Mt. Sorak with fascinating sights

By Kim Jeong-tai

The E coast of the Korean peninsula has been noted since old times for its scenic charm.
Whereas the W and S coasts are famous for their changeful shorelines arrayed with 3300 islands and islets, the crystal-blue E coast is blessed with natural masterpieces along the somewhat monotonous beach of 700 km running closely parallel to the Taeback Mountains. Mt Sorak is one of the master ranges there and full of delicate peaks and streams as beautiful as if drawn in some fine Oriental brush painting.

It has been officially named a national park along with Mt. Halla of Cheju Island and the Buddhistic Mt Jiri (1915M) in the central S of the peninsula. The mountain village of Sorak-dong in the Outer Sorak, about 5 hours drive on an express highways or 50 minutes flight from Seoul, is an easily approachable base like Chamonix in the Alps.

Mountaineers come to be fascinated by the striking sight of the perpendicular falls stretching 400m near Towang Fortress approached after about an hour of climbing bypassing Biryong Falls. The falls, dashing in a white vertical pillar of spraying downpour, start over a cliff underneath remote Chilsong Peak (1077m) to form the upper falls of 150m, which are again transformed into the middle cascades of more than 100m in length.
The lower falls then precipitate over another 100m. The whole series of these waterfalls is simply overwhelming and captivating. A team of young climbers from Seoul succeeded in ascending the 400m of the rock surface on the right side of this Towang Fortress Falls in 1974 and the same year also saw the first ascent of the left side surface by some local climbers.

In January every year these falls freeze to become vertical pillars of ice challenging all Korean alpinists as a sort of training course for climbing of genuine ice-walls in foreign mountains. After the failure by the first group of challengers in January of 1968, many a team from various alpinist clubs and universities tried in vain.
There have been a number of slips, including an accident in 1973 in when resulted in the death of a very capable alpinist. Moreover, some foreign alpinists still active in the Alps or the Himalaya also tried but only to fail.
This huge series of ice pillars had attracted quite a good number of mountaineers from inside and outside Korea until in January of 1976 the Dongkuk University team completed the first ascent of the lower falls by direct climbing after 12 days of patient efforts.

In January 1977 the young members of Crony Alpine Club succeeded in subjugating the upper and the lower falls together 10 years after the first challenge. The lower falls needed 3 days with 18 pitons while the upper ones required 8 days with 32 pitons, the last day demanding 18 hours of unrelenting work. It was a special case of a climbing feat unanimously agreed to be on the level of a Grade VI ascent.
This sort of ice-wall climbing began here when the present writer and his party ascended for the first time in Januaary 1939 the 3-level frozen surfaces of Ssangyong Falls (Grade III+) in the Inner Sorak. Notable events of similar nature, to name a few, were the ascent of the frozen gorge (Grade IV) in Cheongbuldong area in 1959, the ascent of 100m frozen falls in Sorak Gorge (Grade V) in 1969 and also the ascent by the Corean Alpine Club of frozen cascades for over 1200m (giving 700m of climbing) to reach Daecong Peak (1708m).

The beauty of peaks and rapids are concomitant with ubiquitous falls and cascades dotting the whole mountain. The art of the Creator has the upper and the lower falls together 10 years ways to hold crystalline dark-blue or emerald water under waterfalls and upon gorge beds.
One typical series of such is the 12km of a major mountaineering route around Chonbuldong, leading from Bisondae Heights to the summit of Daechong Peak, which has a total of 16 sets of rocky waterfalls, waterfall basins and stream troughs. One becomes quite busy appreciating all the scenes.

Rock-climbing on the clusters of ridges in Mt. Sorak started with the first ascent of Ulsan Rock by the members of Backryong Club in the 1940s and there are now 13 routes on mountain ridges rating as high as Grade V.-Al.
Then they also tried to scale up the mountain on skis. Popularity increased in the 1960s. At present the area is a grand hall of massive rocks embracing Kwonkum Castle Range to which a cable-car service has been constructed, the ridge connecting Madung Ridge (1327m) with the main Daechong Peak, the range around Gongyong Ridge, the 7 clustered ranges near Noin Peak (1180m), all of which are in the Outer Sorak.
There are Bongjong Range (with 11 ridges and 10 rock-peaks) and 6 other groups of ridges for various climbing routes or ridge tracking in the Inner Sorak.

Because of the adequate facilities on Daechong Peak, the 14km of the shortest course between Sorak-dong and the Peak can be tracked in 7 hours. However, rock-climbing in the form of ridge tracking provides an opportunity for big-scale ascents of 2 to 5 days with bivouacs on the way.
The summit is a crest with 3 pyramidal tops. Two kilometers down on the way is Bongjong-am Shrine (1350m), which is reputed to be the highest Buddhist retreat in Korea. It has a dainty, weathered 5-story stone pagoda 1300 years old. Nearby is a newly built cottage inn. In the mountains around are 10 Buddhist temples and shrines besides 7 chalets and inns of restful atmosphere.