Hiking, Korea, Mountains
Comments 17

Taking Tiger Mountain by Stealth: Mt Geumjeong, Evening

Hi, all. Well, it’s Friday night in the big city — and here in Jangyu as well — and here I am at home typing a blog entry. I might have to prepare a cup of chamomile tea soon to stave off the wildness before I annoy the neighbours.

Speaking of neighbours, my landlady (is that term still current?) lives next door. Tonight she came knocking bearing mountains of fruit and my latest power bill. She always softens the blow with fruit, always way too much in proportion to the blow. Tonight it was a bunch of bananas and three enormous nashi-type apples. It might be a Korean custom. “Tomorrow ok?” I always ask — in English. It always is.

The old gate in the park at the bottom

Anyway, after finishing that monumental Busan-to-Sokcho saga, here I am undertaking another multi-post series. Sorry. This one is just three posts. Actually, the backlog of tales to type up is daunting. I could churn out at least 30 if I had the time or will, and that’s just Korean ones. I’ll attempt to throw in some Japan and America stories too. I think I’m running out of Switzerland; will have to do something about that.

The flood of my previous visit had subsided pleasantly

This one’s from not long before my big walk. You remember Geumjeongsanseong — Mt Geumjeong Fortress — the old stone walls and gates on the ridge overlooking Busan? I’d made two visits, a sunny winter one that worked, and a summer-afternoon one in a downpour that didn’t. Well, this was visit number three, and it was great: a climb up in the afternoon, a night stealth-camping next to the wall, and a descent with a very pleasant discovery the next day.

I’ve blown 300 words on that intro, which might be pushing it, so I’ll stick mainly to pictures…


I started late but the days were long. No cable car this time. The climb to the ridge was steep but rewarding, with this beautiful stop not far up:

A spring just below the Tiger Man

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the carved figure below is San-Shin, (“Mountain God”) a shaman-deity commonly found in old paintings in Korean temples. This one, of course, isn’t painted, and the nearest temples or hermitages are a decent walk away. Still, there’s the old bearded man and the tiger, the essential components:


I’m all for biodiversity but I’m grateful tigers are no longer hazards in the Korean hills. I suspect my hiking would suffer.

The paintings of the Mountain God all follow the same basic pattern. Pictured is an old man seated with, or sometimes on, a tiger. Because tigers were a constant threat in mountainous areas, their ferocity came to be associated with powerful spirits. The Mountain God is not exclusively the old man or the tiger, rather he is both. Perhaps the tiger’s presence also suggests the close relationship in geomancy between mountains and tigers ~ What is Korean Buddhism? *

Ansel Adams-esque pine with a view of Busan

The fringes of Busan

Paths & Greenness

Up on the ridge after a fast hour-and-a-bit, I lost some time following the wall west, trying to find a little temple I’d read about. No luck, and light was fading. The wall, you’ll remember, loops along the crest, with reconstructed gates at the four compass points. I gave up that quest and headed east…

Wall adjoining a fortress gate

Busan receding into dusk

As in Japan, these fearsome beetles and their kin are popular pets in Summer:

A soldier on foot patrol

I was pretty much alone up there, just the odd straggler making their way down. I’d decided to sleep out near the wall to get a feeling for the place — technically illegal, I’m sure, but I didn’t see any signs expressly forbidding it, so…

With dusk, a breeze from the coast began wafting low cloud over the ridge.

Weird light as the low cloud rolled in at dusk

I was racing along now, with a vague destination in mind and some way to go.

Heading east in fading light, a glimpse of wall

The well-worn ridge path

Very otherworldly up there in dense fog/cloud, with boulders, fences and sections of wall revealing themselves, then disappearing again…

My campsite, the lefthand edge of that outcrop

I was grateful for this sheltered nook in a wedge between rock and just enough wall to deflect most of the breeze. It was still warm, fortunately, as I’d brought no sleeping bag, just a liner and a light bivy if worse came to worst. It didn’t.

The cloud drifting in from the sea was wet enough to drench the nearby tree, but I stayed dry and didn’t need my tarp. Dinner was a glorious al fresco feast of bakery items, wondering about the builders and soldiers of times long past who’d sat and eaten in the same place; entertainment was courtesy of the iPhone music collection, briefly, and then the silence, the spooky mist, the breeze and the simple pleasure of solitude and peace.

It was a beautiful night, up there with the Mountain God, the breeze a soothing caress snaking over the ancient wall. I was woken once by a small group of cyclists (!) working its way along the ridge, oblivious to the hobo hunkered down in the lee of these fortifications, natural and manmade, their lights quickly swallowed by the cloud…

Shelter between wall and outcrop

* For more on San-Shin, try these excellent sources:



~ And that’s all the Goat wrote



  1. NOMADICLES says

    I have never heard of Mt. Geumjeong. San Shin Grandpa, like we used to call it, I have, many variations of him. Even though he is supposed to protect us, as a kid in Korea I always hoped that it would be a tiger that I would encounter on my hikes, not the old spirit. He’s not creepy like Santa Claus, but he definitely seems like he wouldn’t tolerate any bad behaviors.

  2. Wow! I especially like this group of photos — and the music, too. The shelter between wall and outcrop self-portrait is quite good. Thanks for the links to more information about San-Shin.

    There is a Korean War Children’s Memorial in Bellingham, just up the street from where I live. Looking at all the temples at Dale’s Korean Temple Adventure reminded me.


    • Ah, nice. One or two of that multitude of posts I mentioned that I need to write will be about the UN cemetery in Busan.

      I also have a fair number of pictures of San-Shin from his more traditional location on temple building walls.

  3. This is a particularly beguiling hike, judging from these photos. Gorgeous scenery, few people, no litter and cool ancient structures and folklore. Nomadicles’s comment made me smile. Santa creepy? I never used to think of him that way but my daughter insists he is and she sings these well-known lines in a sinister voice:
    “He sees you when you’re sleeping,
    He knows when you’re awake.
    He knows if you’ve been good or bad,
    So be good for goodness’s sake.”
    Yep, I’d choose San Shin every time.

    • HA! Loved it! But it raises so many questions: Is that Bob’s real hair? Did I just hear the words Bush and Nixon in a Christmas song? And who else but Bob could make the seemingly joyous so loveably dour?

  4. Not sure what happened to this post at my end, as it never loads properly? I’ve tried it a few times, so I can only assume the Santa business has put a curse on it! Anyway, this is a nice post and you’ve got the prose sorted. If you wrote some books I’d read them!

    • Oh, dear…not sure. I’m trying to put fewer photos on each post to make the loading easier…sometimes these things are just jinxed.

      But yes, I shouldn’t have bagged Santa. He never forgets.

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