Natural Beauty in the Bosom of Baekdudaegan

Jungbong Valley

Visiting Jungbongol Valley after a long while, I found the valley quite different from the old days. The old farmhouse where I stayed overnight drinking herb liqueur with an old farmer was deserted and seemed to have collapsed, with lots of spider webs hindering the doors and windows. I was so sorry to see the sad scene that I wandered about the place a while and started toward Teokgol Valley, crossing the Teokgolgyo Bridge to console my mind. This valley is located a short distance away from the main Jungbonggol Valley but it holds more memories for me.

However, at Teokgol Valley I could not find any trace of the old farmhouse where I was once invited to a generous breakfast with a large bowl of natural mountainside honey a few years ago. Instead, there I could only see a new modern style house and a strange small temple was newly built. Even though this valley is not my own home village, I felt as if I had lost my old home village, and I retreated from the valley in a sad and heavy mood.

I returned to Teokgolgyo Bridge and started to climb toward Jungbonggol Valley. Tall trees covered the sky, casting their dark shadows on the trail in the mountain valley. Whenever I visit this trail, I find the way in this forest is frequently deserted and very suitable for walking in contemplation. Close to a nearby mountain stream are spread out sand fields, and the valley provides a nice place for summer vacationers.

To my delight, I found the farmhouses standing the same as before at the Sonae Village where the streams from the Ansonaegol Valley unite. I could hear some people talking in the house. Villagers here live mostly by gathering mountain herbs and wild vegetables and raising honey bees on the mountain. From May and June, when most flowers bloom, until October, some outside residents would come to this village to gather wild honey and herbs. The people in the farmhouse at Sonae Village may have been those outside residents who had come to this village recently.

Uncontaminated Mountain Valley where Others Live

The vehicle road ends in front of the Jungbong Branch Elementary School of the Galjeon Elementary School, which is about 5.8 kilometers off the National Road No.35 connecting Imgye and Taebaek. This branch school was opened in 1966 and brought up 70 graduates until it was closed in February, 1991. Its empty playground used to be very suitable for camping but this school property has been used as a temple since several years ago.

I hear a commotion in the valley in front of the branch school. There are two children and two adults in the valley who seem to be a family. They are all smiles and laughter, having successfully caught a fish in the stream. This valley has been very popular for catching fish in the clear stream. If you put a pot or Kocher in the stream with soybean paste and steamed rice inside the pot, rather big fish soon gather quite easily in the pot.

The streams in Jungbonggol Valley are always rich with clear water all throughout the four seasons of the year. It's because the waters of the streams join together here after coming down from many minor streams in several valleys such as Jeolgol, Hwinjeokgol, Danggol, Haedanggol, Jageundanggol and Ansonaegol--all from the extensive slopes of the Baekdudaegan, the largest mountain chain in Korea.

As those valleys have thick forests and deep streams, their waters never run dry. Sometimes these valleys are called 12-danggol as there used to a pavilion where Simmani (natural mountain ginseng collector) prayed to the mountain god, wishing for their successful search of natural ginseng in the mountain before they departed for their work in the forest. In mid-summer vacationers come from the Samcheok and Taebaek area, but in other seasons these valleys are rather deserted and lonely.

Jungbongol Valley is not splendid but serene. The little cascades that swirl around the attractive rocks along the stream and the crystal clear ponds present modest natural charms of the deep mountain valleys. Residents here take great pride in the serenity of their valley, saying, "These valleys are so clear and uncontaminated that even otters live here!" As there are many broadleaf trees, these valleys sparkle with colorful autumn leaves every fall, but it seems to me that few people have discovered the wonderful beauty of these valleys.

Remote Village Jeolgol almost Completely Isolated from the Outside World

If you cross a valley from the Jungbong Branch Elementary School, a forest road can be found. In most cases, walking along a forest road is usually tedious but the case is quite different here. You become refreshed occasionally when you encounter rushing and sprinkling cascades in the rocky valley, and cool crystal clear ponds here and there. After crossing through seven or eight valleys--when you pass the spot where the streams from Jageundanggol Valley are united--the valley curves to your right toward the northeastern direction. Then you will enter Hwinjeokgol Valley. Your front view of the valley opens widely and you can enjoy the vista of Cheongoksan Mountain far in the distance. As you walk along the mountain trail decorated with wildflowers, the chattering sound of streams in the mountain valley disappear in the sweet whisper of winds in the forest.

Passing the spot where the valley streams from Hwinjeokgol and Jeolgol unite, the forest road rises somewhat steeply toward the northern ridge. This forest road continues for a long while along the slopes and ridges, and disappears when you come down to Jeolgol Village. It takes about 2 and a half hours from the Jungbong Branch Elementary School. Jeolgol Village is a remote village that is almost completely isolated from the outside world. The villagers who used to live here by cultivating crops in patches they made by burning sections of forest left this village in the 1970s. Thereafter, two farmers named Mr. Cheong and Mr. Kim came to this village in 1991 and 1998, respectively, and have settled down in this remote mountain village.

Standing in the middle of a rather wide plateau on the upper part of Jeolgeol Village, which is surrounded by the ridges of the Jungbongsan Mountain-Gojeokdae Peak-Cheongoksan Mountain-Mangjibong Peak, I indulge in the wonderful sounds and beauty of nature. Suddenly, a strong desire to cast off my current mundane chains and live together with nature in this remote mountain village rises up from my heart.