Hiker Attempts to Traverse Both Koreas

New Zealander wants to document something all Koreans love: their mountains

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 30, 2013 10:14 AM CDT

(Newser) – Hiking is not a popular pastime in North Korea—when you're starving, walking long distances is not a fun recreational activity. But that hasn't stopped New Zealand hiker Roger Shepherd, who has visited the country four times to climb the Baekdudaegan mountain range—the first foreigner to set foot there since the Korean War. Now Shepherd, a former cop who runs a hiking company in South Korea, has set his heights even higher: he wants to hike the entire length of the range, which runs 870 miles along the Korean Peninsula, from North Korea to South, crossing the demilitarized zone, the New York Times reports.

Despite its disinterest in recreational hiking, North Korea has been surprisingly receptive to his goal, says Shepherd—probably because it appreciates a foreign visitor who isn't interested in politics. "Koreans often say that mountains are part of their DNA, part of who they are,” he says. “When I talk about mountains in South and North Korea, people just ease up and talk about a subject that has no enemy." But officials in both countries say their permission for the trip will be contingent on the political climate at the time. "I remember one of the military officers saying to the effect that, even though Korea was divided, Baekdudaegan is not, but only a bird can travel freely along Baekdudaegan at the moment," says Shepherd.

A rest area complex that once served as a base camp for hikes up Mount Kumgang in South Korea.
A rest area complex that once served as a base camp for hikes up Mount Kumgang in South Korea.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
South Korean army soldiers check a barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom, South Korea.
South Korean army soldiers check a barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the demilitarized zone of Panmunjom, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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