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Intoxicated by a Bright Sky on Virgin-White Snow

Posted January. 18, 2008 07:31,   


○ A Festival of Snow: Snow-Covered Mt. Taebaek

At 2:09 a.m. on a Saturday, the plateau town of Taebaek wakes up from its deep sleep as a group of mountain climbers jump off a temporarily running train that has just arrived. In front of the station, a restaurant serving a popular morning soup has already turned on its lights. I entertain my empty stomach after a night’s ride. After tightened my shoe strings, I take a taxi. Destination is the entrance to Yuil Temple. It is the beginning of a climbing route on Mt. Taebaek. At 4:00 a.m., it is still pitch dark, but the stars in the sky are brilliant.

I’m on the summit of a snowy Mt. Taebaek at the earliest time of the morning. Climbing a mountain in the middle of the night means becoming one with the nature. Have you seen how starlight scatters on snow in the dark of night, or how fair the face of your beloved is reflected in a winter’s moon? In an early winter’s morning on Mt. Taebaek, wind blows like sound and darkness shines as light. For the slowest climber it doesn’t take more than two hours to reach the top.

I walk down the mountain and arrive at Danggolgwangjang. Beginning Jan. 25 this place turns into a snowy world, thanks to the Mt. Taebaek Snow Festival opening that day. Large and small snow works will embellish the area. This year, a list of works to decorate Danggolgwangjang includes those by Kim Dong-ryul, who won the grand prize at the world competition in Sapporo Snow Festival. The Mt. Taebaek Snow Festival is not just fun for grown-ups. There are also many programs for children, including ice sledding, ice tunnels, 4-wheel-drive snow trains, and sleds pulled by Siberian Huskies.

But the most popular of all is slipping down the snowy slope on fertilizer sacks. Another popular place is the igloo café set up within an ice sculpture in the shape of the animation character, Dooly. A cup of hot coffee in an igloo café is good enough to be remembered for a lifetime. “Winter Game Zone” where you can ride kneeling-down on sleds and the “Old Days Bake Zone” where you can bake and eat dried fish, zzongdeugi and round rice cakes are for grown-ups. I recommend you not miss this rare chance to experience memories of old times.

During the festival the whole city takes on a festive mood. As the river downtown is frozen hard (Taebum ice sled rink in front of Women’s Hall), people enjoy not only ice-rail bikes, tube trains, and sleds but the family curling competitions, too. Hwangji Park turns into a fantastic space as the World Tower sculptured with ice harmonizes with lucevista. There is also the naked marathon (in Taebaek stadium on Jan. 27) in which people run in the thinnest outfit possible.

○ Looking for the Source of Nakdong River Hidden Deep in Baekdudaegan

The divinity of Mt. Taebaek in Baekdudaegan is enhanced by its source of three rivers that provide life to the Korean Peninsula. The three are the Han River, the Nakdong River, and the Osip Stream. They are the lifelines of the peninsula that flow into the West Sea, the South Sea and the East Sea, nourishing the people and the history on this land along the way. The foot of the mountain under Samsuryeong is where these three grand rivers start nourishing the land. Neodeol spring, the source of the Nakdong River, is located in Ssari-jae, one of the Baekdudaegan hills (between Gangwon Province’s Jeongseon County and Taebaek City), and Geomryongso, the source of the Han River, in a mountain 900 meters high right under Geumdaebong, Daeganmaru (1418m).

It is not difficult to drop by these two springs on a trip to Taebaek. Neodeol spring can be easily visited by car as it is located on the mid-slope toward Taebaek (in Hwajeon, Taebaek City) on Ssari-jae, the old National Highway 38 line linking Jeongseon and Taebaek. The spring’s source at the foot of the mountain is protected and there’s no climbing path leading to it. Therefore, a tap has been installed beside a car park to provide drinking water flowing down through pipes.

Geomryongso beneath Geumdaebong is a mystical spring where 2000 liters of water springs up through a hole in an underground rock at a constant temperature of 9℃. It is 40 minutes from the car park, but suitable as a family trekking course as its terrain is flat and the course surrounded by beautiful scenery. If you’re traveling from downtown Taebaek to Geomryongso, there’s no need to look for Samsuryeong. Samsuryeong is in Pijae (920m) which you’ll have to cross midway.

○ Climb Manhangjae by Car

Baekdudaegan is special. It is like an older brother who embraces the sources of the three rivers. So it comes as no surprise that it harbors Manhangjae, the nation’s highest mountain path, 1,330 meters above the sea level.

As Manhangjae borders Taebaek, Yeongwol, and Jeongseon, it can be traveled by car from any of the three regions. If you reach the peak of the path, you will feel like mountains and valleys are right beneath your feet.

Trekking along the Baekdudaegan range, you will end up encountering the peak of Mt. Hambaek. As the road is paved right under the peak, mountaineers are able to climb the peak by car if there is no snow. The road is closed if Manhangjae is covered with snow. So, climbers are advised to check out the weather in advance.

The Seungbu Station, a symbol for the hinterland station, is located on the upper reaches of the Nakdong River in Seokpo, Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang Province. The flow of water in the upper stream, which starts from high hills, is so strong and fast that it left holes in the rocks in Gumunso (the Gumun swamp).

The force and velocity of the flow has also given rise to narrow gorges in deep mountains in Bonghwa. On the shores of the gorges runs a railroad, called the Yeongam railroad which runs from Cheoram to Yeongju. The line was opened to transport coals immediately after the Korean War.

The Seungbu Station, one of the stations on the Yeongam railroad, perches at the narrow edge of the cliff. Until several years ago, people had to cross the river in front of the station through a suspension bridge. A station employee left a verse on the rock that reads, “A three pyeong sky and a three pyeong flower bed.” He illustrated in his poem what he felt while he was cultivating the flower bed on this tiny patch of the land. Though he grumbled his narrow scope, his poem sounds beautiful in this pure nature.

○ The Seungbu Station, Another Tourist Attraction

Few passengers use the station. Trains pass the station eight times a day (ten times on weekends) but only two of them stop here. Though three station employees are assigned to the station, only one employee is seen. As there is no public transportation, they commute by train. Since they can’t meet anyone throughout warm weather, they wait for the winter. When winter comes, Hwansan Snowflakes Train starts operating from late December through mid February.

The special train runs on a ring route, departing from Seoul, passing Taebaek, Seungbu, and Punggi, and returning to Seoul. At 7:40 a.m., the train departs from the Yeongdeungpo Station and reaches the Seungbu Station at 1:42 p.m. passing by the Chujeon Station in Taebaek located at the highest altitude in the nation.

On the day the train comes, residents in Seungbu open the food market. Having Korean traditional food for lunch, passengers enjoy the scenery at the hinterland station. After stopping at the Punggi Station for ginseng shopping, the train returns to the Yeongdeungpo Station at 9:30 p.m.

Recently, the Seungbu Station is used as a trekking course. It is a 7.4 kilometer course that links the Seokpo Station and the Seungbu Station. The gentle and placid route, flanked by the Nakdong River, is popular among trekkers. The verse inscribed on the rock is popular among trekkers. Take time to take pictures in front of the rock. The monument celebrating the opening of the Yeongam railroad is another attraction. Travelers will learn how much effort was put into the construction of the railroad and how important role it played when the nation suffered after the war.