Last winter was cold and gloomy. In February, I desperately wanted to get away from Seoul for a day. Most of our friends were travelling to warmer climates. We didn’t have a choice and chose to visit a frozen waterfall.
We took the Gyeongchun Line to Gangchon Station. We found some signboards (outside Exit 1) and a map of the places of interest in the area. We had to find the boarding point for Bus 50. There was no tourist information centre and the roads were deserted on a Saturday morning. It’s a good idea to download Naver Map (on your phone) when you’re exploring the Korean countryside. The app lead us to a point — in the middle of nowhere.
I spotted an elderly lady and tried to ask her (in broken Korean) basic information. She was helpful and guided us to a makeshift bus stop. Tmoney cards are accepted on these buses and Gugok Falls (구곡폭포) is the last stop on this route.
The forest was powdered white and rivulets were frozen on either side of the trail. Temperatures dipped as we walked deeper into the forest.
These cleverly camouflaged birds dared to stir up the sleeping forest with their chirping.
Water ceased to exist here. This place seemed like an alternate reality of sorts. A parallel world in which liquids had lost the war for domination — to the solid state.
This world was eerily blue and silent. Winter had touched its icy fingers on every perceivable surface. Time had come to a standstill and motion was captured in the past. Sometimes, we’d hear a soft gurgle underneath the thick layer of ice. Gaping holes in the frozen river exposed a different world below. Motion was hidden in plain sight.
The trail was deceptive. Occasionally, it revealed its true form — under the cover of dust and leaves.
Every curve took us to an intriguing sight. We passed by miniature towers of stone, built by hikers who’d walked on the same path. It’s believed to bring luck and keep one safe in the mountains. Spiritualism is alluring when you’re so close to nature. I was tempted to believe in anything here. I would believe in mystical forces, invisible entities, evil witches, and even local folklore. The forest had cast a spell on me. There was no room for logic in this magical place.
The sun finally peeked above the jagged edge. The frozen river turned milky white when bathed in sunlight. With the sun on their side, the liquid state had a fighting chance of transforming back.
The trail joins a wooden stairway leading directly to a vantage view of Gugok Waterfall. It’s an easy climb to the highest point.
It’s hard to describe the beauty of a frozen waterfall. Nature had saved the best for last. It was freezing cold here and my fingers turned red as I tried to capture some pictures. Basil was doing better than I was.
We could hear the crackling sound of ice when the ice axe dug into the frozen waterfall. These Korean ice climbers had won my admiration. You need courage to face the cold and hoist your body weight up a frozen waterfall. I could only imagine what they were feeling. And I didn’t want to be in their shoes. Turns out ice climbing is pretty popular in Korea. We didn’t visit the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but got a taste of the Korean spirit in Gugok. It was fascinating to see men and women participate together here.
It was barely noon by the time we came back to the main trail. Munbae village looked interesting and a signboard pointed towards an easy trail up the mountain. Most families were going back and this trail was empty.
It was a very easy trail, steep in parts, but nothing too challenging. The forest was covered in sunlight and it wasn’t as eery as the earlier trail. There was a tricky stretch towards the top. Ice melted into sludge and had turned slippery — on the outer edge. We weren’t wearing crampons and I was a little nervous climbing this part. Basil slipped and caught the rope in the nick of time. After this, a series of stairs lead to a crossroad.
We took some rest and walked to the other side. Munbae Village was an idyllic Korean village and was practically deserted. We walked around and saw some cute guard dogs. Few visitors had made it from the other side. Some visitors had come in cars and I guess there’s a connecting pathway to the main road. We didn’t have a choice and had to follow the same trail back.
The lake was frozen and it was soothing to walk around it. We came to a point where the frozen water channeled into a crevice in the rocks. This could be the source of the waterfall.
It was nearing lunch time and I couldn’t control my hunger anymore. We stepped inside a traditional eating house. Sanchae Bibimbap (a mixtures of wild vegetables and rice) is quite popular here. The hot tea, soup, and bibimbaap was perfect for the cold.
It was time to retrace our path. This time, we wore crampons and it was easier descending. It didn’t take too long to get to the entrance and we were lucky to get the bus immediately.