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Being One with the Silver World at the Summit of Samdobong at the end of 551 stairs

Being One with the Silver World at the Summit of Samdobong at the end of 551 stairs

Posted January. 27, 2005 23:03,   


It is 2:30 in the morning. Stars are shining as clearly as the lights coming from Samjeongri village (Macheon-myeon, Hamyang County, South Gyeongsang Province) under the valley. I am climbing to Byeoksoryeong, a salt road along which peddlers from Hwagae (Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province) and Macheon were climbing, carrying their salt to sell. It is a road of life that allowed inland Hamyang to get salt from its shores. Reaching Mt. Jiri through the uphill path, I start traversing the 16.8 km mountain for as long as eight hours. The end of the traverse is Seongsamjae below Nogodan.

Two hours later in a shelter at Byeoksoryeong (1,426m) at the ridge of Daegan. Mountaineers are soundly sleeping and there are no stars and the moon is in the sky. There are only strong winds and snowstorms. Relying on the light of a head lantern in a dark kitchen, I cook a bowl of ramen using ice as water. I think there would be no complaints in life only if I remember the happy feelings of the moment.

The clouded east sky starts to turn red. When the utter darkness gives way to the rising sun, mountaineers begins to climb to the summit. I am on the path to Hyeongjebong. White Sanggodae is blooming in the cold wind blowing through the thick fog and glow. Sanggodae means frost flowers created on the branches of trees in the winter. I was so fortunate that I closely saw the secret sight that makes me think the branches covered themselves with white frost.

A mountain villa at Yeonhacheon where a little stream continues to flow even in the cold winter. It is a yew habitat where yew trees which are said to live a thousand years in this world, and another thousand years in the beyond, are growing beside the path to the summit. It gives bad feelings to see the barbed wire installed in front of trees. It is all humans’ fault.

Somehow the clouds are gone and the sky reveals its true blue color. Now I am on the wide flat ground of the summit of Tokkibong. The scenery of Mt. Jiri up to 1,500m above sea level, which I look down on from the summit, is beautiful. The mountain is all white, including Banyabong, the second highest peak of the mountain, Seseok Pyeungjeon, Cheonwangbong, and Jeseokbong, which are far away from here.

Hills mean the lowest part of the ridge of a mountain. That is why those who climb the mountain try to pass on hills, making paths on the hills. Roads attract people and people make history. The spacious and empty place which has a take-off and landing ground for helicopters along the path to Samdobong (1,550m) is Hwagaejae (1,315m). There is Baemsagol to the right side and Chilbulsa valley to the left. It is the lowest path to the summit of Mt. Jiri. There is a pond named “Ganjangso,” meaning a pond of soy sauce, in Baemsagol. The name symbolizes the salt road and the legend that a peddler from Sannae (Namwon, North Jeolla Province) who was climbing the path with a load of salt from the southern sea which was delivered to Hadong port fell into the pond, making the water inside salty.

The 551 stairs to Samdobong. I can see as far as the southern sea from the summit. There is Banyabong right in front of my eyes. I see a little farther to places like Akyang field in Hadong and the Seomjin River, which are the background for the novel “Land,” the summit of Nogodan (1,507m), Nogodan hill (1,400m) and Namwon areas. It is literally a place where three provinces (South Gyeongsang, North and South Jeolla) meet. A triangular, pyramid-shape landmark indicates directions.

Nogodan is close at hand from Samdobong. Now, the path is the easiest as we traverse Mt. Jiri. But Nogodan has been blocked for preserving its ecosystem, and therefore the path goes straight to the fake Nogodan, sidestepping the path to the summit. Seongsamjae, a path on the hill in Baekdu Daegan, on which cars are running, is 2.7 km away from Nogodan.

Although it is a long way, I do not feel any fatigue. It is strange. Maybe the only plausible explanation is that the energy of Mt. Baekdu energized me.

Seung-Ha Cho summer@donga.com