There are natural features on the Korean Peninsula that are united, even if its people are not.
Perhaps the best example of this is the Baekdu-Daegan mountain range, which extends from Mount Baekdu on the China-North Korea border all the way to Mount Jiri, located where the South Korean provinces of North Jeolla, South Jeolla and South Gyeongsang meet.
Because of its length, and because it includes some of the tallest peaks on either side of the DMZ, Baekdu-Daegan is often called Korea’s spine.
Roger Shepherd of New Zealand started exploring the part of the range lying in South Korea in 2006. In 2007 he then led the expedition exploring the range that would eventually produce the guidebook “Baekdu Daegan Trail: Hiking Korea’s Mountain Spine.”
Late last year he formed Hike Korea, a company promoting the exploration of Korea’s mountains among English-speakers. Since 2009 he has been the honorary Ambassador of Travel in Korea as recognized by the Korean Tourism Organization.
“It’s not a paid position, merely a title which gives me some leverage when I’m out in the small villages and rural countryside looking for stuff of interest to write and photograph,” he said via email.
During this summer he has been contracted by the KTO to visit 30 of South Korea’s remote islands, where he has been collecting information and photographs.
“I will also publish an English Guide book on about 50 remote islands of Korea sometime next year, and would also like to publish a photo-essay book on remote islands of Korea, including a coinciding photographic exhibition,” he said.
“The Korea Forest Service has also contracted me to publish an English booklet on the Ancient Forest Culture of the Baekdu-Daegan, for their 2011 United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification to be held in Changwon, (South Gyeongsang Province).”
But probably the most exciting expedition he’ll undertake in the near future will come in October, when he’ll begin documenting parts of the northern half of the Baekdu-Daegan.
That’s right: He’ll be hiking in North Korea.
The idea came to him during a conversation with a friend, the retired owner of a publishing company, who highlighted the interest that would be generated by photographs of rarely explored mountains in North Korea. He began reaching out to sources in the governments of New Zealand and South Korea as to how to make an official request to explore the North’s share of the Baekdu-Daegan, and reached a breakthrough with the help of the Korea-New Zealand Friendship Society.
The NGO arranged for him to travel to Pyongyang in May, where he met officials who helped organize an itinerary for him.
“Understandably there are places that I couldn’t go to, but I had made it clear to them that I wasn’t coming to North Korea just to take photos of (Mount Geumgang) and (Mount Baekdu) as such photos already existed,” he said. “Instead I wanted to be able to visit sections of the Baekdu-Daegan between those two points so as to fill the void.”
So, starting in October, Shepherd and a member of the Korea-New Zealand Friendship Society will start by traveling through the North’s Gangwon and South Hamgyeong provinces, visiting 10-12 approved sites and taking photographs.
“It may also be possible to camp in certain places so as to get the early morning sunrise shots,” he said.
He said they will probably travel for two-three weeks in October, returning sometime next year to photograph parts of the range found near Mount Baekdu in Ryanggang Province.
“It’s all for the purposes of producing a photo-essay style book that I think will open a new image and view on the Korean Peninsula for global citizens,” he said. “I don’t know how well it will do, and I plan to get the essays translated into Korean, Chinese, and Japanese for other editions.”
As for what the publication of the book would do, Shepherd expressed hope that it would better promote the Baekdu-Daegan range, a natural link between the two Koreas and a source of great import to the peninsula’s culture and history.
“I hope people appreciate this one day, and subsequently appreciate the effort that’s gone in to produce such a world first publication,” he said.
For more information on the project, contact Shepherd at email@example.com or visit http://www.hikekorea.com.
By Rob York (firstname.lastname@example.org