A Short Sail and Rugged Hike Ends With a Mountain View
Spring is one of the best times of the year to head to the mountains for fresh air and wide vistas; however, it is also a hazardous time of the year for Korea's wooded hills, easy victims of the efficient kindling left behind as winter recedes. Particularly well-loved tracks are often closed to minimize fire risks posed by the multitudes of visitors. To prevent mountain blazes, authorities often operate strict visitor quotas and open tracks on rotation.
The restrictions force hiking devotees (of which there are many in Korea) to find alternative walking and climbing locations, and often these are Korea's mountainous islands, where forest fires pose less of a threat.
Mount Chirimang set on one of the twin Saryang islands in the administrative region of Tongyeong city in South Kyongsang province, is becoming a favorite destination for hikers. The name of the mountain is taken from Mount Chiri, one of Korea's tallest ranges, which towers 1,915 meters, and mang, which means "view" in Korean. Indeed, if on a clear day you climb to the ridge of Mount Chirimang and look north, you will be rewarded with the beautiful sight of the misted peaks of Mount Chiri.
Mount Chirimang is a great getaway for climbers of all levels － from amblers to ridge-walkers. The mountain is thus quite well-known among climbers in Kyongsang and Cholla provinces even though at 398 meters it is dwarfed by Mount Halla on Cheju Island,which rises to 1,950 meters, Seong-in-bong on Ulreung Island at 984 meters high and Mt. Mani on Ganghwa Island at 486 meters high.
A trip to Mount Chirimang is entertaining because it combines a sea cruise with mountain hiking. And the scenery on the way to the Saryang isles is so spectacular that the journey is in itself a reason to take the trip. It takes about 50 minutes from Samcheonpo port in South Kyongsang province, or an hour from the passenger ship terminal in Tongyeong city, to Donji wharf on the island.
The best climbing course on the island begins at Donji wharf. It takes about half an hour to walk from the wharf to the main ridge of Mount Chirimang, where climbers can expect a nice view of the island-dotted ocean. From the ridge to the top of the mountain takes about an hour. The course then continues to Mount Bulmo, 399 meters high, Oknyeobong, a huge rock peak, 306 meters high, and then finally to Jinchon village. The height of the entire course does not exceed 400 meters, which may not seem very high to some hikers, but it takes about five hours to complete and can be very challenging. Along the course, there are many rocky ridges and narrow tracks through woods. The course between Mount Bulmo and Oknyeobong has many narrow paths over sharp rocks that can be tricky to traverse. And the 10-meter climb up the rock face to Oknyeobong, dangling on the end of a rope, is not for the fainthearted. The natural combination of these ridges and tracks is so challenging that climbers who take the course seldom complain of experiencing even a moment of boredom.
Beginners are better off following the track located on the right side of the Oknyeobong and descending. People who do not want to complete the entire course and wish to stop either at Mount Chirimang or Mount Bulmo can walk down to Okdong village and take a local bus from there to Jinchon village. It takes just five minutes and costs 700 won (50 cents).
Everyday, the vessel "Ilsinho" runs twice from Samcheonpo port to Donji wharf. The price of a one-way ticket is 3,000 won. The vessel departs at 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Some excursion ships also sail to the island from the passenger ship terminal in Tongyeong city.
For a timetable, call Samcheonpo port at 055-832-5033 or the terminal at 055-645-2307 (Korean service only).
by Kim Sae-joon