The Ancient Shrine on Taebaeksan

A stunted bush will small green leaves amid yellow grass grows slowly on the harsh mountaintop

Taebaek City is one of the highest-altitude major settlements in South Korea, and one of the coldest. It has a popular snow festival.

The map shows that Gangwon province is in northeastern South Korea, and that Taebaek City is in the southern part of Gangwon Province

Near the city is Taebaeksan, which at 1,567 meters above sea level is the #15 highest mountain in South Korea. According to legend, the father of Dangun, the founder of Gojoseon, the first kingdom in Korea, descended from heaven to earth on “Taebaeksan”. Whether the “Taebaeksan” of legend is the same as the “Taebaeksan” in Gangwon province is open to debate, but since all of the other mountains which might be the “Taebaeksan” of legend are in North Korea, this Taebaeksan (in Gangwon) has become the center of Dangun worship in South Korea. You can read more about the legend here.

A bronze statue of Dangun near the entrance of Taebaeksan Provincial Park

A bronze statue of Dangun near the entrance of Taebaeksan Provincial Park

The entrance of the trail to the top of Taebaeksan has a couple of presumably old statues.

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When I arrived at Taebaek, the trees were at the peak of their autumn colors, so during the bus ride to Taebaeksan I saw lots of scenery which looked like this:

Hiills are covered with green, red, and gold, under a white sky and lots of mist

The first section of the trail is really easy – it follows a lovely stream up a valley. The Nakdong river, the longest river on the Korean peninsula, originates in the Taebaek mountains, but I don’t remember if this stream is the actual source of the Nakdong river.

A white stream flows through stones beneath trees without leaves

I arrived at a shrine sitting in the mist. I think I saw a sign saying that it was built in the 1960s, but I’m not sure if I am remembered correctly. In any case, most of the sign was in Korean, so I don’t know what this is supposed to be.

A mysterious Korean shrine in the mist

A close up of a floral pattern on the wooden lattice of the mystery shrine

At some point, you have to cross the stream, then go up steep steps by a cascade which serves as a tributary of the main stream.

A cascade of white water descends some rocks in an autumn forest

After leaving the cascade, there is another steep section going through a wood.

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The path later becomes a bit flatter, though it remains respectably sloped. Eventually, you pass Manggyeongsa Temple (Buddhist) at 1,460 meters above sea level. Next to the temple is a spring which is supposedly the highest-altitude spring in all of South Korea.

Pushing just a bit further on, you reach the peak of Taebaeksan – where you find this:

On the right is a sign which says 'Taebaeksan' in Chinese, and on the left in the in the distance is a stone mound in the mist.

What is that?

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It is an ancient shamanic altar dedicated to Dangun.

In the center of stone walls is a stone altar with a second altar on it which has a single stone with red writing on it under a white sky.

Nearby is another peak, Cheonjedan, which also has a shamanic altar.

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These altars supposedly were already in use in the time of the Silla kingdom over 1500 years ago, and that they have been used continuously by shamans since then.

We see inside the stone structure stone steaps leading up to a stone altar with three stones standing upright under a white sky.

I did not see any panoramic views of the surrounding landscape in this weather, but that was fine – I got to see panoramic views on other mountains in South Korea. I came here to get a view into Korea’s past.

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About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
This entry was posted in Ancient History, Gangwon, Hike, Mostly Photos, Shamanism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Ancient Shrine on Taebaeksan

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