WONJU, Gangwon Province -- With temperatures dropping nationwide, long puffer jackets can be spotted everywhere. While many people begrudgingly head outside armed with heavy gloves, winter hats and mufflers, ice climbers can’t hide their smiles as they stand in front of the ice wall in Wonju, Gangwon Province.
“It was pretty cold last week! I heard Seoul’s temperature dropped to minus 18 degrees Celsius right? That sounds like a good time to enjoy some ice climbing,” Pandae Ice Park director Seo Kang-ho, 57, told The Korea Herald Tuesday.
Pandae Ice Park, named after the rural village of Pandae-ri -- where the water for the artificial ice wall is drawn -- was created by the efforts of countless climbing association members living in Wonju.
With a total of five courses -- 30-, 40-, 60-, 70- and 100-meter-long slopes, all 400 meters in width -- Pandae Ice Park boasts the largest ice waterfall for ice climbing in Asia.
“The ice park is located between two mountains. Geographically, the ice waterfall is not exposed to any sunlight during the day, allowing the climbers to enjoy the winter activity a little longer than at the five other sites in South Korea," said Seo, adding that he expects the park to stay open through late February.
Pandae Ice Park is visited by many experts and veteran climbers who have been ice climbing for several years. Though ice climbing is not a popular sport in South Korea, the growing popularity of indoor climbing and rock climbing have brought in many new ice climbers, according to Seo.
“Many visitors shared that they felt a sense of achievement, overcame their fear and relieved their stress with ice climbing," he said.
“Most of our visitors seem to have a little experience climbing. I am not trying to discourage the climbing-beginners. But, climbing the wall is challenging. It is a very energy draining activity,” said a Pandae Ice Park instructor who wished to remain anonymous.
“I would not recommend ice climbing for someone who is a little out of shape and needs to work out at a gym. It’s for their safety,” he explained, adding that some indoor climbing training and background knowledge are required to enjoy ice climbing to its fullest.
Seo and the instructor explained that ice climbing is not a quick one-hour outdoor activity. From understanding the safety instruction to tying the harness, every step requires great effort and time. Even experts take at least 2 1/2 hours to climb up the 100-meter course, the longest course offered at the park.
“But, the scenery at the top of the ice wall -- even at the lowest slope -- is unreal. The climber will certainly make a great memory here,” the director said.
Pandae Ice Park recently became a popular tourist destination among cafe lovers, who may not have a huge interest extreme sports.
Cafe Stonecreek, a glass building near Pandae Ice Park, is blessed with a panoramic view of the ice waterfall, allowing families and couples to update their Instagram posts with great winter-themed photos. Many skiers and snowboarders from Oak Valley -- a popular ski resort in Wonju -- and tourists from Sogeumsan Grand Valley also stop by the unique cafe.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, climbers from around the world visited Wonju’s ice wall. Many were from Italy, Taiwan, Switzerland and China. And I also remember tourists from a Southeast Asian country taking countless photographs with the ice waterfall in the background. I hope more people enjoy the beautiful scenery of Pandae Ice Park, Wonju and South Korea with the eased mask rules,” Seo told The Korea Herald.
Pandae Ice Park welcomes climbing lovers of all ages and visitors are not required to pay admissions fees. Climbers must bring their own safety equipment including a climbing helmet, a climbing harness, insulated ice climbing boots, ice axes, a belay device, ice screws and carabiners. Those without a helmet cannot go near the waterfall due to the danger of falling ice.
For safety reasons, a maximum of 100 people are allowed to climb per day. Reservations can be made at the official website of Pandae Ice Park at www.pandae.modoo.at.