Gangwon-do is Korea’s most northeastern province. It’s famous for being especially mountainous in an already mountain packed country. Gangwon-do’s beautiful landscape boasts three national parks: Seoraksan (1,708m), Odaesan (1,563), and Chiaksan (1,288m), and three provincial parks: Taebaeksan (1567m), Gyeongpo, and Naksan.
On the southern edge of Gangwon-do bordering Chungcheongbuk-do, is where you’ll find Taebaeksan Provincial Park (태백산 국립공원). Taebaeksan is included in David Mason’s list of The Top-12 Holiest South Korean Mountains. Frequent ceremonies are held on the mountain for the mythical founder of the Korean nation named Dangun (단군).
Taebaeksan hosts an annual “snow festival” every January, and being an avid hiker, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see what it is about. This was going to be my first snow hike in Korea and I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. Would it be too cold or the trail too icy?
The first thing I saw were some very large snow sculptures right at the entrance to the park at Danggol (당골), but I’m not interested in seeing snow sculptures, so I started hiking up the mountain soon after arriving. It was already 12:30pm and I needed to hurry since winter days are much shorter. I expected the sun to go down around 5:30pm and wasn’t sure how long the hike was going to be.
To my pleasant surprise, Koreans were doing exactly the same thing in the winter that they do in the spring, summer, and fall. They were having picnics! Let me tell you something. Koreans know how to have a picnic. They always bring lots of delicious food and drinks to share with each other. And every time I’ve stopped to chat with Koreans eating on a mountain, I’ve been offered to join them. In fact, I think the Koreans I meet while hiking mountains are the kindest of all.
It turns out the hike I was able to complete was only about 7.2km round trip. I went from the Danggol parking lot to Munsu Peak (문수봉/1,517m) and back to the parking lot. Even being covered in snow, the trail was fairly easy to hike. It took me about 1.5 hours to reach Munsu Peak and less than that to get down. There were no real steep sections or places where I thought I might fall on the way up.
Most Koreans wore big and hard spikes, or chains with smaller spikes attached to their boots in order to help them keep from slipping. I think I’ll do that next time. Coming down was a tad bit more slippery than going up. Of the two options, hard spikes and chains, I think I’ll give the chains a try. I think they will be more suitable for scrambling through snow AND over rocks. I saw a few people who wearing spikes get their boots stuck while walking across rocky places.
Everything I saw was beautiful that day. I didn’t realize how beautiful it would be and so I never knew what I was missing out on. I even had a special surprise at the top when nearing Munsu Peak. I was able to see a Eurasian Nuthatch and a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. I’m a budding bird watcher, so this kind of thing excites me. Click those links to see my photos.
Because of time restraints, I didn’t make it to the highest peak at Cheonje Alter (천제단/1,560m). That would have added another 6km or so to the round trip total, making it about 13.2km. I’ll have to save that for my next visit, maybe when the azaleas are in bloom in May/June. That, by the way, is when the Teabaeksan Mountain Royal Azalea Festival is.
Sitting at my desk and looking back, hiking up Taebaeksan covered in snow in the middle of winter is one of the easiest and most beautiful hikes I’ve made in Korea. I don’t know what was stopping me from hiking in the winter in the past, but from now on, I’m going to schedule a couple of hikes up snow covered mountains each winter.
Taebaeksan Provincial Park (Korea Tourism Organization)
Taebaeksan Snow Festival (Korea Tourism Organization)
Taebaeksan Snow Festival (Official)
Taebaeksan Royal Azalea Festival (Official)
Taebaeksan (David Mason’s Sanshin “Mountain Spirit” Website)
Towering Taebaeksan (Article in “SEOUL” magazine by Gregory Curley [Pages 77~81])
New Year’s Day atop Mt. Taebaeksan (Robert Keohler Travel & Photography)