Deogyusan isn’t one of the furthest National Parks from Seoul but it’s one of the more awkward places to get to on public transport. As the short winter days don’t leave much time for hiking we thought that we’d do a couple of hours worth of travelling on the Friday night to give us that bit more time the following day.
We caught the train at Seoul, changed at Daejeon and then got off at Yeongdong. It was after ten in the evening when we arrived and I suppose it’s a bit of a gamble in a small town when you are looking for somewhere to sleep at that time of night.
The first place we tried had rooms, but only for that night and we wanted somewhere for the Saturday as well. We moved further away from the station and tried the Dubai Motel. There can’t have been too many billionaire oil sheiks in town that weekend as we were able to pick up a room for forty thousand won a night. It was clean and smart, but let down slightly by the room being as hot as the Middle East and the bed being just as hard as the floor.
The next morning we had to get ourselves firstly to Muju Bus Terminal and then on to the Gucheondong entrance to the park. It all worked out very well. If you come out of the railway station, turn right and then walk for about three hundred yards there’s a bus stop on the same side of the road. You can catch a bus to Muju for 1,150 won. They don’t run that often, I think ours left at 8.30am and the next one may very well have been after ten o’clock.
It took us forty minutes to get to Muju Bus Terminal and from there we caught a bus to Gucheondong. The buses seem to come and go every hour or so, they take thirty minutes and cost 3,900 won.
With very little time spent hanging about we were at the Gucheondong entrance by about ten o’clock. There weren’t many people around although I think that may have been down to the time of year. We were a bit late for the leaves changing colour and maybe slightly early for the main ski season. Whilst there were a few hotels I suspect that a lot of the year they will fill up fairly quickly.
Most of the restaurants seemed to specialise in trout. The ones swimming about in the tanks outside looked too large to be wild, so were probably pellet-fed farmed fish. Shame really, as a genuine wild trout takes some beating.
There were three options for going up to the 1,614m Hyangjeong peak. We discounted the route via Chilbong as that would have brought us out at the ski lift and if anywhere was going to be busy then that was it.
The other two alternatives both went via Baekyeonsa temple. One of them looped around via the 1,594m Jungbong and the other was a more direct but steeper route. We would probably have taken the longer circuit but unfortunately it was closed and so we didn’t have any choice in the matter. There was an excellent sign that not only showed the route and distance but also the gradient along the way.
The route seemed like two separate hikes. Initially we had a six kilometer walk up to the Baekyeonsa temple that followed the river most of the way. With the temperatures having been below freezing earlier in the week there was a lot of ice on the trail. We only gained four hundred metres in altitude over that section though and whilst it was often slippy underfoot it didn’t take too much out of us.
The next section was a different matter with a height gain of six hundred metres over 3.7km. The increased altitude meant a lot of compacted snow on the ground, whilst the increase in gradient resulted in a few staircases and other sections where we had to haul ourselves up using railings. There weren’t many people heading upwards but there were plenty who had taken advantage of the ski lift making their way down.
As we approached the summit we could see a shelter to our left. For those who like to see the sunrise from the top of a hill it would be an ideal place to spend the night.
Three and three-quarter hours after setting off we reached the 1,614m Hyangjeokbong summit. It was fairly busy up there, but when you’ve got a ski-lift carrying people most of the way up that’s to be expected I suppose.
The views were fantastic. We were above the treeline and with barely a cloud in sight we could see for miles. In one direction there were eight or nine ridges stacked up into the distance.
It was pretty cold up there and so we didn’t hang about too long. It’s a steep drop down to the ski-lift three or four hundred metres away at Seolcheong. As we passed the people coming up from the lift we could hear a lot of them complaining about the effort they were having to put in to walk that final stretch. Ungrateful wretches.
The ride down to the bottom cost eight thousand won and took twenty minutes. The resort had just opened for the season that weekend and only one of the slopes was in use. Artificial snow was being sprayed onto the others. The place was busy though, mainly with boarders rather than skiers, and as you can imagine they were all togged up in their best gear.
We warmed up with some drinks, my selection of honey and pine needle tea tasting exactly like I imagine bathroom cleaner would do. We could have hung around for a free shuttle bus back to Muju but couldn’t be bothered to wait in the cold for it. Instead we caught a taxi and then when faced with a lengthy wait at the bus station we took another cab back to Yeongdong.
I reckon we did this walk at a decent time of year. With the leaves having fallen we were able to see through the trees on the way up, whilst there wasn’t that much snow as to make walking difficult. I imagine it will be spectacular later in the year when the river freezes.