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Olympic Aribau Trail shows Gangwon’s beauty

Nov 08,2017
At Auraji, two streams come together to make the Joyang River, which later becomes part of Han River that flows into the capital city of Seoul. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
Mojeongtab Trail is adorned with about 4,000 towers made of small stones, thanks to one local woman who piled them up over almost three decades for good luck.
Close to Doam Dam, hikers can get a full view of the trail they just walked as part of Course 4.
A view of Anbandegi, which has large cabbage farms located on the steep hillsides between mountains.
Daegwangryeong's 99 turns take hikers to Gangneung. This aerial view shows highway for cars, not the hiking trails.
Course 7 is covered with large groups of pine trees. The type found here is called Geungang, which is found in the mountains that extend from Baekdudaegan.
The trail takes hikers into a village known as Wichonli. None of the other routes allow for much time to meet others, as they take hikers through forests and mountains.
A hiker on the Olympic Aribau Trail walks the course No. 5 where a view of Anbandegi. Here hikers can see cabbage farms formed on the hillside between mountains. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
The Jeongseon Arirang Market, one of the most popular travel spots in Jeongseon County, where the Olympic Aribau Trail starts. [KWON HYUK-JAE
A multi-course trail created to celebrate the upcoming winter Olympic games in Korea is now open to hikers of all skill levels. The Olympic Aribau Trail connects three different counties in Gangwon, where the PyeongChang Winter Olympics is being held. The trail is about 131.7 kilometers (82 miles) in total, and starts at a market in Jeongseon County. It then takes hikers over to rivers, hills, and finally to the East Sea in Gangneung.

The trail is divided into nine different courses and connects the eastern and western regions of Korea’s Baekdudaegan mountain range- just like the Olympics aims to bring together people from different regions of the world. The trail runs through many well-known travel destinations and places where locals gather. It not only takes hikers to scenic areas, but also to railbikes, through now-closed coal mines and into traditional-style outdoor markets where locals sell things foraged in the mountains.

“While Jeju Olle trail is good for those who have just started walking trips, Olympic Aribau trail is aimed at those in the intermediate level,” said Lee Gi-ho, secretary general of Gangneung Baugil trail who set up routes for the new trail.

Cultural Minister Do Jong-hwan said that the trail will be a precious travel destination during the Olympics and it will become the legacy of the global sports event after it is over.

Out of them all, Course 3 was the toughest one to walk, as it takes hikers up Mt. Nochu, which has an altitude of 1,322 meters (4,337 feet). Find what suits your taste and walk the trail yourself to get both the Olympic and Korean spirit.

BY SON MIN-HO [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]

Course 1

Market visit to start a long journey

The trail begins amid the hustle and bustle of Jeongseon Arirang Market, which is open daily. The market draws 700,000 visitors a year to Jeongseon County, an area with a population of 38,000. Here, registered local merchants sell vegetables to bring back home, and snacks like buckwheat pancakes, acorn jelly or noodle soups available to eat on the spot.

The trail leads you to the Jeongseon train station and then on a walk by the Joyang River.

Parallel to the river, hikers will see the railway that was used to transport lumber and coal to what is now Seoul. Jeongseon Station used to be a stop on the Jeongseon Line, which was a crucial piece of infrastructure that allowed the county filled with coal mines to flourish.

The railway that allowed for major industrial development decades ago is now a hot spot for those who enjoy riding the train. The unmanned Najeon Station, a small train station surrounded by mountains, is frequently used for filming TV commercials, dramas and movies due to its ambience. The scenery gets even more romantic when it is covered with snow in the winter.

The trail continues alongside the Joyang River. Once you get to the Joyang River Outlook, you will see Daeraeddeul, a small village nestled among hills. The mountain surrounding the town obstructs the view of other villages, creating a quaint and quiet atmosphere. Daereaddeul is known for being shaped like the Korean Peninsula, but you won’t get to see it unless you go up to Mount Sangjeongbawi nearby. There is a separate trail that takes you up the mountain near the bus stop for Mungokbon-dong.

There, the course goes in two different directions, but they eventually come back together. The route that continues by the river (3.7 kilometers, 2.3 miles) is longer than the one that goes up a low mountain (3.2 kilometers), but the mountainous course will take about 30 more minutes to finish. The mountain route provides hikers the chance to walk through a forest of pine trees.

Course 2

Arirang spirit comes alive at crossroads

Course 2 is the longest out of all nine sections, extending for over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles). However, the walk is relatively flat, so visitors won't find the trail too exhausting.

The course continues to take hikers alongside the Joyang River and heads even further north. You will be taken to a trail that’s widely known, commonly called The Ggotbyeorujae Old Trail. The trail was the only route that connected downtown Jeongseon and Auraji, a town that used to be known for its coal mines, before Highway No. 42 opened. The cement covering the trail is evidence that buses used to run through this route. The new trail is expected to bring in a new spirit to this old and rarely-used area.

At the Masanjae outlook, hikers can take in a grand view full of different mountain peaks. One of the peaks is Mount Gariwang’s Jung Peak, which will be the home of the ski jump events during the Olympics. Coming back out of the mountain takes you to Auraji station.

To the left of the station is a restaurant and motel that have been operating since 1983. The owner is known for singing “Jeongseon Arirang,” the song that has been recognized by Unesco and Gangwon Province. Most regional variations of “Arirang,” Korea’s most famous folk song, usually have an unclear history, but the “Jeongseon Arirang” has more than 600 years of history. People from the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) came to Jeongseon because they opposed the establishment of the Joseon Dynasty and created “Arirang” while they were there.

The song’s tune has been handed down through the generations. “Arirang” is known for capturing elements of the Korean spirit called han, a pain people gain from their mental or physical stuggles in life, and the motel owner shares her struggles of running her business for over 30 years while taking care of her blind mother-in-law.

Jeongseon is also popular among fans of the actor Won Bin, as that is where his parents live. It is said that many fans from overseas come here to learn more about their favorite actor.

Course 3

Finding a scholar’s spirit in the woods

This trail starts at a train station that is no longer in service. Despite there being no trains, Gujeolli Station is packed with people waiting to take a ride on Korea’s first-ever rail bikes. The bikes take people to Auraji Station from Gujeolli Station.

After the coal mine industry started to fall in 1990s, Korea’s Railway Corporation decided to stop the train route that passed through Gujeolli Station in November 2001. The unused rails were transformed into a 7.2-kilometer (4.5-mile) rail bike route in June 2005. Many other regions in Korea followed suit and made their unused railways into rail bike courses.

To the northeast of the station sits a landscape of impressive peaks. One of the highest is Mt. Nochu, which extends from Gangneung to Jeongseon, and the trail runs right through it. After an approximately six-hour hike, you will arrive in Gangneung. Course 3 is the most difficult of the nine courses, and brings hikers to the highest altitude.

At the foothills of Mt. Nochu, there is a shrine called Yiseongdae, which was set up to praise two scholars, Seolchong of Silla (57 B.C. - 935 A.D.) and Yi Yi of Joseon (1392 - 1910), who were both rumored to have studied in the mountain. From here, you can take in a magnificent view of the mountain range and on a clear day, one can see Mount Maebong in Taebaek and Mount Duta in Donghae.

The mountain area is very remote and quiet. There is moss on the rocks, mushrooms along the trail and it is not uncommon to encounter animals while on the hike.

When the sound of running water becomes faint, hikers will enter the Mojeongtab Trail, the final part of the course. The 500-meter-long (0.31-mile) valley is decorated with towers made with small stones piled up. The story goes that a woman had a dream that she would help her family's health if she made 3,000 stone towers after her children died and her husband got sick. She piled towers for about 26 years until she died in 2011. It is said that there are now more than 4,000 towers.

Course 4

Tracing the origins of the Han River

This course starts in Baenadeuri Village - a town whose name translates to the place where a boat comes in and out.

The trail, except for the final 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles), goes along a stream named Songcheon. The stream comes from Mount Hwanghyeong in Pyeongchang and is about 67.5 kilometers long.

It meets with Goljicheon Stream at Auraji to make Joyang River, which eventually turns into the Han River in Seoul after combining with other rivers along the way.

Back in the Joseon era (1392-1910) lumber was delivered through the waterways and Baenadeuri Village was the northernmost port.

The transport of lumber started in 1876 when Joseon tried to rebuild Gyeongbok Palace during the Imjin War since the land routes were not well-suited to allow for the transfer of heavy materials.

The trail by the stream is easy to walk. Most of the trail is paved with cement, but the trees alongside the trail create a beautiful, natural ambiance.

The nearly 10-kilometer-long trail from Baenadeuri Village to the entrance of the Doam Dam is considered one of the best scenic views on the Olympic Aribau Trail.

White pear trees bloom during the spring, and green leaves cover the scorching sun and offer shade during the summer. During the fall, the walk along the trail provides a colorful view of the fall foliage on the foothills of Mount Balwang. The area was paved in 2010 so that cars could pass, but there are not many vehicles driving on the road so hiker can walk freely without having to worry about cars.

At the entrance of the dam, hikers can see the grandiose canyon called the Songcheon Valley. The view has been compared to the sights of the Rocky Mountains in the United States.

From here, there is another 2.7 kilometers left on the mountainous trail. It takes about an hour to complete, but the scenery is well worth the walk.

Course 5

Farmer’s paradise in the mountains

The most special part of Course 5 is Anbandegi, a field in between valleys where farmers grow cabbage. It is Korea's largest mountain cabbage field, taking up 1.95 square kilometers (481.85 acres). Oksu-dong, a neighborhood of about the same size in Seoul has a population of 26,000. The area is so large that it is difficult to see the whole field from any spot along the trail. There are about 28 households growing cabbage in the field.

Abandegi became a cabbage farm in 1965. President Park Chung Hee’s administration encouraged farmers all across Gangwon to go to the mountains and create new farms, and promised the farmers that they would get to own the land they used, if they succeeded in growing crops there.

However, creating farms wasn’t easy. It was difficult to find food and water in the mountains. When it snowed, the roads were covered and no one could get in or out. The farmers had to rely on a helicopter to fly over and drop food to fill up their hungry stomachs.

These remote areas became better connected recently, and attracts visitors eager to see landscapes not easily found anywhere else in Korea. The best time to go is before the harvest festival Chuseok, as the farmers usually harvest their crops in the late summer. Some prefer to check out Andandegi when the rolling landscape is covered in meters of snow.

Course 5 is split between the 5-kilometer Anbandegi area and the 7-kilometer Baekdudaegan, the only trail that overlaps with Korea’s most daunting mountain range.

Although Course 5 takes hikers to the highest point of this Olympic Aribau Trail, the trail itself doesn’t have that many ups and downs. It could be considered one of the easiest trails of them all. The Baekdudaegan section is on the border of Gangneung and Pyeongchang. At Heonggye Outlook, hikers can see Pyeongchang, and at Neunggyeongbong Outlook they can check out a view of Gangneung.

Course 6

Long and winding road to Gangneung

This course goes downhill from the Daegwanryeong rest stop all the way down to Bohyeon Temple. This trail is a hike that has been done for generations. The 6.3-kilometer (3.9-mile) trail is a registered cultural asset in Korea. Daegwanryeong, known as a sacred place in the area, is a point that many locals use when giving directions to other locations in Gangwon.

After walking past the Daegwanryeong rest stop and continuing for about 2.5 kilometers, hikers will see a large space that used to be a shrine. Army general Kim Yu-sin (595-673) and Bumil Guksa (810-990), also known as Monk Bumil, of the Silla Dynasty are honored here, and the annual Gangneung Danoje Festival pays tribute to the two local heroes.

According to records from the Joseon era, a soldier who helped General Wang Geon win the war to create Goryeo did a ritual in the Daegwanryeong area, and the ritual has continued ever since Wang Geon’s win. The festival was designated a piece of cultural heritage by Unesco in 2005.

The uneven trail is rumored to have 99 turns along the way. According to legend, a scholar packed up 100 dried persimmons on his way to the capital and had one at every corner. At the end, only one persimmon remained.

The trail leads you to Banjeong, known for its view of both Gangneung and the East Sea. On the trail, hikers will see what used to be a jumak, a rest stop where people get food and drinks, after walking for about 3 kilometers. The site was restored in 2008, but the jumak doesn’t sell food anymore. Three kilometers later, hikers will have the chance to visit a bathroom shaped like a spaceship. This area is called Wonuliteo, which, legend has it, is once where a governor of Gangneung cried while he made his way up the steep trail. It is said that he cried again after his term ended because he was sad to leave.

The Daegwanryeong Old Trail ends here, but the Olympic Aribau Trail continues. Course 6 ends at a bus stop around the corner from Bohyeon Temple, which is located around 4 kilometers from the village.

Course 7

The perfect spot for forest bathing

Some of the Olympic Aribau trails in Gangneung share routes with the Gangneung Bawoo Trail. Course 6 follows the Gangneung Bawoo Trail’s second route, Course 7 is Gangneung Bawoo Trail’s third route, Course 8 corresponds with the tenth Bawoo route and Course 9 follows the 11th Bawoo trail.

Marks for the newer trail are still not totally clear, so for now, it is easier to follow the signs that indicate the Gangneung Bawoo Trail. However, some of information is out of date, as it was written in 2009 when the Gangneung trail first opened.

Course 7 leads hikers through a forest mostly made up of pine trees. Once you feel like you have come to smell like a pine tree, you will notice that one side of the trail is covered with oak trees.

Outside the tree forest is unpaved road which is usually closed, but opens during big holidays for families trying to visit the tombs of their ancestors in the mountains.

Along the trail, hikers will notice a small pavilion called Eomyeongjeong. This structure was built in the spot where an old pine tree used to stand. The tree was cut down and used as part of the restoration of Gwanghwamun in 2007.

When the trail starts to get mountainous again, you will see Suljan Rock. The name, which translates to alcohol glass, was given to the flat rock, which has three round holes that look like glass cups used to drink alcohol. From that spot, hikers can catch a glimpse of Baekdudaegan to the north.

The pine tree forest continues as you walk through the course. Throughout history, Koreans have used pine trees and pine cones in a variety of ways. Koreans lived in houses built from pine, and leaves and pine cones were used to make fire in the kitchen. Pine cones were also used to make alcoholic beverages, and people were buried in a coffins made out of pine.

Course 8

Just passing through town

Course 8 starts at the Myeongjugun Tomb, where a leader of the Gangneung area during the Silla period (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) is buried. At the time, the city was known as Myeongju. The capital of Silla was far from Gangneung and the mountain range was a difficult barrier to overcome. Naturally, the city was somewhat blocked from outside influence and was able to keep its own traditional like Danoje.

The city is isolated but it has long been considered a good place to live. There is an old saying that one is fortunate to die without ever needing to cross Daegwanryeong.

The course is split between the forest and the village. The forest section is covered in pine trees, a sight that most hikers are familiar with. But the section that runs through the village offers a different perspective and lets hikers learn about the everyday lives of the locals.

The trail, which allows for the most interaction with locals and other travelers, is also called the Shim Stefano Trail. Shim was a Catholic who died in 1866 when Catholics were persecuted for practicing their religion. Out of the 877 who died that year, Shim is the only one from Gangneung.

Walking through the village is refreshing. There are many new spaces set up for hikers to rest. From the Solbau Outlook, hikers can get a great view of downtown Gangneung. The trail goes under the Yeongdong and Donghae Highways.

Towards the end of Course 8, hikers will see a sign for a village called Uchuli - which is how people in Gangneung pronounce Wichonli. The name translates to a village where people formally bow. Here, residents gather on the day after New Year’s Day and bow to the head of the village, a tradition that started when Joseon scholar Yi Yi (1536-84) was still alive. The current head is named Park Cheol-dong and he was born in 1926. The bow used to happen on the New Year’s Day, but the tradition was moved to the day after due to Japanese colonial rule. The course takes you away from the village to Songyang Elementary School to start a new one.

Course 9

Accomplishments fill the final stretch

The final course ends on a curvy trail by the East Sea. This requires crossing a low mountain and the Jukheon Reservoir. The trail takes hikers around the reservoir into a downtown Gangneung area known as Ojukheon where Joseon scholar Sin Saimdang (1504-51) gave birth to scholar Yi Yi.

Both mother and son are pictured on Korean currency. The mother is on the 50,000 won ($44.95) bill, and the son is on the 5,000 won bill. It is often said that the mother is remembered thanks to the fame Yi earned. He scored the highest on a nationwide test to enter politics nine times, served many different positions, wrote the largest number of requests to the king to make the country better, and studied Neo-Confucianism in his spare time.

After Ojukheon, the course takes hikers to Seongyojang, one of the largest private hanok (traditional Korean house) in Korea. The children of King Sejong’s second oldest brother Prince Hyoryeong settled here about 300 years ago. The house is remembered because the family was well-respected in the neighborhood. Despite owning such a large space, the family did their part so that farmers wouldn't die from hunger. The family also housed many travelers to Mount Geumgang for free. Heungseon Daewongun, a Korean regent, and calligrapher Kim Jeong-hee stayed here and left writings and paintings as gifts. It is said that if the family wanted a particular guest to leave, they changed their arrangement of banchan, the small side dishes commonly served during Korean traditional meals.

The trail takes a little detour to the site of Heo Nanseolheon's (1563-89) birth. The sister of Heo Gyun, who wrote the tales of Hong Gil-dong, was a poet who died at the age of 27. Her poems were delivered to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and were highly praised.

The sea is finally within reach. The white sand-filled Gangmun Beach is the end of 131.7-kilometer-long trail. When you look back, you can see Baekdudaegan - those who embarked on the full course started on the other side of the mountains.