Mt. Mudeung, one of the biggest mountains in the Jeolla province, is just under 1200 meters to the tallest peak, Cheonwang-bong (King of Heaven Peak). The two smaller peaks are Jiwang-bong (King of Earth Peak) and Inwang-bong (King of Men Peak). Progress has been deemed more important than timeless natural scenery, and you will find that massive communication towers dot various peaks and pierce the view. Hiking access is even blocked to the very top of King of Heaven Peak as a result. Getting to the top was confusing for us because we started at Jeungshim Temple. Several trails begin here and intertwine at various points along the mountain. So depending on the route you take, a 2 hour hike to the summit could easily become 4 or 5. A friend wrote down “top” on a piece of paper so we could ask for directions, but this seemed only to confuse people. One Korean, totally confused by our lack of hiking gear, laughed when we showed him the hackneyed description of where we were trying to go, and motioned for us to turn around and go back down. “Screw him,” we thought. “It’s a friggin’ mountain.. let’s just find a trail that goes up and see where it takes us.” Actually, not a bad strategy for Mudeung, although we ended up at one of the smaller peaks 2.5km from where we intended on being.
Our second attempt, one week later, we simply went right instead of going left at one of the intersections, and found an almost direct route to the top.
From Jeungshim-Sa (증심사), go to Jungmeorijae (중머리재) . This is a flat spot 2.3km up, where you’ll find someone selling ice cream (if the weather’s right). The main trails have a lot of stairs, so we veered off into the woods and hiked up to Tokkideung then looped back over. It was longer, but more scenic and less crowded.
Take Jungmeorijae to Jangbuljae (장불재): We thought this was the top because it was so hard to get here, but really there’s another 1.5km to go. For the top, look for Seoseokdae (사삭대). If you really want to push yourself, take the Jungbong path to the summit. It’s 1km of narrow trail and stairs that go straight up the mountain. We ended up taking this path down from the summit not knowing how steep it really was, which wreaked havoc on my knees.
At the top we found amass of Koreans enjoying picnics and taking pictures. We sat next to one group of about ten middle-aged Koreans who were drinking Soju and pounding beers. “Are these guys fucking serious?” I remember thinking. Better whip out the ol’ can-o-SPAM and show these suckers how America gets down after a long hike. This proved too much for the locals. “Look Jay. She’s watching you eat your fucking gross SPAM and telling the others. And now they’re looking at us and laughing…” Upon glancing up from my can of finely cured meat, I found that they were indeed looking directly at me. So I waved…. Then came more laughter. Moments later, one of them held up what looked like a huge burrito wrapped in aluminum foil and said, “Korean hamburger”. He walked over and handed it to me, along with a can of beer, 4 oranges, and a handful of Jalapeno peppers. Guess they figured I was would enjoy a flaming orange hamburger. It sure as hell was NOT hamburger, but looked more like a California roll, and at 1200 meters it tasted great. At sea level, it needed it’s own trash bag. Regardless, I couldn’t thank the Korean hikers enough for their generosity.