Now for the bad news. The bad news is that the climbing in Korea
ridiculously crowded and that there is bit of a language problem.
The good news is that it's only crowded on weekends, the crag
are bloody (no pun intended) accessible ( you can see the granite
outcroppings of Pukhansan national Park from downtown Seoul)
and for 10 months of the year rain is a rare occurrence. In
the autumn maples burn bright orange and red against clear blue
skies. In spring, cherry trees and azalea bushes burst forth
in profusion of life and colours.
Because the concepts of me, me, me and I'll do what I goddamn
please have yet to take hold in Korea on anything resembling a Western
scale, Koreans are wedded to their jobs, schools and families. That
means that on Saturday and Sunday you might find yourself sharing
your hanging belay with happily singing and smoking Koreans, inadvertently
blowing tobacco and kimchi odours your way, and doing an acapella
top 10 countdown, but on Monday, chances are, if there's not a major
school holiday going on, you will be climbing alone. On a recent
'four day weekend' visit to Insubong we experienced population densities
approaching those of a major city on Saturday and Sunday, but come
Monday we recorded a total of two other climbers- a middle aged
Korean couple- sharing the crag with us.
There are more than 400 rock-climbing clubs in the Greater Seoul
area, according to Kim Hyung Joo of Art Climbing Services. Most
Seoul universities have a rock-climbing club. That's probably because
Insubong has a low-angle apron that is excellent for beginners.
That explains the rush-hour traffic on the lower routes. Koreans
don't so much go climbing as lay siege to the mountains. They move
over the landscape like locusts in great droves.
"Koreans love to climb," says Choo kyong hyun, also an
importer of outdoor equipment. 'They have a lot of desire”¦' Then,
to add emphasis to his words, he points to Insubong, now glowing
under a full moon. A plethora of bright yellow dots sparkle on its
silver face. "Those people will probably spend the night on
the summit,' he states. They also like to climb at night. It's done
all the time. I witnessed a totally inebriated, three- sheets-to
the-wind assault on a local crag by a Canadian- Korean party of
four, and, amazingly, no one died.
Desire, I am thinking: big heart. I swirl these words around in
my head. If that means sliding on your blue jeans 40ft down a 70s
friction slab for the fourth time in four minutes, then yes, they
do have a lot of that. The dominant sound we heard all day while
climbing at Insubong- besides largely indecipherable babble- was
the sound of denim scraping rock. We were also treated to the occasional,
high- pitched ping of a rappel device whizzing by at 32ft per second
per second. Koreans have a funny habit of laughing in the face of
danger, so if you hear a chorus of guffaws, duck, and don't forget
All year round is best but winter is cold and July and August are
hot and wet. September to November and mid- March to June are best.
On Insubong most routes are east-facing, some south and a few west-facing,
so you can follow the sun throughout the day. Soninbong has east-
You need a valid passport to apply for a 90day tourist visa. There
are flight to Seoul. The entire transit time from Seoul Airport
to your campground in Pukhansan National Park should take no more
than three hours at the most. A good plan is to wait until some
cute girl/guy comes along, then simply ask for help, Koreans are
eager to help, and they love a chance to try their English.
From Seoul Kimpo International Airport take the subway to Ch'ongnyangni.
Exit the station and find the bus stop sign with the number 6 or
6-1. Take the number 6 or 6-1 to the end of the line. From there
you can see Insubong. Walk up the main road for 30 to 40 minutes,
following the signs for Dosuunsa temple and keep right. At the end
of the parking lot you will see the trail-head, pay a small entrance
fee(be sure to get a map) and hike up a steep trail for Insusanjang(insu
mountain area) and once you reach the saddle, you can see Insubong
on your left. Another 15minutes and you will come to insusanjang:
a store, mountain rescue headquarters, bathrooms, etc; there is
the Insubong campground. The camp lies five minutes from the East
Face. The approach trail for all the routes circles Insubong starting
from the East face, past the South Face continuing to the West face
and saddle which separates Puhkansan and Insubong. The entire trail
from east to west takes a half an hour.
You can get to Soninbong from the Seoul Airport by taking the number
5subway line to Wangshimni, then changing to the Seoul National
Railroad and getting off at Tobongsan yeok(station). Exit the station,
take a left and walk a few minutes until you come to a T-junction.
Take a right. Follow the road for 20 minutes past Tobongsa(Tobong
Temple). Continue for an hour, following signs to Gumgangam and
Tobongsanjang (Tobong Mountain House). From Tobong Mountain house
it is 10 minutes to the campgrounds. There is clean water and rest-
rooms available. From Ch'ongnyangni(North east train station) take
the number 19 or the number 2 bus to the end of the line. It will
leave you two minutes from the temple.
Kimchi comes in endless varieties and each is worth a taste. All
meals include at least half a dozen other side dishes. If you're
a meat lover, try bul gogi(grilled beef) or daegii galbi(pork ribs).
Vegetarians can have a go at kal guk su(noodle soup) or dubu chigay
(fermented bean and tofu soup). Be forewarned- Korean food is rated
xxx. It will put sweat on your brow at 50 paces. Camping with Koreans
offers insight into their culture, as a dinner invitation is highly
likely, followed by many toasts of soju (tastes like cheap vodka
or benzene , depending on your perspective) and nonstop rounds of
At the Insubong campground there is a very basic store where you
can buy limited supplies. Otherwise, load up on supplies at the
trailhead on the way in. The closest 'restaurant' to Insubong campground
is at Baekunsanjang(translation: White Cloud Mountain Place) a huge
rustic wooden lodge 15 minutes further up the valley. They have
a full kitchen, good assortment of food and snacks and great ski
lodge atmosphere, including a deck. At the trailhead you went in
on are a variety of restaurants.
At Soninbong the set up is quite similar to Insubong.
There is a camping fee at insubong campground but no Westerner I
Know has ever paid the 3,000 won (about $3) for a tent with three
people . Koreans tend to go easy on wegukins when assessing charges.
Baekunsanjang-which I mentioned above, 15 minutes up the valley-
has a huge loft and cosy, ski lodge atmosphere for those who want
a roof over their heads. They charge 3,000 won a night per person.
There is no time limit at either place. At soninbong there is a
campground with the same, nominal camping fees as at Soninbong.
One can also stay at the nearby Tobong Mountain House for 3,000
won a night in a youth hostel style accommodation.
There are more than 10 temples in Pukhansan National park, including
some over 1,000years old. There is also a fortress built in 1711
to repel the Japanese and Manchurians and remnants of said fortress
add real medieval touch to the ambience. Seoul is the cultural,
political and social center of Korea. The best of the best is found
there. There is the imperial Place, many temples, the National Museum,
Military Museum as well as Folk Village. Tours to the Demilitarized
Zone are available through the USO office in Seoul. This is a great
chance to experience the remnants of the Cold War.
Gear and guides
Two 50m ropes are necessary for the abseils and a full rack from
thin to off width is a good idea as almost all routes under 10 have
a chimney or an off width and everything over is hands or smaller.
There are two large outdoor markets (with corresponding subway stops)
in Seoul: Nam dae mun (South Gate) and Dong dae mun(East Gate),
each with a large selection of climbing and camping gear. Local
climbing guides can be found in the mountain shops at South and
East Gate but they're all in Koran. Still, they have pictures. An
essential non- climbing resource is The Lonely Planet Guide to Korea.
Bolting is not allowed anywhere in the park and some hiking trails
and areas maybe closed for re-vegetation
Coeran Alpine Club
Korean hospitality is legendary. Korea is a very people- orientated
society and the people will be happy to show you around if only
you ask. The Corean Alpine Club is a good resource to remember.
Their address is 740-10, Yuksam-dong, Kangnam-gu, Seoul 135-080,
Korea, Tel 539-1781-2 or fax at 539-1780. Cho Sung dae, their Secretary
General, speaks good English and knows lots of people.
Pukhansan National Park : San 1-1 Chongnung dong, Songbuk gu, Seoul
Tel: 909-0497 ,909-0498
The Korean script, Hangul, can be learned on the airplane on the
way over if you really concentrate. It doesn't hurt to learn it
so one can read simple phonetic sounds, like kuh rae(crack), puh
raen duh(friend) or ham buhg uh (hamburger). A Korean phoneticized
into English phrase book may help, but unless you pronounce the
words exactly correct they won't have a clue what you are saying.
I would just try to find a guide, feed him/her well, teach him/her
lots of English and don't let go. Before you throw a rope over the
abyss, remember to shout "Nakja."
Is that all I'm still bored
Well then, I suggest you read some of the Kim Jeong il propaganda
leaflets that are often found scattered about the climbing and hiking
trails. They are dispersed by hot air balloon in an effort to get
the South Koreans to rebel against their government. They provide
endless fodder for late night sitting around the campfire socio-politico
bull-sessions. Problem is, you've got to translate them first.