[Weekender] Ice climbing in Korea scales new heights

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 23, 2015 - 22:46
  • Updated : Jan 23, 2015 - 22:48
About 70 percent of South Korea is covered in mountains. Gushing out of these mountains are spectacular waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, a boon to sweaty hikers in the summer and a godsend to athletic ice climbers in the winter.

Ice climbing has been enjoyed in Korea since the 1970s. Local climbers often start through climbing schools or alpine clubs. The increasing popularity has motivated many districts to create “ice climbing parks” ― artificial icefalls made by pumping water over cliffs.

Korea’s ice climbing scene is well known internationally as well. The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme has held its Ice Climbing World Cup event in Cheongsong, North Gyeongsang Province, since 2011. Currently, several Korean men and women are in the top 10 in the World Cup rankings. With the many opportunities to learn, numerous areas to climb and the international success of its athletes, South Korea’s ice climbing scene will most likely continue to scale new heights.

The following four areas were chosen to sample the variety of venues ― natural and man-made icefalls ― and difficulty level available in South Korea.
The upper icefalls at Garebi (IGK Collection)
A climber starts her ice climb at Garebi. (IGK Collection)

Garebi: This venue used to be an old quarry and is one of the oldest ice climbing parks in the country. It is located in Yangju, just north of Seoul, and is easy to access with minimal hiking. However, this means that it is often busy on weekends. It is a great place to learn as most of the climbing is done by top-rope, a safe way to ascend. The main icefalls are about 25 meters tall and there is a lower practice area that is about 15 meters tall.

Cheongsong: This ice climbing park is a World Cup venue and has a variety of icefalls to choose from. Though it is easily accessible, due to its distance from Seoul it draws smaller crowds on the weekend, and more experienced climbers fare better here. When all the icefalls have formed, it is a beautiful icy playground.

Mujigae Falls: This is a fabulous waterfall tucked deep in the mountains. It is a great introduction to multipitch ice climbing and is about 200 meters tall. It is located in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province, just an hour from Seoul, but the hike is long enough to prevent it from getting crowded.

Towangsong Falls: Situated in stunning Seoraksan National Park, Gangwon Province, this is the prize ice climb in South Korea. It consists of a lower icefall and an upper icefall that reaches nearly 450 meters in height. It is a true winter adventure requiring climbing permits, a sweaty hike and strong climbing skills.
By Edward Park 

Edward Park is the founder of IGK (iGuideKorea), a Daejeon-based company that offers rock climbing and ice climbing courses as well as guided tours. He can be reached at ― Ed.