Korean mountain high for two Kiwi hikers
|Roger Shepherd poses on Mount Seokbyeong, part of the Baekdudaegan range, in Gangwon, during the a hiking project he and his fellow New Zealander Andrew Douch launched in September and finished last Saturday. They walked the length of the range in South Korea. Photo by Andrew Douch|
The Baekdudaegan mountains run almost the entire length of the Korean Peninsula, a ruggedly majestic series of landmarks that define the geography of the country. The white-tipped ridges that give the range its name are among Korea’s highest peaks and the source of its major rivers.
One would think that Baekdudaegan, with its beautiful, well-developed hiking trails on the southern side of the border, would be a world-class attraction, but it is little known to the outside world despite its local reputation.
The 670-kilometer-long (417-mile-long) Baekdudaegan is relatively unexplored by non-Korean hikers and climbers and there is precious little information about it written in English.
But thanks to two New Zealanders, Baekdudaegan could finally begin attracting its share of international mountain-lovers.
Roger Shepherd, 41, and Andrew Douch, 30, finished hiking the entire range within South Korea’s borders last Saturday, a project they started in a bid to let the mountains be known globally.
Based on information that the two hikers collected during the expedition, the Korea Tourism Organization, said yesterday it will develop Baekdudaegan as a tourist site for foreigners.
“We will make an English guide book based on the Baekdudaegan hiking project early next year,” said Kim Sik, the manager of the strategic tourism development team at the Korea Tourism Organization. “Once the book is made, we will visit 26 foreign cities where we have branches and begin promoting a tourist hiking package. We expect foreign hikers to take advantage of that package by next autumn when they can see the most beautiful scenery.”
The 70-day-long project, in which the hikers traveled from Mount Jiri in South Gyeongsang north to their final destination, the Jinbu-ryeong Pass in Gangwon, was assisted by Kyung Hee University professor David Mason, who helped organize the event.
“It is a great privilege. I am glad I did it,” said Shepherd, a police officer in Wellington, after he made a presentation about the expedition on Tuesday to an expats group to which Mason belongs. His hiking partner,
Douch skipped the event as he was packing to leave for New Zealand from Andong, North Gyeongsang, where he has been teaching English.
“[During the project] I met so many great people,” Shepherd said. “I think Baekdudaegan is going to be the best place you can travel in Korea on foot.”
It may even be one of the top hiking spots in the world, he added.
“It’s not about just walking along the main ridge trails,” Shepherd said. “Walking the ridges is important, but all the other tracks, the villages, foothills, the small towns you go through, all the other hikers that you meet, the whole social experience is the best part of walking Baekdudaegan.”
Shepherd, who taught English in Korea in 2000, returned for a visit in May of last year. He began hiking alone along the Baekdudaegan, but halfway through he decided to do the whole hike again, recording his impressions along the way.
He found Mason, who sought support from the Korean government to help the project along.
Shepherd and Douch had been friends in Andong in 2000 and so the two teamed up.
“Roger and Andrew have now collected a lot of good practical information,” said Mason, who will help write the guidebook and organize the information.
Mason said he will also write two other books, separately from the KTO guidebook, based on the hiking project. He also said the group will set up a new Baekdudaegan Web site with information in English.
“This is not only for Korean people, it’s going to be something big in the future,” Mason said. “It’s going to be world famous, and we are going to make that happen.”
Shawn Morrissey, a Canadian writer working in Seoul, also helped the project as an ecological researcher.
“It’s a good feeling to have part of project done. But we still have long way to go,” Morrissey said. “We have to put everything together.”
Morrissey said he has no doubt the project will contribute to expanding Korea as a global tourism destination.
Inspired by the hiking project, KTO official Kim said the organization plans to benchmark the project in developing other tourism products.
“The expedition is really satisfactory for us, because it shows that there are attractions here that could be discovered and promoted not just by Koreans but also by foreigners,” Kim said. “We are considering similar expeditions, perhaps temple tours or food tours.”
A plan to hike Mount Kumgang, currently the only access point to North Korea on the range, was dropped in the middle of the expedition for unspecified reasons.
But, Shepherd said hiking into the North along the Baekdudaegan is an open possibility for the two Kiwi hikers.
It can’t be done at the moment, he said, “but one day when it [Baekdudaegan] is open in North Korea. it will be possible.”
By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Writer [email@example.com]