Thursday, November 22, 2012

Palyeongsan: Where the Mountains meet the Sea

Located on the tiny little dingleberry-shaped peninsula of Goheung county (고흥군) is Palyeongsan (팔영산) National Marine Park and Recreational Forest. For me Palyeong Mountain itself was the real draw- not for it's height (it's only 608m at its highest peak), but for the stunning views it affords of the innumerable islands to the south.

The island view from one of Palyeongsan's peaks.
In addition to providing spectacular views, Palyeongsan provides oportunities for a wonderfully fun hike. Named for it's 8 peaks (팔 or 'pal' means 8), the trail involves a lot of going up-and-down and, as the peculiar rock formations which make up the peaks are particularly... well... rocky, there is a lot of scrambling/low level rock climbing involved as well (with chains and footholds in place as optional aids). So much fun!

Looking back toward the Korean hikers on Yuyeongbong (유영봉), Peak Number 1 of Palyeongsan, from Seongjubong (성주봉), or Peak Number 2.

The view of Yuyeongbong when not zoomed in.
Since the mountain is not particularly large, the hike can be done in only a couple of hours (even, if, like me, one is hiking on a sprained ankle. Required Safety Note: Do not try this yourself ;).). We started off at the Goheung Ranger Station near Neunggasa (능가사 - Neungga Temple), went up (and down, and up, and down, and up - well, you get the picture) over the peaks (heading westward), out to the highest point at Gitdaebong (깃대봉). We then took the lower trail to circle back for the return. It's also possible to continue forward for an additional 4km, which would bring you to the Nampo Museum (남포미술관) /Yeongnam Elementary School (영남초교) park entrance. Both park entrances have local buses going past. All in, our looping route was approximately 8.6km and took about 3 hours 30 mins.

Looking northward and inland.

The view eastward from Orobong (오로봉), or Peak 5.
While summitting and descending so many peaks in such a short space of time is thoroughly enjoyable, I have to warn anyone planning to hike Palyeongsan to go on a weekday. Because the hike is not too long and affords such great views, it's absolutely packed to the gills with Koreans on the weekends. On the bright side, if your aim is to immerse yourself in local culture and avoid foreigners at all costs, this would be the perfect place to do it! Korea doesn't get much more charmingly rural than Goheung-gun.

A view of the 8 peaks in the distance from the campground at the base of the mountain.

To get to Palyeongsan, hop on an intercity/express bus to Gwayeok (과역) or Goheung (고흥). The park is a short local bus ride from there. Gwayeok is located approximately 2 hours south of Gwangju (by bus) and Goheung is a little further on. The bus ride alone is worth the trip. The initial bit is slow moving and winds through some small towns (which are adorable in their own right). The views along the latter half of the route, however, are absolutely stunning! The locals in the area are also supremely friendly - they colluded to insure that a scarf I had forgotten on the local bus was returned to me when we got to the Gwayeok bus station at the end of our hike! 

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