As spring is well under way in Korea, we decided that last weekend would be a perfect to get back into hiking following our holidays. After some waffling we settled on Mohusan, in Hwasun county, as our destination. This mountain is in an out-of-the-way part of Jeollanam-do and we set off with almost no idea how to get there. It is located near Jogyesan Provincial Park, which we climbed last year. (you can read about that trip here) Our lack of knowledge was not for lack of trying. Blake had called the tourist information line, but had been informed that there were no buses running from Hwasun to Mohusan and that we would have to take a cab. This makes little sense as there are several villages around the mountain and almost everywhere in Korea is serviced by bus, however infrequent. He was also told there were no buses from Gwangju to Hwasun and we would have to take the train. Having already ridden said non-existent bus, we took everything they said with a couple kilos of salt.
We met our friend Melanie at Usquare and caught the 9:10 bus to Hwasun. From there, following information found on google maps, we headed to a nearby city bus stop to catch the 217 to Yuma-sa (Yuma temple) which is at the start of the Mohusan trail network. Unfortunately, when we got on the bus and asked if it went to Yuma-sa we were given a very firm no. Back to the pavement. Eventually we took the Korean Tourism people’s advice and caught a cab. Bad choice. That ride, which smelled faintly of cleaning supplies and ginseng, cost us a little over 30,000₩!
But we did get where we were going and were greeted by a very friendly tourist information guy. He was an older man but spoke a surprising amount of English. He explained that there was a shuttle that brings people up to the mountain at set times, but we were unable to understand where in Hwasun it stops. Our plan was to catch it on the way back so we could figure that part out. We signed the guest book, got our complimentary wet napkins, and headed up the trail.
For the first several kilometres the trail is wide enough for two or three people to walk abreast. It loops around above the temple and heads up the creek into the mountains. From this main trail, smaller trails branch off to the right, ascending the various lesser peaks in the range which can eventually connect to the main summit. We opted to head straight up the creek valley. Because of the delay getting started, we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the little shelters along the way. There were three other Korean hikers also having lunch and as soon as they saw us pull out our kimbap triangles sans kimchi, they shuffled over to share their’s with us. The lady explained, using gestures, English, and Korean, that the kimbap would be too dry on its own, and that therefore we needed to eat kimchi with it. There was no saying no, especially since one of the ladies had made it herself. All the sharing is one of the great things about hiking in Korea. Just remember to always bring something shareable to return the favour!
After lunch, we continued up the valley. Several kilometres in, the creek petered out and we ascended to a low pass between the main peak and a lower peak. Here we encountered the thing that makes this hike somewhat less spectacular than we had hoped: all the construction. They are building some sort of tramway along the ridges up to the peak where they have an observatory (we think) that is also relatively new-looking. All this work meant that the ridgeline that we climbed was pretty chewed up and had a construction road right alongside the trail. Kinda took away from the experience a bit.
Partway up the ridge to the summit we stopped on a false peak to relax and enjoy the view. Once thing Mohusan really has going for it is how few people seem to hike it. Once we got to the summit, the views on three sides (those not blocked by the observatory) were pretty great. Hwasun is a farming area and on all sides we could see where forests became gardens and then fields at the foot of the mountains. East of the mountain is a huge reservoir, and across the water you can see Jogyesan and the surrounding mountains. Sadly, everything is pretty hazy – it’s yellow dust season in Korea – so the view further out was not that great. It played hell with photos as well.
We did not stay on the summit long before we headed over the steep drop-off on the far side and walked a narrow ridge to Jung Bong (Jung Peak). This was a pretty short hop skip and a jump, but we broke for tea in the little clearing there. It was while we were settled in here that Tamara’s phone rang. When we don’t recognize the number we ignore it, but this person kept calling back. She finally answered and it turned out it was the man from tourist information. He had offered to drive us back to Hwasun if we had problems with the shuttle, but he was in the process of leaving. He wanted to find out where we were. Tamara assured him that we would be OK and he should leave without us. After all, we were still on the top of one of the peaks and not likely to make the base in the 15 minutes before he departed. Super nice of him though! They were so friendly.
From Jung Bong it is possible to continue along the ridge line to yet another peak and then descend from there, but, as it was already after 4:00 and we were not sure how we would get back to town, we decided to head down into the valley straight away. This is not to say that we hurried. The descent was one of the best parts of the hike as far as we are concerned. After the first drop down we hit a little creek, complete with a broken down bridge, and followed it down into the main valley. This creek is gorgeous! It is all toboggan style waterfalls and tempting little pools. We stopped for many a photo op and even took the opportunity to soak our feet in one of the rather chilly pools. While we would probably not bother with the summit again, we both agree that it might be worth a return visit just to bring a book and lounge by this creek. It was so nice to have just the sound of the creek and no city sounds to compete with it.
We eventually arrived at the parking lot to find it completely deserted. There were some people working in nearby gardens, but it was pretty clear they were residents. The last place we saw a bus stop was where the road turned off the main highway – 5 clicks further down the mountain. So off we went. Partway down, what should emerge heading up the mountain but a 217 bus. The very number of bus whose driver had told us did not go to Mohusan! We then began a game of cat and mouse. We were about halfway between the base of the mountain, where the bus must stop, and the highway. Although we were fairly certain the driver would stop if we flagged him, you never know in Korea, so we continued heading towards the highway at a healthy pace on the off chance we might beat him to that stop and ensure our ride out of there. Because the road is super windy we developed a system where we left a spotter on the uphill side of a blind corner while the other two head down until there was a straight stretch where we (and the oncoming bus driver) could see again. In the end, we got about 3/4 of the way down before the bus overtook us. Thankfully, he was good enough to stop. It’s possible that Melanie’s very deep bow, Tamara making a heart with her arms, or Blake’s frantic waving might have tipped the odds in our favour. Regardless, we were headed home. In just under an hour, the 217 dumped us off in Hwasun and we headed for the bus station, Gwangju, and home.
The final assessment: Mohusan’s summit was not all that, but the trails along the creeks were really nice. It is a bit difficult to get to, which of course means there are fewer hikers. A big plus in our books. Ultimately, even though it was a great day, it’s not high on our list of return-to places.
Mohusan Logistics: Getting There and Away
You can catch a bus from Gwangju to Hwasun. Apparently there is also an occasional direct bus to Mohusan. The stop may be called Yuma-sa (the temple where the hike starts) so look for both.
Once in Hwasun, the 217 bus does go up to that area. It is possible that not every 217 bus goes all the way in to Yumasa, but it only adds about 5KM to the hike and there is a riverside trail up to the temple and the main trailhead. That, or you can hitch-hike (beg a ride) in, which was suggested to us when the tourist information guy called to say that he was leaving. A taxi from Hwasun is going to run you just over 30,000 won compared to 2,300 ea. for the bus so if you leave early, the bus is probably worth the risk. Regardless, it is going to take the better part of two hours to get from Gwangju to Mohusan.
The hike itself is not that difficult. You can do several different loops from the Yumasa end, or you can hike straight through the range and come out in Yucheon-ri and Dunbok-Myeon. There is at least one minbak and one pension on the Yuma-sa side and there appears to be accommodation options on the north side as well, although we can’t say for certain. The pension near Yumasa looks new.