Silvergrass habitat at Mujangbong Peak






Silvergrass habitat at Mujangbong Peak


           


Take the side road from Bomun Lake Resort and follow a winding mountain road until you reach the village of Amgok. You’ll find the hiking trail to Mujangbong Peak on Mt. Dongdaebong, a well-known spot for fall excursions that is becoming a popular attraction in Gyeongju. The top of Mujangbong Peak used to be home to a big ranch called Orion Mokjang (stock farm). In the 1990s, this area was designated as a water supply protection area. The farm was closed down, and about ten years ago, they started planting the wide grassy land with silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis, similar in appearance to pampas grass). Thus, as the large silvergrass habitat came into existence, it became a Mecca for hikers from all over. I climbed up to that area where silvery waves of grass are swaying.
  




There was a classic autumn sky, high, clear, and expansive, without a single speck to mar it. On this characteristic blue-skied, sunny autumn day, it was incredibly brisk and fresh in the morning. On a day like this, the perfect temperature and a perfect amount of wind, it would’ve been a crime not to go for a hike in the mountains, so I promptly loaded myself onto a bus headed for Amgok. Although it was a weekday morning, hikers were lining up to see the magnificent autumn scenery on Mujangbong Peak.





Once you reach the end of the local bus route and get off at Wangsan Ma-eul (왕산마을), keep walking for about 10 or 15 minutes to reach the park entrance where the trailhead is located. Not far from the bus stop, there is a parking lot for Mujangbong Peak. To alleviate parking woes during the height of the autumn hiking season, from October to mid-November the city of Gyeongju runs a shuttle on weekends from the Ijou Village complex in Amgok-dong to the bus terminus in Wangsan Ma-eul (왕산마을). However, this shuttle runs only on Saturdays and Sundays. 


Mujangbong Peak shuttle
Period of operation (2012):
Oct. 1 – Nov. 18
Hours:
Saturdays, Sundays, holidays
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.




01 | Departure



Since Mt. Dongdaebong, the home of Mujangbong Peak, is right beside Mt. Toham, it is part of the Mt. Toham District, a national park in Gyeongju. At the rest area of the park entrance, I got down to business preparing for my hike. And then the hiking began in earnest. 




After a short hike, the course forks off into two trails. The trail to the left of the signpost is a more gently sloping trail that follows the ravine, while the trail on the right leads to a harder, steeper path, though the distance to the top of Mujangbong Peak is shorter. As I passed middle-aged hikers deliberating over which trail to take, I promptly chose the easier and less steep trail. 


TIP: Two different trails
Gentle trail following the ravine: Distance to peak is 5.3km. After a hike of about 2km, you reach the three-storied stone pagoda of the Mujangsa temple site.
Steeper trail: Distance to peak is 3.1km. About halfway up, you reach a chestnut habitat, full of chestnut trees. I took this trail on the way down, and found out that it has a severe slope. If, like me, you are not a confident and strong hiker, I strongly advise taking the easier, gently-sloping trail.





Here I am walking while looking at a fresh stream of pure Grade A water flowing among the rocks. The gently-sloping trail is even easier than you’d expect. You can hike at a relaxing pace. ^^ But there are some rocky sections along the trail, and you also have to cross the stream using stepping stones, so be careful not to twist your ankle~



On the hike, you can find detailed and interesting signboards like these, explaining the natural ecology of Mt. Dongdaebong. They describe the fish that live in the stream, the world of beneficial insects, and ‘flagship’ species (iconic species chosen to represent the local ecology). These signboards added an unexpected pleasure during the long mountain hike.




02 | Mujangsa Site


After hiking for just under one hour, I encountered a wooden bridge leading to the Mujangsa temple site.




This stone pagoda, situated deep in the ravine of Mujangbong Peak, is the three-storied stone pagoda at the site of the former Mujangsa temple. This temple site was discovered after a commemorative stone stele describing the Amitabha statue of Mujangsa was found at another site not far from here. Judging from the carved eye pattern on one of its tiers, this pagoda is thought to date back to around the 9thcentury.  




“Mujang” means “armaments,” and legend holds that Mujangsa temple was so named because Silla King Taejong Muyeol buried weapons and helmets in this area after unifying the Three Kingdoms.





03 | A sky close enough to touch


Now the slope is gradually steepening. Although it’s not terribly steep, I can’t seem to avoid running out of breath. After you pass through the woods, as if to allow you to catch your breath, there is a broad expanse of highlands once used as land for cattle grazing. The silvergrass that is starting to appear is pleasingly fuzzy and plump, basking in the autumn sunshine.






The sky that had seemed so high and far above me now appears to be almost close enough to touch, like a mirage, if I just reach out my hand. Just one more hill and I bet I can touch it. The closer the sky comes towards me, the closer I am to the top. 




04 | At the summit of Mujangbong Peak


I always find the stretch just before the summit to be the hardest part of any hike, but that is not the case today.
I’m following this well-worn path to the top.
My body is borne by the dazzling white waves of silvergrass on either side.
I feel like I might be blinded.






I ascended to the summit of Mujangbong Peak, altitude 624 meters, after a hike of just over three hours. Standing on the observation platform at the top, wow~ I behold literally breathtaking scenery, a fantastic view.








05 | Descending the mountain


Out of curiosity, I took the steeper, more difficult trail on the way down. The trail slopes very severely. Going down was a lot tougher than going up. Nevertheless, I consoled myself by thinking of how I would have missed this dense stand of chestnut trees and the splendid sight of these colorful autumn leaves.







 Bonus feature: Mt. Dongdaebong minari (water dropwort) area
Around the parking area of Mujangbong Peak, there is minari growing everywhere, a fresh green known as water dropwort.’ This general area is a sort of minari complex, promoted by GyeongjuAgricultural Technology Center. I bought a bundle of fresh minari on the way down and presented it to my mother. ^^ The price is about 7,000-8,000 won per bundle. Not only can you buy fresh minari, but you can also enjoy eating it with samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly). Minari-jeon (fried minari pancake) is also supposed to be a delicious specialty here. 




Epilogue
Because the descent was so tough, my legs felt like they weighed a ton. My soles are sore with blisters. But the waves of silvergrass at the top of Mujangbong Peak made me forget all those aches and pains.
Try hiking up to the top when the silvergrass is at its peak, before it’s too late. I recommend it strongly. 


Silvergrass habitat of Mujangbong Peak, not to be missed.
How to get there (public transportation):
To hike up to Mujangbong Peak, start by taking Bus No. 18. Since the bus only comes every two hours, be sure to check the bus schedule ahead of time. Get off at the final stop, Wangsan Ma-eul (왕산마을). After getting off the bus, continue along the road until you reach the hiking trail.
Time:
4-5 hours minimum; plan on 5-6 hours if you want a leisurely hike.


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