Whenever I’m away from mountains, I feel their absence. For those drawn to them, they are irreplaceable in our souls. It’s not just their beauty that draws us, but also the challenge they represent. An anvil to strike ourselves against to see the strength of our mettle. It has been far too long since I hiked a proper mountain — life has gotten crazy since my injury, and I just haven’t made time. Last weekend, I’d had enough. Without giving myself a chance to mull things over, I booked a hotel room and a KTX ticket to Ulsan. My plan? To spend the next day hiking Sinbulsan in the Yeongnam Alps.
It’s wonderful to be back. Back among the mountains that remind us of our vulnerability, our ultimate lack of control over the world we live in. Mountains that demand humility, and yield so much peace in return.Alex Lowe
A hike starting in another city means an early start, and I left my apartment at 6:45 a.m. Getting to the trailhead was a bit numbing, so I was grateful for the short walk from where my cab dropped me to the trailhead. Call it a warmup. Signs for ‘신불산’ indicated the proper way to go, such as the one below. Curious where I started? Stay tuned for the end of the post, where I’ll link my Ramblr trip with GPS coordinates.
The ascent started immediately, and I couldn’t help but feel nervous. My conditioning has gotten worse than I’d realized, and I could already feel the strain on my knee. But there was no way in hell I was quitting. Behind me, a group of older Koreans who seemed to have just discovered how to make their voices echo helped to spur me on.
Mountain summits are tricky things. What may seem a short distance away may actually require a series of switchbacks to reach or a roundabout approach. Or the summit which gave you so much hope thirty minutes before might hide another above and beyond. But every summit is an achievement, so I couldn’t help but feel the thrill when I saw Sinbulsan’s for the first time through the trees.
The friend who’d recommended the hike to me had cautioned that the silver reeds Sinbulsan is famous for may no longer be at their most beautiful, the optimal season for viewing them being early-mid fall. Although the majority of the grass may have lost its silver plumes, the overall effect of Sinbulje (신불제) was still stunning. The ridge is blanketed by a giant field, marshy earth covered in golden reeds rustling with the passing of the wind. Above, the sky was a brilliant blue — unchoked by smog.
A sturdy walkway leads hikers up the final ascent, deterring all but the most careless from trampling their picturesque surroundings.
The summit itself is noticeably barren compared to the ascent. Scattered around it are several nice seating areas for picnicking, and I found an empty one and set to work on the lunch I’d packed.
The Yeongnam Alps include far more than Sinbulsan, much of which can be seen via The Sky Reed Trail (영남알프스하늘억새길). At over 30km, it’s a bit much for a day hike, but I’d chosen to hike only a section — up Sinbulsan, then south along the ridge to Yeongchuksan.
By the time I got to the second peak, I was ready to tap out. My knee was starting to hurt, and I was craving something more substantial than the bag of oranges and the small loaf of ciabatta bread I’d brought along. I made the summit, then set about finding a secluded spot to scarf down the rest of my food.
A short walk from the summit of Yeongchuksan and an exciting scramble over a rocky outcrop, I found the perfect snack spot. Not bad, eh?
The hike down… was not fun. Lots of dead leaves and needles cluttered the trail, and the trail down was steep. All of that on packed earth made for slick footing, and I nearly fell several times before actually falling hard on my bad leg. I was more scared than hurt, but it sure as heck didn’t feel pleasant. If I were to do the hike again, I’d avoid that descent and choose another route. The way up was great, though!
I was exhausted and hungry enough to eat a horse, but I wanted nothing more than a bath. Luckily, I’d planned ahead and had booked a room at The K Motel with a jacuzzi tub. Let’s just say it did NOT disappoint. See that picture below? Bubble bath. I spent as much time as I could in the tub, then rinsed off and passed out on the bed for an hour. Dinner could wait.
Feel like hiking Sinbulsan as well? Check out my Ramblr trip to get GPS coordinates and some hike statistics. It’ll show you where I took the pictures as well, in case there’s something specific you’d like to see.
What do you think? Have you hiked Sinbulsan in the past? Or done another hike in Korea you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!
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Great post! I’ve hiked up to the silver grass in the peak season but am headed back to do the same route (mostly) that you took. Apparently there is an unpaved zigzag road directly parallel to your descent so I’ll be following that to save my knees. ?I had planned on doing some “winter” camping afterwards but the nearby campgrounds are already booked up so I’ve settled on the K Hotel thanks to your recommendation.
Oh great! Enjoy the hike 🙂 Let me know how it goes!
Finished the hike yesterday! Legs are a little tired today but it was a great hike. Especially enjoyed the stretch between Sinbulsan and Yeongchuksan. My descent was slightly different than yours though. I (mostly) followed an unpaved road all the way down to save my knees.
That’s great to hear! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I think I’ll look for that unpaved road next time… my knees weren’t happy with me after my descent!
I’m surely going to miss all the hiking available in Korea! Though I must admit I didn’t do it as often as I would have liked, but I thoroughly enjoyed it when I got around to it. I’m sorry to hear about your fall on the way down. That sounds so scary especially because you were alone! Glad you were fine and were able to continue making your way down.
Yeah, the fall wasn’t too bad, to be honest, it was just scary landing on my leg like that. I’m so paranoid about reinjuring it!
That hike looks easy, based on the pictures of the trails. I’ve only been to Bukhansan and Gwanaksan. Would you go back there during the autumn season? I think the view will be better. 🙂
Btw, I want that jacuzzi tub!
Definitely! I’d love to go when the reeds are really in bloom, it’s supposed to be gorgeous. I’m sure it’s quite a bit more crowded then, though.
Hi Nathan, thanks for posting about this beautiful hike! I love to go hiking and I actually live in Ulsan so I am definitely going to try this one! I’ve also hiked Munsu mountain in Ulsan which is a great place to hike. You’ll have to try that one next time! Thanks for the information on a great new hiking trail! The view looks amazing!
Yeah, I’ll have to get to Munsu next time! I’ve only been to Ulsan twice, so don’t know the area very well. Let me know if you get to Ulsan and check it out!
I have friends here who are always on the lookout for a good hike. But I’m not much of a hiker so I just join them for some leisurely stroll::-)… Your post reminds me though to blog about our hike to Gwanaksan. I was exhausted but my sons tremendously enjoyed it! I hope your leg is ok now.
Thanks, Wendy! Whereabouts is Gwanaksan? I haven’t heard of it before… Glad your sons enjoyed hiking it, though 😉
I think I’ve read this three times by now haha. Beautiful post and I can’t get enough of the pictures. Actual blue sky?! I resonate strongly with what you said about feeling the absence of mountains. I’m from Washington State and grew up hiking the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. Regardless of the time of year the mountains were calling to be hiked and I miss hearing that beckoning.
Of course, we do have “mountains” around Seoul to hike but it’s hard to compare these to the snow covered peaks of back home.
Sounds like a trip down to Sinbulsan is in order!
No way, I’m from Washington State as well! I’m from Mount Vernon in Skagit Valley, haha. We’re pretty lucky to be surrounded by so much natural beauty there… I’ve found few places that compare. It makes going home such a treat! Hope you make it back to the mountains soon 😉
Such a beautiful hike, surprisingly clear skies for korea! That motel is also a lot cuter than my idea of motels here in korea hehe. Hope you have recovered from the falls 🙂
Thank you, Mina! Yeah, that hotel was a nice surprise… I didn’t expect it to be so cozy and clean. I’d definitely go back next time I visit Ulsan!
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Wow! What a place to visit, I wish I would be there in my life. The beautiful nature seems to be the art of God here. Thanks for sharing this post and letting us about this gem of the World.
We used to LOVE booking KTX tickets on the weekend to go hiking somewhere and stay at a cheap love motel for the night! haha We never made it here actually, now I want to come back! Sorry about your injury, hope you start feeling better soon!
Thanks, Megan! Yeah, I love how compact Korea is. So easy to pop over to another area and do some weekend exploring 🙂
I’ve not been to Korea yet Nathan but after seeing your pictures I’d love to visit, and to go for a nice hike there too. My wife spent a week in Korea while teaching English in Hiroshima nearly a decade ago. She loved the place. The people, the culture, and the natural beauty drew her in. I am always down for a nice, vigorous hike.
Thanks for reading, Ryan! Korea is a really beautiful place, but not a lot of people realize how awesome it is for hiking. Hopefully you can make it here someday!