Songnisan Hiking, Sunday 23rd October 2011

Jen and I had been to a football match at Cheongju on the Saturday afternoon and as Songnisan National Park isn’t too far away we decided to head there afterwards and do a bit of hiking. I’d been to Songnisan for a weekend earlier in the year and on the first day had taken the trail to Mungjangdae. I had planned to hike up to Cheonhwangbong the following day but there had been a lot of ice on the ground and a snapped crampon had prevented me from getting any further than half–way up.

Songnisan - Feb 2011.

In the autumn though, there is no need for crampons and so I took the opportunity to have another crack at the 1,058m Cheonhwangbong peak. We got the bus from Cheongju, arriving at Songnisan an hour and a half later at about 6pm. Last time I’d been there the place was deserted, most of the hotels and restaurants were closed and the main street looked like a ghost town. This time though the place was heaving with people. Unbeknown to us Songnisan was holding its ‘Festival of Falling Leaves’ which is an excuse for a couple of thousand people to descend upon what is pretty much a one street town to drink soju and eat pancakes whilst appreciating the surrounding foliage.

The consequence of all of this nature study was that hotel room prices had doubled. On the plus side though it did mean that there were plenty of places to eat. We didn’t watch much of the concert that was taking place at one end of the street, but we did have some seafood pancakes and dongdongju. If you’ve never had dongdongju, it’s like moonshine makgeolli. As makgeolli is pretty much moonshine anyway, that makes dongdongju a sort of moonshine moonshine. It was quite drinkable though.

It's not quite Glastonbury, but still a decent turnout.

Next morning we set off early and were in the National Park not long after eight o’clock. There were a lot of people milling around but fortunately most of them were either following the trail up to Mungjangdae or were content with visiting the big statue at Beopjusa temple near to the entrance to the park.


The path up to Cheonhwangbong was fairly quiet, or it least it was for most of the way. As we got to about twenty minutes away from the peak we met the hikers who were doing a loop from Mungjangdae and those who had made an even earlier start than us and who were on their way down. This meant that the single file path became crowded to the extent that we had to keep stopping to let people coming down get past and those behind us who wanted to run to the top to get by.

We reached the peak after about three and a quarter hours and eight kilometres of walking. The first five kilometres had been pretty flat and we’d covered that section of the trail in about an hour, with the final three kilometres being pretty steep and taking the remainder of the time. There were probably about twenty people at the top when we arrived and there was barely room to sit down.

At the top of Cheonhwangbong.

We hung about for ten minutes or so looking down on the clouds and the surrounding mountains. If you could find a view that wasn’t obscured by a couple of Koreans gurning for the camera then it was worth looking at.

Above the clouds.

Because of the wet leaves on the ground the descent took almost as long as going up did and whilst it was easier on the lungs and muscles it was murder on my knees. We were back at the bus station for about quarter past two though and were able to catch the next bus to Seoul. They run every ninety minutes or so but you can’t pre-book them and once each bus is full it sets off. Our bus departed about twenty minutes before it was meant to.

Songnisan to Seoul bus timetable

So, I’ve hiked Songnisan with the crowds and I’ve hiked it when it’s covered in snow and ice. I think I’d like to try to make my next visit sometime when it’s quiet but solid underfoot. There’s probably a three-hour slot sometime on a Wednesday afternoon in April when it might just be like that.

2 Responses to “Songnisan Hiking, Sunday 23rd October 2011”

  1. Cogstar Says:

    Nice cloud inversion

  2. onthetrailofthelionking Says:

    I did think there might be a proper name for it.

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