Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peak-bagging in the ROK

Elite mountaineers have their seven summits and their eight-thousanders. For those lesser skilled mountaineers of us, or those less adaptable to altitude, Colorado has its 14ers; Scotland has its Munros, its Corbetts and its Grahams; and Kyuya Fukada celebrated 100 of Japan's famous mountains in 1964 in his book of a similar name. The ROK, most likely in a bid to have something to approach the fame of Fukada's list, has had their Forestry service compile a list of "100 Noted Mountains in Korea." It's done by province at this site, which also has information about Korean mountains and mountain culture that is interesting to read.

Interestingly, arguments can be made that folks in both Korea and Japan have 'canonized' their mountains in various ways for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Another point of interest, at least for me, is that height plays a subordinate role in compiling either the Japanese or Korean lists, unlike the European and North American lists I mentioned earlier which use it as a primary requirement. Rather mountains are designated famous or noted due to their status in legend, the battles that have been fought upon them, or for their sacredness and religious significance. In Korean National Parks it is not uncommon to see signs prohibiting practicing shamanism within the park's boundaries.

What I find glorious about this is the personalized 'sub-lists' one can compile for one's own - albeit somewhat sad - gratification. So this is what I have done. I doubt that anyone but me cares, but anyway, the lists are (in no particular order of importance): (i) the Jeolla-do section of the 100 Noted Mountains in Korea (I live in the south half of this province and this gives me 22 peaks to climb); (ii) the "Hidden Mountains" (whatever that means!) in Jeolla from the same website (10 more); and a list of the 25 highest peaks in the country. I also have a list of mountainous National Parks to visit. The lists are in the first few pages of the notebook I take hiking with me every time I go out.

Given my reasonably imminent departure from the peninsula, in just over five months, the fact that one of those months will be spent in Nepal, and that winter storms make hiking difficult if not unpleasant for some of that time, completing the list is going to be tricky. Here's the breakdown of what's left: National Parks - 4; Jeolla-do 100 Noted mountains - 12; Jeolla-do "Hidden Mountains" - 9; highest peaks - 7 (though one is inaccessible, so 6 really). It appears it's time to really get stuck into trying to get these ticked off or give up on the idea altogether.

These last two weeks have been spent mostly lying low at work, marking essays, and slowly beginning to shake off this belligerent cold. With that in mind, and the fact that the weekend before had been a bit of a big one, we opted for a short walk these last two Saturdays, and have been rewarded with a beauties. Diamonds are smaller than bricks, it would seem.

Heukseoksan, just inside Haenam country , almost spilling over into Gangjin and Yeongam counties is a tricky mountain to reach, but then it does have the "hidden" designation from  the Korean Forestry Service. On a map it's just south of Wolchulsan National Park. If you want get here by public transport you will need to get a bus to Yeongam-eup then a bus to Dangsan-ri. Get off at the bus stop at the bottom of the village and walk for about 2-3 miles up the left hand fork next to the bus stop; eventually you'll come to the trailhead. From here signposts will tell you the trial leads to 가학봉 (Gahakbong), before carrying on along the ridge to 깃대봉 (Gitdaebong), the highest point of the mountain (it's only 650m though!).

You can walk from one side of the mountain to the other, that is down from Gitdaebong to the other side, but, as we had the car, we decided to go as far as we could on the ridge before turning back and retracing our steps. It was maybe 7km in total on the ridge with another 2km on the road to where we had parked and we completed it in a very leisurely 3 hours. The slope to Gahakbong did prove a bit difficult with its 10cm-deep covering of superannuated leaves. It was the first time I've ever postholed through dead foliage, the result of which - the dusty path glissade - pleased BH more than mildly. Some slightly taxing scrambling sections also added interest: for once the ropes provided were necessary in at least two places. Some of the views were great, even if my photos don't do them justice.
Flowers still blooming in November

More of Korea's autumnal beauty

Wolchulsan's Cheonhwangbong peak poking through the murk in the distance

Autumn colour in the valley

This is the top of an inaccessible ridge to the east. Although it looks like a house on top, I can promise you it's not. It's just the way the rocks formed.

Some grinning, peak-bagging muppet

View down into the Honam plain to the east

Japanese maple getting ready to join the leaves on the trail

Honam plain to the south-west

*          *          *

The most recent Saturday past we went for another of the peaks to bag, this time Chuwolsan in Damyang county, just north of Gwangju. Located next to Damyang Lake it was obvious that Chuwolsan was popular, particularly in summer with not only Gwangju-ites, nut visitors from further afield.

Even though we left the 'po at 7am the first coach was disgorging its party just as we arrived. this was a slightly bigger and consequently more commercialized mountain than last week's. Getting a bus here from Damyang-eup would not be a problem.

We decided that we would hike along with the herd who started just before us and choose the trail to the ridge that they weren't taking, and hot-footed it up to the ridge in a surprisingly quick time. The weather was fantastic again, cool, and cloudless, with a delicate haze scudding across the horizon.
Hazy views of the lake

The views of the lake were great as we climbed and then we shot along the ridge which became increasingly crowded.
View on the descent

After a quick photo at the summit of the mountain we headed down. The park was obviously very, very popular. Pensioners in their multitudes struggled up the oceans of steps that constituted the trail on the other trail, and we were serenaded by soju-addled singing and hollering all the way down. I'm not a fan of permit systems, but Korea will eventually have to introduce them, I think. Or at least place limits on visiting numbers in popular spots. We counted 11 coaches parked at the entrance and plenty more cars. Chuwolsan is tiny, and it would be a shame to have a place this pretty be mismanaged into total closure. Paths were already badly eroded with sidetracks blazed that a cap on daily visitors, particularly on the weekends, could have prevented. The hike took us just over four hours.

On the way home the car died, irrevocably and interminably, which will mean even earlier starts if we, or I, want to continue bagging the local peaks.

1 comment:

  1. Post-holing through decaying foliage; how strange! I once stepped into what I thought was deep mud along a creek in the Adirondacks. I sunk completely into muck all the way up to my neck! It was really disgusting! Had to rinse out in the creak. I thought my father was going to die laughing.

    You seem to be nestled in a mecca of mountain goodness over there. Enjoying your blog!