North Korea: An adventure to Minbong-san on the Baekdu Daegan.

Photo Blog June 8th, 2017:  Maengsan-gun, Phyongannam-do, North Korea.

June 7, 2017: On route to Bukchang, we cross the Taedong-gang (river) from a remote village. The river is running black from the effects of coal mining. The coal is used to feed the monstrous power plant in Bukchang.

June 08, 2017: The next day we leave the sooty streets of Bukchang and start driving east to the mountains in Maengsan, Phyongannam-do. We arrive there early morning.

Maengsan with a peak that is strikingly similar to Juheul-san in Mungyeong-eup, South Korea, behind it.

Maengsan is located at 600m above sea level, surrounded by mountains, with clean air, and a good atmosphere about it. It looks similar to Mungyeong-eup in the South Korean province of Gyeongsangbuk-do, with the feature peak of that area, Juheul-san, looming behind it. From Maengsan we continue east, alongside the Dongmyeon-gang (river) towards the village of Yangsan-ri.

 09:40hrs: We arrive at Yangsan-ri and meet the local forestry workers who we follow south to an area called Changpung-dong near the source of the Dongmyeon river. We cross the shallow Dongmyeon river many times. With its steep craggy mountains, willow trees, and sweeping streams, the area somehow reminds me of the Worak-san mountains in the southern province of Chungcheongbuk-do.

Maize and potatoes in Yangsan-ri, Maengsan-gun, Phyongannam-do.

Fording the Dongmyeon river several times near Yangsan-ri on our approach to Minbong-san.

We arrive at Changpung-dong well before midday. There is still time for us to climb Minbong-san 1135m. We hike up a steep valley and get to the ridge by midday. As we step out of the forest, the area suddenly opens up to a highland grass plateau. It’s stunning!

Grassy meadows of Minbong-san 1135m

Minbong-san was still off in the distance, so we head south on the grassy ridge for it. The area has been cleared for grazing stock, and reminded me a lot of my home country New Zealand, that had been cleared by early settlers for farming highland sheep. And then we suddenly see sheep and cattle, free grazing on the slopes of Minbong-san.

Kim Yu-chol knows I am a big fan of mutton, so he gets the notion that he might be able to catch a sheep for dinner. He fails. I think the sheep thought he was being silly. Knowing that New Zealand has many sheep, and of course my family name being Shepherd, meaning a sheep herder, Yu-chol asks me if I know how to catch one? I joke, that in New Zealand, if we catch a sheep by hand, we have to make love to it before we kill it. He doesn’t get the joke, and looks at me oddly.

 

In the far distance I can see shepherds with their stock. Some of them are girls. I ask our local guide some questions about the area. He tells me that this had a lot of open grassland before the rest of it was cleared about thirty years ago. The grazing area covers about 30 hectares and can usually support about 800 head of cattle and some sheep. The stock is brought down from the slopes in winter.

By the time we get back to the vehicle it is only 4pm. We set up our campsite and wash naked in the cold streams of the Baekdu Daegan. Then we drink some acorn soju and snack on wild walnuts and wild peanuts.

A local family gives us two cooked chickens and a duck to eat. It is amazing generosity. The family raise ducks, chickens, pigs, harvest honey, and collect mountain herbs for a living. They seem quite content with their life. We start the campfire.

After dinner another local brings us some small river fish that we roast on the fire. I’m sure this kind act is because of my presence, but I can’t see or hear of any exchange of money. It may just be a willingness of the Korean people to treat their guests well. The locals know I am recording the Baekdu Daegan as ONEKOREA. The night is whiled away with bear stories. A full moon rises behind the dancing willows. Only the brightest stars twinkle through its beams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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