Thursday, 14 May 2009

Trails end

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Nakdong-jeongmaek stele at the end of the trail

One year after starting the Nakdong-jeongmaek trail from Busan I finally reached the end point on the Baekdu-daegan ridge last wednesday above Samsu-ryeong - three seas pass - the source of the Nakdong River which this trail has been flanking and channeling to the south sea in Busan, as well as two other major rivers which run to the west and east seas.
The final 3 day walk to trails end began from Dapun-chi pass on National Highway 36, where the ridge forms the border of rugged Bonghwa county to the west and coastal Uljin county to the east, before passing into Samcheok and Taebaek city areas in Gangwon-do, South Korea's most northern and mountainous region.

Typical forest views on the first lonely leg out of Dapun-chi

The first leg out of Dapun-chi is the longest day of the entire trail, 28kms of backcountry hills and sleepy forest in an uninhabited area, with no serviced roads, amenities or water until the end - for my money this is the remotest section of hiking trail in all of South Korea, and a section of the map I've been psyching myself up for since beginning the trail - luckily I got fine weather and an early start because it is no country to be lost.

The view south to Tonggo-san and Chilbo-san from Te Kawa-bong

However, lost I became some 20kms into the walk when the trail joined an unsealed road which followed the ridge skirting around the main peaks. I made the mistake of following the road too far as it broke away from my ridge - an error I wasnt aware of until it was too late to turn back and join the trail, so I stuck with the road which appeared to head down a valley below the ridge - it didnt however and ended some 4kms later at the site of a repaired slip, obviously the purpose for the roads existance. With light fading I had little choice but to miss the climb of Yongindeung-bong, return up the road and find a way down to the nearest village area of Seokpo-myeon, which I reached by about 9pm - I saw a big black boar on the trail down to the village, the only one I've ever seen in the wild. This is the second time I've been proper lost on the Nakdong, and the only time I haven't been able to go back and fix it - I'll return someday to climb Yongindeung, a rare 3-syllable peak.

The Nakdong ridge to the left from the road to nowhere.

Deep in the middle of nowhere Seokpo-myeon is the surprising home of a large factory which refines zinc from Australia. The workers were quite surprised to see me stumble out of the bush and were keen to help me get back to Uljin where I was to meet Trevor for a few drinks. A young employee with a new SM5 was rounded up and told to drive me the 80kms home, we watched girlie-pop music videos on the DVD and he talked about feeling sick a lot working at the factory and there being no girls out in Seokpo-myeon - this combination had led the young man to Jesus, and with the turn in conversation I shamefully pretended to sleep.


The next leg began from Seokgae-jae pass on the quiet road running from Seokpo east to Samcheok city. From here I would climb Myeon-san, at 1245m the highest peak on the ridge, Gural-san (1070m), across the face of 1260m Baekbyeong-san and into Tong-ri, an eastern suburb of Taebaek city.

Summit of Myeon-san

The climb up to Myeon-san is a brutal slog through a fine, rarely visited forest with thick alpine bamboo sporadically lining the trail. Crossing the peak the landscape changes dramatically to an area rich in a wide variety of wildflowers.



In this zone, hours of walking from any village, I ran into a bunch of old Grandma's aged between 58 - 75 with large packs full of mountain herbs. The gold-toothed old girls were up here for a few days by the look of it collecting their bounty and sleeping under a tarp. They were the hardest old women I've ever met, and were'nt keen for a photo - they gave me some wild mint to chew, it was delicious.

Gural-san summit

On this final stretch to the Baekdu-daegan the Nakdong trail has been recognised with official stone steles on the major peaks, perhaps the Korea Forest Service and local councils are starting this project from the north and working south.

Tosan-ryeong pass

Looking back to Gural-san and Myeon-san

Yukbaek-jimaek trail head

In this country of ridges the jeongmaeks stem from the Baekdu-daegan, and ridges breaking off these are known as Jimaeks and Gimaeks, many of these have hiking trails, like this one - the Yukbaek-jimaek heading northwest off the Nakdong.

Tong-ri, in Taebaeks coal mining area

Mountain Spirit shrine below Ubo-san

This huge new mountain spirit pass shrine is located below Ubo-san north of Tong-ri. Unfortunately the doors are locked, but looking through a crack in the door I could see a life-size standing portrait of the san-shin, his darker beard made me think he was perhaps based on Dangun - the mythical founder of Korea, who's story is based in the Taebaek region.

The last section of the trail

For the final 8km approach to the Baekdu-daegan I was joined by Travis and Heather - the walking was good through lush forest, over handsome peaks and through farmland to trails end.

A modern fire beacon

Where the jeongmaek meets the Daegan

Samsu-ryeong Three Seas Ranch

Crossing the final road of the trail we entered a small farm, where for the first time on the journey ribbons did not mark the way. Confused, and convinced we were on the right track we sought out the farmer, who to much surprise turned out to be a foreigner!

Ben & Liz Torrey

Ben Torrey's history in Korea dates back to the 1950's when his father was a minister in the area. He now runs the Three Seas Ranch/Youth Traing Centre and Jesus Abbey Prayer Centre along with his wife Liz. Since the Nakdong-jeongmaek has gained in popularity hikers in great numbers have been cutting across the ranch which lies on the highest line (the jongju) of the ridge, and hang ribbons from the trees which the Torrey's have been promptly removing - preferring hikers not to cross their farmland but follow a winding service road to the end of the trail. The hikers continue to come though, as jeongmaekers are a determined lot who go to great lengths to stick to the jongju. Now aware of the nature of these trails the Torrey's have agreed to create a route which will safely take hikers through their farm, as is the case with other farms on the trail.

Travis representing Yeongyang-gun at the stele marking the end of the trail.

Three-seas marker indicating where water splits off the ridge into major rivers

Hwangji Pond. Taebaek city

Samsu-ryeong is the true source of the Nakdong river, but to most people its famous beginning is here in the centre of Taebaek city, at Hwangji pond; a deep crystal-clear spring bubbling with fresh water from the Taebaek Ranges which empties into a stream flowing south out of the city and into Bonghwa county, forming the white waters through Cheongnyeong-san provincial park and into Andong, passing by Dosan-seowon and then Hahoe-maeul as it heads west toward the Baekdu-daegan range through the areas of Mungyeong and Sangju before turning south through Daegu and on to Busan, emptying into the sea just west of Molun-dae - the start of the Nakdong-jeongmaek trail. Sounds like a mission, lets get a raft!

Thanks to all helped me on this trek, particularly Mr. Jeong Gyu-hwan for providing excellent translations, and Team Nakdong A.J.Howarth, Mike Allbee and Travis Lynn.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Nakdong-jeongmaek, email me at -



Sunday, 3 May 2009


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Last week I was joined by Trevor (Travis Lynn and Heather Huxford Keisch) for the walk over the summit of Tonggo-san, one of the more famous peaks on the Nakdong trail. In the week since Andy and I were last out on the trail a bit more green has sprouted in the higher reaches of the ridge, and we enjoyed good isolated hiking across the mountain.

Tonggo-san 1067m

Information on the peak suggests that Tonggo-san was originally named Tonggok-san meaning an extreme sadness, misery and lamentation. The name comes from the story of an early king who was driven to this mountain by invaders - the name of the king or the period unfortunately I don't know - Tonggok was naturally reduced to Tonggo through regular usage. Later the great scholar monk and temple builder Uisang-daesa named the peak Cheonchuk-san (천축산) due to its resemblance to the Indian mountain of the same name - Uisang never visited India so perhaps he'd just heard of the peak, although there is a Cheonchuk temple on Dobong-san in Seoul (thanks David). In any case the name didn't stick.
There is a competing legend on the origin of Tonggo-san's name which I'll tell below.

Picnicing posers on the helipad

The ridge continuing north from Tonggo-san

Thousands of young trees on the western ridge, replacing those lost to fire and or the war.

A familiar sight - Alpine Bamboo which grows in great abundance in the highlands around Taebaek, and I expect will line the trail for much of its remainder.

Dapun-jae our end point with a crew coming from the north - standing around thinking about the hitch back.

Sarang-bawi (Love Rock) - the competing legend of Tonggo-san

Long Ago there lived an orpaned brother and sister who made their meager way foraging for medicinal herbs in the Buryeong-sa valley below Tonggo-san. One night the two were visited in their dreams by a spirit who told them the King of the heavens was very ill, and he could only be cured by samjiguyeopcho (a type of korean barberry), a rare herb found in the valley - the spirits had looked for the herb but goats had eaten all but those growing on the high cliffs, which none dared to climb - if the children would go up there and get the plant a great prize awaited.
For three days the children prayed before heading off up the cliff, they reached the top seven difficult days later and found the plant growing on the edge. Naturally excited the brother ran to the edge to grab the plant and in the process slipped falling to his death. The sister mourned his loss for 3days and nights before throwing herself off the cliff to join her brother. From that day the valley was filled with the laments of the pair, which eventually reached the spirit. The spirit turned the pair into two rocks closly embracing so they should never face the agony of seperation. The mountain above the valley was named Tonggo-san (from Tonggok mountain of lamentation) and the pine trees stained with their blood became a species known as Uljin Pines, whose bark and wood are both reddish.
Nowadays lovers come to the rock to pray for eternal love which many believe the rock has the power to grant and drinking samjiguyeopcho is said to do wonders to the fertility of prospective parents and aide in their conjugal harmony - it might at the very least get the ball rolling anyway as its usually soaked in liquor.

Buryeong-sa valley

We went home down the impressive Buryeong-sa gorge on National Highway 36running east to Uljin. One of the greatest drives in the land.
Buryeong-sa gyegok is rich in a wide variety of plants which are normally only found in southern and northern parts of the country, and is designated as a scientific research area.

Im in Uljin now for the last 3 days of this trek which I'll be starting tomorrow.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Northern Yeongyang

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East from below Chilbo-san

This weekend I was joined by A.J.Howarth for the long march north out of Yeongyang county. Saturday we walked some 25kms between the passes of Hanti-jae and Pangbi-ryeong crossing 12 peaks including 974m Chilbo-san.

Nakdong-jeongmaek map at the start point in Subi-myeon

Teeth in the grass - a large and healthy snake in our path on the climb to Chilbo-san

The hills in many areas of the country are now lush and green, with azaleas and other plants in full bloom - conditions that Roger Shepherd is currently enjoying on the Naknam ridge in South Gyeongsang province. The Yeongyang area however has just come out of its driest winter for years and has thus far received no significant spring rain to bring the forest back to life, the ridge was bone dry on Saturday but rain came on Monday and more is forecast for later in the week so hopefully next time we're out there's a bit more colour.

Fine looking young man

The bloke above is one of the most prolific ribbon-hangers on the Baekdu-daegan trail and features in the much celebrated video "The Ribbon Tree" , no one-hit wonder he's obviously giving the jeongmaek's a go like so many others, walking the Nakdong north to south.

Chilbo-san (seven treasures peak)- the last, largest and only named peak of the day.

Pangbi-ryeong - end point for Saturday

Howarth with an '82 Hyundai Pony flatdeck in original Lemon-chiffon, one of a fleet of classics on the streets of Yeongyang.

Yeongyang Mountain Village Life Museum

The plan was to walk Sunday through to Uljin county, but Howarth went home with sore legs and I got lost taking an ambitious offroad route to the trail head leaving little time for the hike, so I checked out the Yeongyang mountain village life museum, a really impressive building with no visitors on a fine weekend.
The museum has the expected displays of farm tools and stuffed animals but also celebrates the shamanic history of the area.

A Seonang-dang tutelary shrine

The three famous-sacred women of the Yeongyang area in a reconstucted shrine

In the middle is Madam Hwang of Ilwol-san, to her right is her daughter and to her left Oknyeo, whose shrine I came across last week.

Plastic Mireuk Cave

Mireuk Cave is the energy centre of Yeongyang's famous mountain Ilwol-san and is said to hold the energy of the sun and the moon.

V-shaped pines

We first came across pines cut with the v-shape a few weeks ago on the trail and i offered my own theory on them based on the history of other parts of the country. These displays perhaps suggest something different, maybe the pines have long been harvested around here for fuel, or carved for some other purpose.

An old map of Yeongyang

Alright so we still haven't broken through Yeongyang, so this weekend I'll be back out to hopefully get through into Bongwha and Uljin for the final push into Taebaek.
Four days left