Along much of Korea’s eastern coast is an unexplored treasure – a mountain ridge that extends 1,400 kilometers (457 miles) from near the southern shores to the northernmost parts of North Korea. About 735 of those kilometers are walkable within South Korea – and yes, the two main authors hiked the whole thing in about 70 days. Written by Roger Shepherd and Andrew Douch with help from Korean mountain expert and professor David A. Mason, the book took two years to put together after the trek.
By now you might be making comparisons to America’s Appalachian Trail; in reality, it’s more similar to the Pacific Crest Trail in that it follows the highest parts of the range from one peak to another. Being the first English-language book to cover this area in great detail, Roger Shepherd and Andrew Douch may just bring a new level of international popularity to the mountain range.
Beyond the amount of information about the mountain are the stories and religious traditions that have run through these mountains for centuries. That five different religions are represented along the trail add an element not found on other mountain trails. Add to that a generous helping of exoticness that even world travelers will appreciate, GPS coordinates for location finding and waymapping, information about water supplies, and about 200 pictures and you have a complete guide to this trail.
The book itself rides on a lot of expectations – can it draw your interest to the area, and does it make you want to explore the area in question? Furthermore, does it offer the level of information needed to make the trip possible? I’m happy to report the answers are the same – a resounding yes to each. Whether you’re interested in hiking a small section or thru-hiking all 735 kilometers, everything is well-organized and well-documented. Seventeen sections are listed from south to north – the way many hikers choose to proceed – each comprising a hike for a day to three days.
The authors are relatively quick to mention that this isn’t an easy trail to complete. Spending more than a few pages priming the reader for the climb, they also inform of some useful Korean phrases and sayings you’ll need along the way. While experienced hikers may not need basic first-aid advice or pictures to identify snakes, they’re sure to be appreciated by those motivated but less experienced hikers. A good section on Korean etiquette and culture are nice for those unfamiliar with the same.
That the book is so specific may be my biggest complaint. Unlike Seoul Selection’s recent Seoul (Robert Koehler), this 446-page book is dedicated to the trail. Even as they encourage the reader to see what’s nearby (whether out of curiosity or to resupply), they don’t stray far from the trail. That’s perfect if your plans are to hike, to enjoy the mountains, and to see these specific sights; otherwise, another general guidebook is better for you. Another oddity was the lack of contour lines on the maps – a sense of the mountain’s topography is lost by reading the peak’s altitude and written descriptions.
As a whole, the book is recommended as a vital resource in hiking – or fantasizing about – this fascinating mountain range. This travel writer may not be hiking the Baekdudaegan anytime soon, but it’s nice to know it’s out there.
Buy your copy through one of the authors’ personal websites – it’s the only place where you’ll get a copy signed by the authors. You can also find it at Seoul Selection’s bookstore, in bookstores around Seoul, or on Amazon.com.
Ratings (out of 5 taeguks):
Return on investment: (is it worth the time to find / the money to buy?)
Intuitiveness / Ease of use (can you pick it up and use it straightaway?)
Looks / Design (self-explanatory)
Disclosure: Chris in South Korea received a free copy from the publisher for reviewing purposes.