Baekdu Daegan Hike – 2015

img_5384All the long distance trails I have hiked so far have left me with fond memories. I have loved all the trails, although on some days I hated them. All were nice experiences where I learned a lot about myself and the world. However few have been as memorable as the Baekdu Daegan trail. The trip on the Baekdu Daegan in South Korea encompassed a lot of things: tough trail, beautiful scenery, unknown culture and traditions, unknown language, wonderful encounters, ackward situations and best of all, a lot of chocolate and candy.

I ordered the guidebook for the Baekdu Daegan trail before leaving for my Te Araroa hike in New Zealand. I was thinking of hiking the Baekdu Daegan after the Te Araroa, but I had done little planning because I was not absolutely sure that I would go on another long distance hike after completing Te Araroa. However as the months passed in New Zealand, I knew I would want to do more hiking while on sabbatical leave and I booked my plane ticket to Korea. I also convinced a friend I had made on the Te Araroa trail to join me.

Therefore, I didn't know what to expect of the country and of the trail. I got to Seoulimg_5493 not knowing how to reach the start of the trail and I was a little nervous about the whole trail ahead. I had read most of the information in the guidebook and had a general idea of what my options were, but still needed help from staff of the hostel to figure out which bus to take to Jiri-San national park, the southern terminus of the trail.

The bus we boarded two days after getting to Seoul was full of hikers in shiny bright gear equipped with fancy backpacks and poles. All of their gear looked new and fancy. From the crowd there we felt reassured that we were at least headed to a hiking destination. The bus destination was the national park, but we had no idea where exactly in the park we would arrive. The bus dropped us at a location that was not documented in the guidebook, but we were easily able to figure out our way to the start of the trail by looking at information boards.

img_5109The thing that blew off my mind the most in Korea was the generosity of the people we met. It was pretty obvious to everyone that we were foreigners and while we were on trail our arrival always seemed to surprise people around us. The path and the routes we walked to get around the closed trails sections took us through some remote sections of Korea, where I'm guessing people don't see foreigners very often. People we crossed on trails and on roads would come up to us and give us food or slip candy in our hands. Drivers stopped to offer us rides. Merchants gave us fruits. Sometimes people we met in town invited us to spend the night at their houses, or even more surprising, would call their friends so that their friends can host us for the night. Language barriers were making some situations difficult, but as the trip progressed I learned to just let go and accept that even if the situation was awkward and sometimes uncomfortable, it would probably end up in a nice way.

The trail itself was sometimes frustrating. There were some very nice sections, especially in the national parks, however some sections in between were in less interesting area scenery-wise, and some parts seemed to have had little maintenance as the vegetation was slowly taking over the trail. Some parts were very steep and our progress was slow, climbing up and down small cliffs with the aid of old ropes really slows you down. Sections of the trails are closed so you have to find your way around those, which is not always obvious. We were always a little disappointed when we had to leave the trail to go around the closed sections, but these detours are probably when we have had our most memorable experiences in Korea, thanks to the wonderful people we met along the way.

My hiking partner and I wrote a day-to-day blog while on trail. Each time I think about my Baekdu Daegan experience, what comes to my mind is not so much the beautiful mountains of Korea, but the warm smile of its people.

Baekdu Daegan Trip Details

Length (2015)715 km (444 mi)
DateJune & July 2015
Duration47 days
Detailed blog tripBlog we wrote while on trail
Disclaimer: Gear lists represent what I used on previous trips and are not necessarily representative of gear I would use if I was to do these trips again and/or if I had infinite funds to buy new gear.
TOTAL BASE WEIGHT
6043g
Packing System
ZPacks Arc Haul + 2 Belt Pouches, 2 Top Side pockets, and 1 shoulder pouch
770g
MEC Pack Liner
120g
Shelter System
Duplex tent with 10 stakes and stake sack
634g
Sleeping System
Therm-a-rest Neoair X-Lite Sleeping pad Small Size
230g
Zpacks 900 Fill Power Down Solo Sleeping Bag 20F
552g
Zpacks  Cuben Fiber Roll Top Dry Bags size Medium Plus
26g
Cooking System
Isobutane canister
377g
BIC Lighter
21g
Mountain Laurel 475 Titanium Mug
39g
MSR Reactor 1.0L Stove System
416g
Light my Fire Titanium Spork
17g
Victorinox Classic Alox Pocket Knife
17g
Water Storage
Platypus Platy Bottle (2L)
79g
Two Platypus Plus Bottles
36g
Sawyer Mini with cleaning syringe
27g
Miscellaneous Items
Otifleks ear plug
2g
Kinesys SPF 30 Suncreen Fragrance Free Spray
44g
Hairbands
1g
Ecolips Lip balm
10g
Gillette Venus Razor Blade
3g
Campsud Soap
157g
Outdoor Research Dry Ditty Sacks 1L
34g
Toob Travelbrush (Only head and refillable toothpaste parts)
25g
Lightload Pack Towel
34g
Light sandals
98g
Safety and Orientation
Passport and Visa with waterproof case
62g
Food Bag - Cactus Creek Pocket Shopping Bag
38g
Oakley Flak Jacket sunglasses with pouch
46g
SealLine HP Map Case Small
80g
Baekdu Daegan Guidebook - cut in half
132g
Fisher Space Pen
21g
Bank cards and money
100g
Lightweight wallet
9g
Electronics
Apple - USB Wall Plug
20g
AAA Lithium Batteries
29g
Lifetrons High Tech Multi-Tool Adaptor
34g
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 headlamp
88g
SPOT Gen3 GPS beacon
135g
Lifetrons & Lenmar portable chargers
396g
Kobo Aura e-reader
174g
Apple Headphones
16g
Apple Iphone 5S and Lifeproof Nu case
153g
Timex Ironman watch
Outdoor Research Dry Ditty Sack 2.5L
29g
Gear Repair
Cuben Fiber Tape Strip
8g
Mini Duct Tape roll
19g
Carried Clothing
Outdoor Research Dry Ditty Sacks 3L
32g
Asics Adelyn Sleeping T-shirt
102g
Pettet Heppner Long sleeve shirt
159g
Wigwam Trail Mix Fusion Merino Socks
125g
Arc’teryx Phase SL bottom - Long Johns
95g
Patagonia Active Brief Underwear
30g
Marmot Essence Rain Jacket
142g
Worn Items (Not part of base weight)
Pettet Milo T-shirt
Outdoor Research Shorts
Buff Headband
Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks
Patagonia Active Brief Underwear and bra
Asolo TPS 535 V Backpacking Boots
Black Diamond Ultra Mountain Carbon Poles

Baekdu Daegan Tips and Tricks

This is information taken from the last blog post my hiking partner and I wrote after the trail. The original post can be found on our blog.
GuidebookWe have been using the excellent guidebook “Baekdu-daegan Trail: Hiking Korea’s Mountain Spine (Seoul Selection Guides)” by Andrew Douch, Roger Shepherd and David Mason. We highly recommend it! Although it was written in 2008, it is still very reliable. Be sure to download the document listing the most recent changes here. We have decided to skip most of the closed sections, either by walking around them or by hitchhiking.
A new guidebook is suppose to come out in 2017.
General information from past hikersThere is a Facebook Baekdu Daegan group. Authors of the guidebook and past hikers are members of it and will certainly be happy to answer your questions.
OrientationWe used our iphones as GPS for orientation on the trail. The trail can be done without any GPS device but it makes it easier to have one. We both used the "Gaia GPS" OS application, on which we downloaded South Korean topo maps for the trail and uploaded gpx files of the trail and water sources. Please note that some of the water sources in the current gpx files are a little off. You can find the gpx files on the Facebook group.
CommunicationWe both got Sim cards from the company Evergreen for our phones so we could use data and be able to place phone calls. This has been very useful as if you stay on the trail and do not visit towns often, you will only come across wifi spots every couple of days or more. Cellular coverage in South Korea is excellent and there has not been one day where we have had no service for the whole day. You can pre-order the sim card and have it waiting for you at Seoul airport (or other locations). If you do not pre-order it, you can still purchase one but you will need to activate it by sending a copy of your passport. By pre-ordering it, it will already have been activated. (This is how it worked in 2015, but things change all the time!)
Korean language skillsOne of our regrets regarding this trail is not to have studied Korean language more extensively. One of us had two Korean word applications on a smartphone (Learn Korean phrasebook by Coderent and Learn Korean by AccelaStudy) which have been useful to learn the pronunciation. Conversations on and off trail could have been more interesting and a lot of situations made easier had we known the language a little more. However here are our top five words that you must learn before hitting the trail:
"Hello, Thank you, Water, Walking, Nice to meet you".
HitchhikingEvery hitchhiking experience in Korea has been positive, we got picked up very quickly and people have gone out of their way to take us to our destination. We read on another blog that you should bow to cars when hitchhiking and we have done this.
Health/SafetyWe both got shots to be immunized against Japanese encephalitis before hitting the trail. We had not major health issue during our trip.
The country is very safe and people are very helpful. Although I was not traveling alone I would recommend Korea for solo female travelers.
Wildlife- A small population of bears is present in the Jiri-San national park at the southern end of the trail. Since you must stay in the park shelters anyway they are not a concern.
- Wild boars are found along the trail. They have not cause us any issues, even though we have startled a couple of them.
- Watch out for snakes on the trail, both venomous and non-venomous. More details on the species of snakes is available in the guidebook. We encountered between 10-15 snakes on the whole trail.
Budget and ATMsWithdrawing money with a non-Korean bank card has not been possible for us while on trail. We have managed to withdraw money from our credit cards in one town that was close to the trail but do not count on this. We would recommend taking enough cash to cover the entire trail from the beginning, you will avoid a lot of stress. We spent approximately CAD$1400 each for our 7 weeks on the trail. This amount includes everything from lodging, food, transportation, gear replacements and cell phone costs.
Camping/LodgingWe freedom camped most nights along the trail except in national parks where we stayed in shelters. We also spent some nights in guesthouses and hotels, as well as two nights where we were invited in local's houses. At the time of our visit shelters were difficult to book as the website was only in Korean, but a website in English is suppose to be available now. We got locals to call shelters directly to get spots.
Many jeongjas are found along the trails and they make wonderful sleeping locations.
ResupplyResupply locations are listed in the guidebook. There are few large grocery stores on trail and hikers mostly resupply in small stores at mountain pass. Noodles, cookies and chocolate are usually available. Even though rice is not always for sale, we were always able to obtain some by asking and if was often given to us for free.
WaterSince the trail follows the crest of the mountains and is in fact the water divide between the East and West sea, finding water can be difficult. The distance we hiked everyday and the campsites we chose were influenced a lot by the distance from which they were to water sources. Hikers usually need to go off trail to find water. If it has not rained for a couple days, hikers might need to carry large quantities of water with them. A water filter is a must.
Favorite trail food"Gam-Ja-Jeon" (감자전) Fried pancake made of potatoes and vegetables. Delicious!! Learn to recognize the work in Korean so you can point it! 🙂
Hiking in Jiri-San National Park, at the southern end of the trail.

Hiking in Jiri-San National Park, at the southern end of the trail.

Jeongja along the trail

Jeongja along the trail

Sleeping in a jeongja

Sleeping in a jeongja

The trail is very steep in some sections

The trail is very steep in some sections

Flies can be annoying

Flies can be annoying

Restaurant along the trail

Restaurant along the trail

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