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!