Friday, November 2, 2012

Wolchulsan - Hiking the Smallest of Korea's National Parks

This past weekend, I finally got the chance to do something I had been meaning to do since I'd seen pictures of it way back in the spring - hike Wolchulsan, the mountain in Korea's smallest national park.

A view of Hyangnobong ( 향노봉 - Hyangno Peak), on the left, and Cheonhwangbong (천황봉 - Cheonhwang Peak), on the right, at Wolchul Mountain (월출산).
 While Wolchulsan is not very big, covering area of 56.1㎢ and reaching a height of only 808.7m even at Cheonhwangbong, its highest peak, it is arguably the absolute prettiest of Korea's National Parks - and I have not only a number of other avid hikers, but plenty of photos to back me up on this.

Water streams down many of the barren rock faces in the park.

A little under a kilometer from the entrance you encounter a turn off to Gureumdari (구름다리), or the "Cloud Bridge", barely visible connecting the two peaks in the background of this photo. As this path involves trekking 300meters straight up, we decided to take a more leisurely path up to the top of the mountain and hit the bridge on the way down.

Some of the fall colours en route. Spot the natural fauna in their brightly coloured camo ;).

The stunning Baram Waterfall (바람폭포)

On the way up. A view of both the bridge and the famous "Book Rock".


Looking down. Even though the day was a bit hazy, the view was gorgeous.

More of the view.
Wanting a lazy weekend, we didn't do the full traverse but, rather the 9.4km/4hr (the website claims it takes 6 hours) loop up to the top of Cheonwhangbong from the Cheonwhangsa entrance. I figure not having done the traverse is a great excuse to go back - not that it's needed!

A view of the peaks from the top.

So stunning.

Check out the cool rock formation in the right-hand corner.

To say it was super-windy at the top is probably an understatement.

Chilchi (칠치 - the seven step) Waterfall from above. Baram falls is the last of these seven steps. 

Gureumdari from above. So much fun to jump on! (not everyone agreed ;).)

Looking down.

A clearer view from below the clouds.

The bridge from below.

Emerging into colour once again.

One of the best things about Wolchulsan is the fact that you encounter so many landscapes in such a short space of time. From the completely barren granite top, you descend into beautifully treed forests and then even further into bamboo! There is also a 'nature trail' at the base near Cheonhwang Temple (천황사) which affords a lovely, well-signed and extremely unpopulated (unheard of on hiking trails in Korea!) peek at some of the local flora and fauna. Unfortunately, my camera skills only allowed me to capture the former.

Wolchulsan is an absolutely stunning mountain. I would have gone much sooner if I'd realized just how close to me it was!  It's located about and hour to an hour and a half south of Gwangju on the outskirts of a small town (with good regional bus service) called Yeongam (영암). Go.

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