of the largest in the country.
At the centre of Unmun-sa's large grounds stands a huge sprawling 500 year old Red Pine known as the Weeping pine of Unmun-sa. With apparently no pruning it has strangely grown out rather than up and covers a huge area of the central courtyard. Every spring Weeping Red is fertilized with makgeoli (rice wine) which may explain its outward rather than upward growth - I feel like sprawling horizontal after that stuff as well.
The greater Unmun-sa area is a cool place to walk around even if your intention is not to climb the mountain - or if, like me, you find the trail closed. Unmunsa's four hermitages are spread far apart around the foothills and there is some very rewarding walking between them.
Sari-am cave-shrine to Dokseong
The most famous of Unmun-sa's hermitages is Sari-am, which is Korea's largest site of pilgrimage for Naban-jonja, or Dokseong - The Lonely Saint.
After the death of Buddha, Naban-jonja - one of the 16 Nahan (otherwise known as Arhants, fully-enlightened disciples), was sentenced to dwell on Earth and await the arrival of Maitreya, The Future Buddha, at which time he could enter Nirvana. He was to live in the world of man in a cave. The belief of many Korean pilgrims is that this cave is at the rear of what is now Sari-am Hermitage.
The shrine to Dokseong was built here in 1845 and its painting of the Lonely Saint is a very old one, having stood in the shrine since 1851.
Sari-am and its shrine are so popular that large tour buses travel specifically to this hermitage, often bypassing Unmun-sa on the way through. One such bus I saw there, from Busan was called the ????? Sari-am Tour Bus, and had about 50 people on board. This hermitage is accessed from the end of the road which continues behind Unmun-san for a couple of kilometres along the river toward the mountain, ending at a large carpark. From here the only way to the temple is another kilometre up a brutally steep path, which seems of little concern to the hundreds of pilgrims, many elderly, who make their way to the temple every weekend.
The other three hermtiages - Cheongshin-am, Naewon-am and Bukdae-am are in the foothills north-east of the main temple, and are accessed by paved roads which leave the main road before reaching Unmun-sa. These narrow roads are marked by large stone steles and can't be missed on the way into the temple.
All are worth a visit. Cheongshin-am and Naewon-am are on a low road which snakes through beautiful mature forest, and Bukdae-am (north gate hermitage) is up on the end of a rocky ridge shoulder with a fantastic view over Unmun-sa (as seen above).
* April 14, 2012, I returned to Unmun-sa only to find that the trail closure has been extended to December of this year. Signs at the trail head state hikers found on the trail face a fine of 500,000won, and 2000,000won if found collecting any mountain products. The reason is to protect the habitat of the Otter, which is very rare in Korea and present in the upper reaches of Unmun-san's gorges. Some hikers still walk the trail despite the risk, probably people like me who'd driven a long way unaware of the extended closure, but its not recommended as all signage has been removed from the trail and it can be quite challenging to navigate the thinning track which involves quite a bit of fording across the stream. Looks like I'll be back again later in the year - I'll probably call ahead next time.
From the town of Cheongdo 청도 buses leave for Unmun-sa 8 times a day at 7:40, 9:20, 10:40, 11:30, 13:10, 15:30, 17:30, 19:30
Buses leave Unmun-sa for Cheongdo at 06:50, 9:30, 11:30, 12:00, 13:30, 15:30, 17:30, and 19:15
From the west (Cheongdo) - Expressway 55 (Daegu-Busan) has an exit at Cheongdo, from here take National Highway 20 to Unmun-myeon, turn right onto Provincial Road 69 which hugs the southern side of Unmun lake until you reach the junction to Unmun-sa on your right.
From the east - Expressway 1 has an exit at Eonyang. From here get onto NH24 heading west, get off the main road when directed to Seongnam-sa (석남사) and shortly after turn right onto Provincial Road 69 which crosses the Gaji-san ridge and drops down into Cheongdo area to Unmun-sa.
The Unmun-sa entrance road off PR69 has a great number of excellent restaurants and some pretty good looking Minbak guesthouses, its much like the entrance to a National Park. Further east up 69 there are also a lot of minbaks along the riverside, and a camping ground - Unmun-san Family Campground - which looks pretty groovy. 8km east of the Unmun-sa turnoff on PR69 is the Unmun-san Recreational Forest ???????? which has cabins and camping sites.
The Unmun-jimaek ridge, running south-west off the peak toward Milyang city
Without the attraction of a major temple complex, and being further from major centres, the southern side of the mountain is quite a different world to the north.
Unmun-san's south side is set amongst many other famous mountains and attractions of the Yeongnam Alps including Gaji-san, Jaeyeok-san and the Eoreum-gol ice valley and sees much less visitors than these.
This is evident when driving up the Seokgol valley to the trailhead crossing one-lane bridges and navigating through village lanes - no tour buses are making it to this starting point - and neither is a city bus - if you want to bus here from Milyang you'll be dropped off a good 30/40min walk from the trail.
Seokgol-sa and Seokgol falls
Summit trails from the south side of the mountain begin from the small Seokgol-sa 석골사 temple, up a narrow gorge of the same name in Milyang city's farthest eastern reaches.
As mentioned above this trail doesn't get a heap of hikers, which is every reason to go as far as I'm concerned! The trails though are well signed and fairly well maintained.
Seokgol-sa is a pretty little temple set atop a raging waterfall. The falls and the small, clear pools it flows into are relatively popular for summer chillers and the gorge road leading to Seokgol-sa has a handful of good looking restaurants and minbaks on the river-side. There is no store as such for hiking food.
Seokgol-sa 석골사 - 3.6km - Sangun-am 상운암 - 700m - Unmun-san 운문산 - 2km - Dakbat-jae 닥밭재 - 2.6km - Seokgol-sa. 8.5km / 3-4hr
Trail maintenence worker crossing a stream in the Sangun-am Gorge
Heading off from Seokgol-sa the trail stays in the valley, rising above but continuing to flank the stream below. After 500 metres or so a track heads north to Eok-san (?? 944m) while our trail to Unmun-san heads in a north-westerly direction, continuing to follow the main valley. The trail crosses an intersecting stream and climbs high over rocky ground, with some good views of the inner valley and its high rocky outcrops.
You'll soon reach a second signed junction which is the meeting point of our circuit track, with the left trail heading up to the ridge at Ddakbat-jae and the summit trail continuing into the Sangun-am gorge.
The track follows the stream closely on the climb to Sangun-am, and there are a number of good waterfalls on the way, although most can't be seen through the thick forest. The best falls can be reached on informal sidetracks cut through the trees, some of which are a bit dodgy.
The trail eventually breaks away from the stream, reaching a large scree-slope which has been fashioned with a large number of cairns (right)
This signals the beginning of the serious work of climbing to Sangun-am hermitage. The trail becomes much steeper from here, but its short lived, now less than a kilometre from the temple
Sangun-am is located on a natural flat ledge below Unmun-san's summit, with commanding open views to the south.
Until 1960 the temple on this site was known as Jeongjin-teo, and was home to an apparently very impressive pagoda, called Cheonjinbo-tap, looking over the ledge to the south.
Following the Korean War there was a genuine concern that remote, mountain hermitages such as this could be developed into strongholds or shelters for communist sympathisers, and Jeongjin-teo was dismantled and removed. Sadly too was its pagoda.
Sangun-am sprung up some time later, and is perhaps the most modest mountain amja I've ever seen, made entirely of corrugated iron with a veranda of stretched plastic and a swastika spraypainted on the wall. Its a really charming spot, and puts me in mind of the rustic temples you find in the Himalaya - incidentally Sangun-am is the highest temple building in the Yeongnam Alps.
From the front gate to Sangun-am, where there is an excellent fresh water spring, the trail heads up to the high ridge, follow to the right for Unmun-san summit - about 500 metres away - marked by an impressive granite stele (right)
Big ridge shoulders running north into Gyeongsang-bukdo
As will be apparent, Unmun-san summit is a side-trip from the southern circuit trail. To continue the circuit you'll want to backtrack the 500m to the Sangun-am junction and continue north-west a further 1.5km along the ridge to the major junction, Ddakbat-jae, where the closed trail coming from Unmun-sa to the north meets the return trail to Seokgol-sa to the south.
Ddakbat-jae can't be missed, there are a number of permanent signs, a map, and currently large banners on the northern side making it clear that the Unmun-sa trail is closed.
The walk down from Ddeokbat-jae is a good one, through much easier terrain in a more sheltered valler than the Sangun-am gorge, and the hike to Seokgol-sa shouldn't take much over an hour.
As highlighted on the map below, it is possible to do a longer loop than the one described by walking on to Palpung-jae and heading down the green dotted line back to Seokgol-sa. This allows the opportunity to summit Eok-san, a further 500m west of the junction.
The southern circuit trail to Unmun-san begins up a narrow gorge at Seokgol-sa temple. Getting to Seokgol-sa shouldn't be difficult but it can be due to the lack of signage off the main road, and the ongoing construction of Highway 24, the access road, which currently makes the entrance to the Seokgol Valley quite confusing.
The road to the temple runs north off Highway 24 between Milyang and Eonyang, at a village area call Wonseo-ri ???.
From Milyang head east on Highway 24, when you see the Yeoksujeong S-oil Gas Station ??????, take the next left. If you get to the small town of Namyeong-ri and the junction for Eoreum-gol, you've gone too far. I do recommend driving to Namyeong-ri and making a U-turn however, because the Seokgol-sa turn-off is on a narrow, sometimes busy section of road and its much easier not to turn across the oncoming traffic.
From Ulsan/Eonyang - Head west on Highway 24 and through the Gaji-san tunnel, stay on 24 through Namyeong-ri until you see the junction on your right.
Milyang city buses heading to Eoleum-gol will stop at the Wonseo junction, it might pay to tell the bus driver either "Wonseo" or "Seokgol-sa" as he'll just keep going if noone's waiting.
From Milyang Bus Terminal buses Eoleum 1, 2 and 3 얼음1, 얼음2 and 얼음3 all stop here.