Don Your Vine Shoes and EnjoyIpchun, or the beginning of spring, was Feb. 4. Many southern parts of Korea are experiencing their first blossoms. But time seems to have stopped in Jindong Valley in Inje-gun, Kangwon Province, where a cold winter still thrives. Winter lasts long in the valley, usually about six months, from November all the way through April. Despite the heavy snowfall that isolates Jindong village from the outside world during the winter, the valley is home to an ecologically stable forest that boasts more than 800 plant species. The forest is known as the best ecological museum in South Korea, and during the spring, the village is crowded with visitors, usually botanists and photographers, who come to explore the area. But during the winter, the village of 43 houses is buried under layers of white snow drifted by uninviting winds.
Seolpi Lodge, located in Jingdong valley, is run by Lee Yi-rak, 41, who settled in the area five years ago with his wife and two daughters. He is a self-proclaimed "mountain man" who used to work as a tour guide on Mt. Sorak. Although the nature lover lived in the city after he was married, he soon realized that urban life was not for him. He left and wandered around Kangwon Province, looking for the perfect place to settle down with his family, and came upon Jindo Valley. Unlike other villages where children have to commute to a bigger town to attend school, the village in Jindong has a school that his daughters attend. Mr. Lee enjoys the seclusion of the area, but worries that in another five years, he and his neighbors may have to leave due to development efforts.
The name of Mr. Lee's lodge comes from the Korean word seolpi, a pair of traditional shoes made from arrowroot vines, which are designed for trekking through snow. Seolpi are a necessary item for locals and visitors.
A pair of seolpi can be purchased at the lodge for 20,000 won ($16). Once you've got your seolpi on, you are ready to enjoy a robust hike along a trail leading from the lodge to Gombaeryeong ridge. The hike to and from the ridge takes four to five hours. Not very far from the valley is Jeombong Mountain, standing an impressive 1,424 meters and boasting a magnificent view from the summit.
There are other houses in the valley that offer accommodations to travelers, but Seolpi Lodge, with its location deep in the valley, is the ideal choice if you are looking to immerse yourself in nature. A room at the lodge costs 30,000 won per night. Guests can either prepare their own food in the communal kitchen or enjoy a delicious meal cooked by Mrs. Lee, which includes rice and various side dishes, for an additional 5,000 won. Advance booking is required if you want to have meals prepared for you. Reserve a room at least one week in advance if you are planning a weekend stay, otherwise two days in advance should be sufficient. To make a reservation, call 033-463-8153 (Korean only). Weekend reservations are full for this month.
by Kim Sae-joon