Why Hike the Baekdu-Daegan? (South Korea)

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“To walk nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” ~Mary Davis

I know, I know, I have written about the Baekdu-daegan before (here, here and here) but there is one more post I’d like to share with you. Why did we hike the Baekdu-daegan?

For a number of reasons:

  • I had wanted to do some long-term hiking for quite some time (years) but somehow it just didn’t happen. When Coen heard about the Baekdu-daegan, things somehow fell into place.
  • We feel that South Korea isn’t exactly the right country for spectacular overlanding. Too densely populated, too asphalted, too many roads, not enough remote and empty areas accessible by car.
  • However, Korea has lots of nature, especially because 70% is covered in mountains. But to see the real beauty of it, you need to walk. And so we did.

In retrospect we feel that hiking the Baekdu-daegan is a perfect way to get to know South Korea. It isn’t just about hiking, about setting one foot in front of the other for more than 700 kilometers. The intriguing, interesting, beautiful part of this trail is how it intertwines with Korea’s history, culture, rural life, and food. Hiking here is a good way to meet Korean people and to enjoy their friendship and hospitality.

On that note, let me share some of the magic moments during the last stage of our journey. Enjoy!

Magic – When a temple insists you accept a free meal.
Magic – When an elderly couple gives you a lift and then invite you for lunch, people with whom you can’t exchange a word but with whom you feel at ease.
Magic – Because you’re among kindred spirits.
Magic – When asking around for a minbak (B&B) strangers offer you a bed, and meal, in their house.

We hiked along remains of fortresses more than a thousand years old as well as war memorials dedicated to the Korean War (1950-1953). And we came across many sansin-gaks, shrines dedicated to the mountain spirit. Offering and praying here is very much a part of Korean culture and beautiful to watch.

Some of Korea’s most amazing temples are on the trail or just a few kilometers away from it, with trails leading there. In some temples you can stay for the night, others are great just to visit. Buddhism is an important part of Korea’s religious life.

Magic – Because the mists and clouds actually add to the mystifying and surreal atmosphere of this Buddhist and shamanistic temple.
Magic – When you see the power of people building something together, each contributing just a couple of stones.
Magic – When you encounter a mushroom aptly called Roe Deer’s Ass.
Magic – Because everyday you see different types of mushrooms
Magic – Even when it’s so tiny as your pink.
Magic – Because you come across mushrooms a well-known mountaineer even doesn’t encounter often.

The White Head Great Ridge, as it translates, is the spine of the country, running from north to south. It is home to all Korea’s water sources. It’s where Korea’s energy and spiritually is felt strongest.

Magic – Because after days of clouds it’s suddenly sunny and you can actually see where you’re heading next.
Magic – When your buddy prepares you yet another lunch on top of the mountain while you take a nap and soak up the warming sunrays.
Magic – You just feel it when around Korea’s intriguing, ancient yew trees.
Magic – For the views when you’re above the clouds.

Hiking the Baekdu-daegan is looked at with admiration and respect. Many Koreans hike it. Relatively few do it as a thru-hike, many as a section hike – sometimes alone, at other times with hiking groups. You’re bound to meet other hikers and sharing food is a big part of Korea’s culture.

 

Magic – Did I mention the colors?
Magic – Which is just in everything: the color, the spiritual places, the people.

We feel grateful, privileged and better for having hiked the trail. To have met so many beautiful people, to have gained a deeper insight in Korea’s culture and spirit, to have camped and hiked in such an extraordinary landscape.

Magic – are the never-tiring views
Magic – because the mountains are so powerful.
Magic – are the “chop chop san grime” (or so it sounds), meaning endless mountain ridges fading in the distance.
Magic – How can you NOT be blown away by this view?
Magic – because all of Korea’s waterways originate in the Baekdu-daegan.

Granted, hiking the Baekdu-daegan isn’t easy. Trails are steep and summits are often farther away than you hoped or anticipated. But isn’t that part of why you chose such a hike? To encounter your physical and mental boundaries and push through them? Tough as it is, it’s all part of the magic.

Magic – Because a restaurant owner offers you a chunk of his fresh made dotorimuk – made from acorns harvested in on the trails you just hiked – and doesn’t want pay for it.
Magic – Because junkfood has become a treat, not available on a daily basis.
Magic – Because you can share it with the person you care for most in the world: your lover, friend, soul mate, partner…
Magic – Because when a typhoon rages you can eat and sleep in a temple.
Magic – When you have reached the top of a mountain.
Magic – When you reached the FINISH!

Edited to Add: The finish had a sort of ‘after finish, if that makes any sense, thanks to our friend Jonghae, who hiked the BDDG 3 times’. Read here how he inspired children to walk this magic trail.

For more on Hiking & Running, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

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