Sunday, August 12, 2018

North Korea / DPRK: Paektusan Highland Trekking Expedition

It is not a hiking trip that comes first to mind when you hear the name of North Korea or DPRK (The Democratic Republic of Korea). However, this fall I was so fortunate to be able to join a group of foreigners travelling to North Korea to do exactly that. For six days we would be hiking across the pristine and untouched area situated below the sacred mountain of Paektusan, camping each night in our own tents.

This hiking trip is organized by Roger Shepherd, a New Zealander who now works as a tour guide in South Korea through his company Hike Korea. After several years of journeys in North Korea, he has earned such trust that he has been allowed to lead a group of what is supposed to be the first tour of this kind in the country. In North Korea, he has been travelling and hiking around to photograph the mountains. Especially around Paektusan mountain and those located on the Baekdu Daegan ridgeline in the north. He is displaying many of these pictures on his webpage: One Korea Photography. Roger Shepherd is also one of the authors of the guidebook to the Baekdu Daegan trail, which I hiked in 2014, and is how I came in contact with him and which eventually lead to me going hiking in North Korea.

Paektusan is the highest mountain in Korea, with Janggunbong at 2750m the highest point. It is from this mountain the Baekdu Daegan ridgeline begins from and goes through both North and South Korea, all the way to Hallasan on the coast of South Korea. Believed to be the sacred mountain for the Koreans, with the lifeforce called yi flowing down from the mountain and spreading out to the country through all its ridges, rivers, branches and tributaries. The hiking expedition would take us to Paektusan mountain itself, and then over the course of six days take us through the highland plateau situated below the mountain. This area housed many of the secret camps used by the partisans lead by Kim Il-Sung during the Japanese occupation under World War 2, and while hiking we would be visiting several of them. On Paektusan, we would also visit Chonjji lake (Heaven lake), which lies at the bottom of the caldera created by the 946 eruption of the volcano. After the expedition was over, we would travel to Pyongyang to do some sightseeing there.

Map of the Paektusan Highland Trekking Expedition, made by Roger Shepherd (taken from Hike Korea).

To get to North Korea, we was to meet in Beijing and fly from there to Pyongyang (to get the visas required, we have to go to the North Korean embassy in Beijing). Since I already needed to fly to Beijing, I chose to have some few additional days there before and after the visit to DPRK. Here you find my story of my hike in North Korea (I will continuously update the links on this page as I write down my trip reports).

DPRK hiking day 1:Paektusan
DPRK hiking day 4:Ganbaeksan secret camp

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