Korean range fascinates Kiwi
Roger Shepherd mountains.
The intrepid Kiwi tour and mountain guide grew up in Porirua, and is glad to be back here briefly, but his heart belongs in the Baekdu Daegan mountain range, which traverses the spine of the Korean Peninsula.
He has recently completed a photographic essay on the range, backed by the South Korean Forest Service, that is being exhibited at Pataka until April 2.
The former New Zealand police officer and African wildlife ranger’s love affair with the Baekdu Daegan range began after a friend introduced him to it in 2006 – a year later they both walked the entire 735 kilometre South Korean section, in 70 days, the first foreigners to do so.
They wrote a guide book on the region.
After doing more longdistance hikes in Korea in 2009, he set up a business, Hike Korea, that promotes Korean mountain culture through tour guiding, photography and writing.
Over 70 per cent of the Korean peninsula is covered in mountains.
‘‘These mountains represent so much to the Korean people, they worship them and say that they are a transporter of natural energy for the entire peninsula.
‘‘They control the direction of rivers, have been important in military campaigns through the ages, contain temples.
‘‘It’s much more than just spectacular mountains and ridges, they are a huge symbol of spirituality and nationalism. South Korea is a high- tech, super-savvy place but people just love to get out and walk among their trails, it’s part of who they are.’’
What’s special about Mr Shepherd’s exhibition is it shows off the mountains of North Korea as well.
Through the New ZealandDPRK Friendship Society, whose chairman Don Borrie is from Porirua, Mr Shepherd was able to make contacts in the communist nation and travelled there last year.
‘‘I wanted to know if it was possible to visit, because it’s well-known that the Baekdu Daegan mountains are important to both Korean peoples. They [North Korea] were open to my visit, seeing it as a positive thing,’’ Mr Shepherd says.
He spent 18 days last October in North Korea and while it was more of a challenge to negotiate than the welltravelled South Korea section, due to their lack of infrastructure, it was nevertheless rewarding.
North Korea has the highest peak, Baekdusan (2744 metres) on the border with China.
‘‘I love the fact I was able to explore it all as one country,’’ Mr Shepherd says.
‘‘In the north you couldn’t just come down from the mountains and find a town or city to spend the night in, but that was fine, it was a very safe environment to be in.
‘‘ There was no politics involved, I stayed out of that.’’
While there is no organised trail in North Korea, Mr Shepherd hopes that can be rectified one day.
He would like his photographs to eventually become part of a book on the mountain range.