Jirisan is the second tallest mountain in South Korea after Jeju’s Hallasan. It stands at 1915m (6,283 feet for my fellow Americans.) We undertook the traverse in 3 days – although if you’re a very fit, avid hiker, it could be done over a weekend with a little planning and two very long days.
There are a number of logistics that should be sorted out prior to embarking. Within the Jirisan National Park, there are a number of mountain lodges where you must stay and you need a reservation. The Korean National Park Service website (https://reservation.knps.or.kr…) is available in English and is very easy to navigate and includes a wealth of information. You need to create an account to make a shelter reservation and be warned – the shelters book up fast! Thankfully, I was waiting at my computer on the day when reservations were set to open and I was able to make a reservation. Consult the website to find out when the first day is that you can make reservations. Shelters have electricity, but no hot water, showers, beds or plumbing. Reservations are 9,000 won/night. You can rent a blanket for an additional 2,000 won. We stayed at Nogodan shelter our first night and Seseok shelter our second night. Nogodan also included a sleeping mat in the price of the blanket rental, Seseok did not. I recommend bringing an eye mask and earplugs to get a good night’s sleep – the sound of a hundred Korean men snoring could easily be mistaken for a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All shelters have clean your drinking water. I carried two liters with me at all times.
Be prepared to carry three days’ worth of food, as the shelters have very limited goods for sale – not much aside from precooked rice and chocolate pies. Daiso, HomePlus and local grocery stores sell Otoggi brand instant meals, including many meat options – meatballs, sweet and sour chicken etc. They are precooked, come in a sealed plastic pouch and can be eaten cold. They are a quick, lightweight meal. Jjimjilbang eggs are another good and lightweight source of protein. I brought cans of tuna as well. In addition to my protein, I brought three bowls of precooked rice and I made a gallon sized bag of trail mix with lots of nuts and dried fruits. While we opted to bring ready-to-eat foods, nearly all Koreans had butane burners, pots, pans and an insane amount of food. It sure was a sight to see samgyeopsal being grilled at 1500m! I can guarantee the tradeoff for eating cold food for three days and having a lighter backpack is well worth it. As it was, I carried 12kg (26 lbs) and that was heavy enough! In addition to food, water and clothes, I carried toilet paper, a headlamp (3000 won at Daiso), a camping mat (5000 won at Daiso) and my cell phone charger.
We departed for Namwon from Seobu Bus Terminal (Seongdangmot on the red line) at 9:40. The first bus of the day departs at 7:55 and there are only a few buses each day, about every two hours. We arrived in Namwon just after 11:00 and had two hours until our second bus to Hwaeomsa (Temple). We ate lunch, hydrated and I bought a 3,000 won Jirisan map bandana complete with hike times between the mountain shelters and summits. It proved to be very helpful and not to mention, it made for a memorable souvenir! There are only five daily buses that depart Namwon for Hwaeomsa starting at 7:40 about every three hours. Our bus departed at 1:15 and we rode until the last stop where we were the only two left on the bus. Make your way to the temple just up the road from where the bus drops you off. The trail starts on the right side of the temple complex. This is the worst marked part of the entire trip and you may need to ask a monk or two for directions. You’ll need to cross over a bridge to get to the trailhead.
The traverse is not easy – it’s very undulating and there are a number of ropes and lots of rocks. Day 1 is a steep four hour ascent to Nogodan. Day 2, we departed at 4:30 a.m. and hiked 20km to Seseok. With breaks it took just over 10 hours. Day 3, we departed at 6:00 a.m. and ascended the highest peak before immediately descending 4km down one of the steepest trails I’ve ever hiked. We ended at Jungsan-ri where we took a bus to Jinju at 12:15 before continuing on to Seobu Bus Terminal in Daegu where we arrived at about 4:00 p.m. The four bus trips will be about 50,000 won total. Overall, we hiked about 20 hours over the course of the three days. The views are stunning, the hikers are nice and it’s a welcome escape from city life!
Written and photographed by Lindsay Mickles