Korean Trails

Over the Mountain, is a Mountain

Gyebang-san 계방산 1577m
Hangang-gimaek Ridge
Odae-san National Park
Hongcheon-gun, Pyeongchang-gun

So-Gyebang-san (1480m), left, and Gyebang-san (1579m), right, from the south-western ridge trail.

 Odae-san Biro-bong, in the distance, fills the gap.


Gyebang-san is the dominant peak of the 165km Hanbuk-gimaek ridgeline, which stems from the Baekdu-daegan range at Odae-san National Park,  and runs to the eastern reaches of modern-day Seoul.

At 1577m.a.s.l, it stands as the highest summit in South Korea outside of Jeju Island's Halla-san, and the great mainland peaks of Jiri-san, Seorak-san and Deogyu-san.


Despite its lofty heights, this mighty mountain is probably the least visited hike-able area of Odae-san National Park, occupying its far western corner, and separated by 35km of road to the main valley entrance of Woljeongsa and Sangwon-sa temples, from where trails lead to Biro-bong (1563m) - the most celebrated peak of the park - and also to Odae-san's section of the Baekdu-daegan ridge.

Gyebang-san's isolation is further enhanced by the closure of the Hanbuk-gimaek ridge trail on either side of the mountain, rendering it an island in the Korean ridge trail chain.

Juwang-jimaek ridge stretching south from Gyebang-san

The open trails here offer good day-hiking opportunities though, with close to 20km of track from two trail-heads on the south side of the mountain and a ridge approach from South Korea's second highest mountain road pass, Undu-ryeong, in the south-west. Hiking here is a good opportunity to experience the highlands in their full glory, with only moderate hiking traffic compared to other peaks of it's size, even on the weekends.

The Hangang-gimaek ridge (thin purple), stretching 165km west from Odae-san National Park  to the meeting of the Bukhan and Namhan Rivers in Gyeonggi province, east of Seoul.


Gyebang-san's summit ridge is largely above treeline and offers superb views in all directions. To the east stands the great Baekdu-daegan ridge line - from this vantage point visible from the famous pass of Daegwan-ryeong in the south-east, through the massive main body of Odae-san to the east,and north to Jeombong-san, a southern peak of Seorak-san National Park.

The south view is dominated by the Juwang-jimaek ridgeline, which stems from Gyebang's northern shoulder and stretches some 80km south, crossing Gariwang-san (1562m). To the east the peak looks over the Hangang-gimaek ridge, the dominant watershed of the Han River, stretching toward Seoul.

These are the dominant ridges of Gangwon-do, and frame the world of man below

My walking on Gyebang-san was done in the summer months, but it's the winter when these trails are their most popular.

Hikers I met on the summit, all waiting for views through a monsoon haze, told me that on clear winter days one can see as much of mountainous Gangwon-do as from anywhere.

Photo sent to me as proof of this :)

Gyebang-san's forest holds a wide variety of highland herbs, and wildflowers which only thrive in certain conditions, most notably a large group of vascular plants listed on the IUCN 'Red List' of threatened species, including rare Irises.

On the high ridge vibrant stands of Jumok-namu (Korean Yew Tree), and Cheoljuk (Royal Azalea) led to this area being designated as an area of preservation before included in the Odae-san National Park.


It  is also renown for its open floor, and the absence of vines which make off-trail passage difficult throughout much of mountain Korea. 


This quality is credited in local mythology to the Mountain Spirit (San-shin), who is said to ride through Gyebang-san on horseback. Once, fleeting through the forest, his path was blocked by a mess of vines and he was thrown from his stead. Angered, he banished the vines from the mountain, and created a protective amulet, which he cast into the forest to ensure the pesky vines would never return.

Memorial statue of Lee Seung-bok

The modern day history of Gyebang-san is dominated by the story of Lee Seung-bok, and the gruesome events that befell his family almost 50 years ago. The Lee family; husband, wife and four children, farmed a remote area on the north-eastern slopes of Gyebang-san. On the night of December 9th, 1968, the mother and three youngest children were murdered by North Korean commandos who had raided their home in search of food and shelter.
Six weeks earlier 120 North Korean soldiers had landed in several locations between the east coast towns of Samcheok and Uljin, with a mission to head inland and set up mountain camps on the ridges either side of Taebaek city - some of the most remote countryside in South Korea. This quickly became no secret mission, however, as only a day after landing the commandos called in on villages in an attempt to indoctrinate locals into joining them. Word soon got around and before long a manhunt was on with a force of thousands pursuing the infiltrators. The operation was ended on December 26, by which time 110 northern soldiers had been killed and seven captured.
It was toward the end of the campaign, then, that the Lee house was invaded by an unknown number of assailants. The story goes that upon making themselves at home, the commandos asked of 9-year-old Seung-bok, the second son, if he preferred North Korea or South Korea. He replied with, "I Hate Communists!" The alleged response of the commandos was brutal, cutting open his mouth from lip to ear and removing his tongue, before killing him along with his Mother, younger brother and sister, and burying them under a pile of manure.
The assailants were never found, although it is highly likely they are among those caught or killed by the southern military.
One information board I read locally stated that the Father of the family was away at the time, and Seungbok's older brother managed to crawl away and alert neighbours, despite being stabbed 36 times. Another report suggests the Father was home, and he and the older brother managed to escape before the murders, while a third I read suggested a neighbour stumbled upon the scene and sounded the alarm.

Replica of the Lee family house, built for a TV drama. Gyebang-san south entrance


The story of Lee Seung-bok's bravery was publicised widely at the time by the regime of President Park Chung-hee, and used to propagate anti-communist feeling throughout the country. Lee Seung-bok became a symbolic image of defiance, and his story was included in the Elementary School curriculum until the late 1980's. A large number of statues bearing his image were erected throughout the country, including in Children's Grand Park and the National War Memorial in Seoul. In 1982 a large memorial park was built in Nodong-ri, 2km south of the entrance to Gyebang-san.


The park covers a large area of grassed lawn with statues of Lee Seung-bok as well as military aircraft and tanks. A memorial hall stands at the centre with a time-line of Lee Seungbok's life and death depicted in huge oil paintings - some of which, toward the end, are very graphic. A theater within the hall plays a dramatized re-enactment of the murders on a constant loop. The memorial remains open and well-maintained to this day and is frankly quite a bizarre place to visit, but an interesting insight into the kind of national fervour this event caused, and the method of anti-communist propaganda used at the time.


In the early 1990's rumours began to spread that Lee Seung-bok never existed, and that the story was fabricated by propaganda units within the South Korean military. This was strongly refuted by the government, and in 2002, Kim Ju-eon, of the People's Coalition for Media Reform was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to 6months prison for including a report of the incident in an exhibition of misreported news. In 2004 he was sentenced to a further 6 months by the Seoul Central District Court for "spreading false information" after they concluded the media reports at the time were accurate.

The rumors had tainted the story however, and in the decade between them starting and any action being taken against them, a large percentage of the population had begun to question the story of Lee Seung-bok.

The release of photographs of the deceased proved that this horrible event did indeed take place, but sadly for the memory of the Lee family, their murders are largely remembered by the general population for their use in government propaganda.

Trails

Trails to Gyebang-san all begin from the southern side of the mountain, and are accessed by National Highway 31, which passes the main southern valley entrance, and continues north to the high pass of Undu-ryeong, south-east of the summit.

The main entrance to the mountain is about 20km north-west of Jinbu town and 2km north of the Lee Seung-bok memorial of Nodong-ri.
A National Park marker and large signs for the campground mark the junction of a small road that leaves the highway, following the Nodong-gyegok gorge into the mountain.


Southern Spur Trail:    Nodong Valley Junction - Gyebang-san
Distance 4.6km
. Elevation gain 900m
The entrance junction is located at the end of a wooded spur separating the valley from National Highway 31. The spur climbs northward to eventually become Gyebang-san's southern shoulder. The trail-head is clearly visible from the road junction, heading up some wooden stairs (above). The southern spur trail is a fairly consistent climb to the summit, steepening over the final kilometre. Some 2kms into the trail is a junction at 1250m.absl, where a side track heads down toward the campground. Most hikers can expect to reach Gyebang-san in 2.5 hours. No water along this trail.

Nodong-gyegok Route

Campground - Gyebang-san 5.4km

From the junction with NH31 a small road runs 2km north-east up the Nodong valley, passing a number of Pension accommodation options to Gyebang-san Auto Campground.


This large campground is privately run and very large, accommodating hundreds of tents and cars, dominating the top end of the valley.

Beyond the campground is the replica Lee family home shown above.

Here a trail crosses the stream on a small bridge, this is the track which links to the junction on the spur trail at 1250m/absl.



Our summit trail continues along the road, which turns north-west into a dirt track and winds into the mountain, following and occasionally fording the Nodong stream, and eventually thinning into a wide trail.

3.5km from the campsite is a spring, Ongdol-saem 옹달샘. Water flow here is reliable, but slow in dry weather.



The trail meets the ridge 1.3km on from the spring at Jumok-gunrak-junction (주목군락삼거리) 
National Highway 31 crossing Unmu-ryeong Pass

Transport

Buses running between Jinbu and Jangpyeong stop by the Lee Seung-bok memorial, just over 2km south of the mountain entrance road. Buses leave Jinbu Terminal 5 times a day between 08:20 and 13:20.

From the north side of the mountain buses 90 and 90-1 run from Changchon-ri up NH31 as far as Undu-jongjeom bus stop in Jaun-ri, 5km below Undu-ryeong pass.

Buses to Jinbu leave every 30mins or so between 07:00 and 20:00 from Dong Seoul bus terminal.

Jinbu - Dong Seoul first bus: 07:10, last bus 20:40)

From Wonju 10 buses a day between 9:55 and 14:30 - Jinbu to Wonju first bus 07:20, last bus 20:20