Minimize artificial touches, please

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Minimize artificial touches, please


Having grown up in a village surrounded by mountains, I have been familiar with nature from childhood. Children in my hometown didn’t make plans to go hiking in the mountains; we just went walking any time we wanted. When I joined the military, I didn’t find the training in the mountains very challenging. Of course, I was still young and energetic in my 20s. When I went on a two-day hike on the ridges of Mount Jiri two years ago, I was completely exhausted. Climbing Daecheong Peak on Mount Seorak was a thrilling experience, but Mount Jiri has endless ups and downs that wear out hikers.

But these days, as I visit some notable mountain trails, I have begun to feel unhappy about all the artificial facilities that have been installed. Not only are trees being taken down and rocks removed to make the paths, wooden and steel steps and decks have also been installed. Over the last few years, too many stairs have been made on Mount Seorak.

Of course, the mountains within the city and major attractions should offer accessibility. The Korea National Park Service has opened “barrier-free” trails appropriate for use by wheelchairs and baby strollers in Mount Deogyu’s Gucheondong Valley, Mount Juwang’s Jubang Valley, Mount Chiak’s Geumgang Pine Tree Path and Mount Gaya’s Hongryu Valley.

For general visitors, hiking combines pleasure with physical challenge. If you just want comfort or safety, there is no reason to climb a mountain. It is far safer to climb the emergency staircase to the top of the 63 Building in Yeouido, western Seoul.

The most basic principle of hiking and climbing is self-control and accountability. I read a letter to the editor in one newspaper about a woman who arrived at a hillside shelter after a 13-hour hike on Mount Jiri, but despite her complaints of leg pains and fatigue, she was turned away because she didn’t make a reservation. I sympathize with her pain, but have to wonder what kind of climbing plan she had to arrive at a shelter without a reservation? If you are climbing a mountain, you should fear the forces of nature and plan for the worst-case scenario. Last year, 16 people died in our National Parks, and most of those deaths were caused by their physical condition, such as heart problems or cerebral hemorrhages. Climbers must understand their physical abilities and limitations to avoid health risks.

Artificial installations should be minimized on challenging courses. Strong safety measures are required in urban and residential areas, but nature is different. Excessive protections make visitors forget their accountability and interfere with a climber’s ability to enjoy the real taste of nature. It has become increasingly difficult to experience nature in its own natural state. I don’t want to climb a mountain dotted with handrails, steps and ribbons tied on branches by hiking clubs.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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