Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dobong Mountain & Mangwol Temple Loop

Dobong Mountain (739.5m) is one of the three most impressive and frequented mountains for climbing within the Seoul region - the other two mountains are Gwanaksan (632m) and Bukhansan (836.5m), and then there is the lesser known Suraksan (637.7). As can be seen on the rabbit-shaped map of the Koreas, though Dobongsan in centrally located on the peninsula, it is located by subway about 30 minutes north of the heart of Seoul in Kyunggi Province.

Korea has 20 national parks, but unfortunately Dobongsan is not included among them. Only Bukhansan in Seoul qualifies as a national park. Looking at this map though, I got excited and remembered my old burning passion to climb every major mountain peak of the national parks before I left Korea. Unbeknownst to me, I've whittled the number to three, possibly two - Juwangsan, Jirisan (although I've been on that mountain soooo many times), and Gyeongju (actually I may have climbed this one but just can't remember). Hmmm, maybe I should pursue my old goal again :) 

Going at a pretty steady pace, a person can actually leave Dobongsan station (dark blue line), steadily climb up to the highest peak and then descend and be back at Dobongsan station in 3 hours flat. But why just go and conquer? There's tons of cool food stalls and home-style restaurants lining the trail, and fresh places to take a break, dip feet in the streams, and just relax. Ah, the mountains with a book ... yes, I had one! And yes, I read a few chapters after getting to the temple.

I don't know the meaning of Dobong but it is a very steep rock mountain just piled up and piled up and piled up. This is just one angle of a lower peak from the top. It's hard to get the real perspective of how rough it is though. Notice the spreading of Seoul in the smoggy background. This is a southeast angle shot, so it's obvious Seoul is spreading like a fungus across the lower lands and encroaching up in the foothills.

At the peak. Yep, it's quite narrow and unlike other peaks actually has low hand-rails because of the sheerness of the drop on all sides, and because it's absolutely THICK WITH PEOPLE up here on weekends and holidays! I've noticed some new hand-rails since my last assault on the mountain two years ago.

Mangwol Temple. By descending via the Mangwol Temple route, maybe another hour is added to the loop. For those particularly gung-ho, they can ridge walk. I've done that a few times in the past, and love it. It's a total body workout with an extremely steep rocky trail that snakes around the mountain and has a metal bar for people to cling to. I've heard also that every year someone slips and dies there. Not too surprised, because that stretch of treachery is (my guess) 0.2km long - and that's where the total body workout comes in! That area really should be for one-way traffic as using the bar and snaking up through some of the narrow areas is madness with two-way traffic ... but then not many people go up that route; it's pretty demanding. By the time I got to the highest peak, I was completely soaked, a bit tired and just wanted to sit down and read my book. I took the smaller loop down, past Mangwol Temple.

Mangwol Temple was first constructed in 639 when Queen Seondeok ruled Silla in the Three Kingdoms Period. The name is a reflection of the time period, literally! Mang means to look and wol is a shortened reference for Wolsung, which was the name of Kyungju at the time, that is, a reference to the capital of the Silla. So the temple was a look or reflection of Wolsung and was thought to be built with the prayers that the Three Kingdoms would one day be united.

The temples over the centuries has been destroyed many times, and the Korean War saw it totally demolished - not surprising since it stands on a pivotal peak between the two sides and controls the surrounding valleys. It also has a fresh water spring providing one of the essentials for survival. Since the Korean War it has been reconstructed and over the years added to many times. Mangwol temple was once one of the most famous temples of the Jogye Order, but some fame and recognition has been returning to it since building a Zen meditation center in 1983. My clothes were totally soaked from climbing in the humidity so I didn't go inside any of the buildings, even though the one piece of art I wanted to see was the three-headed Buddha (Gobuwon) painted about 1600.

Down the back trails of Mangwol-sa was a huge placard announcing the home of Um Hong Gil. He had lived at his house (there was a tiny foundation shell of concrete left) for 37 years (1963-2000) with Dobong mountain at his back door and where he trained as a mountain climber. In 2004 Um Hong Gil was "nominated as a city ambassador for his astonishing achievement in mountain climbing."

He was the first man in the world to reach the 16 peaks of the Himalayan mountains and made a new world record. That's very impressive by itself, but with Koreans loving the "biggest, most, best", that accomplishment makes Um Hong Gil a NATIONAL HERO!

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