Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/June 1892/Korean Mountains and Mountaineers



AS delineated on a Korean map of the country, the White Head Mountain seems to consist of a circle of jagged peaks inclosing a moderate-sized lake. The description of it in Chinese, in the letterpress department of the Atlas, recites that "Peik-tu San, or White Head Mountain, lies seven or eight days' journey to the west of Hoiryeng (a town on the Korean border), in Manchu territory. The mountain is in three tiers, is two hundred li, or sixty miles high, and the circuit of its base covers one thousand li, or three hundred miles. On the summit there is a lake eight hundred li, or two hundred and fifty miles in circumference, whence flow the three rivers Yalu, Sungari, and Tumen." These dimensions are greatly depreciated in Mr. James's description of the mountain in his book, The Long White Mountain. Nevertheless, lakes in mountain-tops seven or eight thousand feet above sea-level are rare enough to tempt the adventurous traveler to try to explore them; and this one on Peik-tu San yields precedence in interest, historically and geographically, to few others in the world. So thought Mr. Charles W. Campbell, of the English consular service in China, when, on the last days of August, 1889, he left Seoul on the tedious journey, by primitive Korean conveyances, of six hundred miles to the mountain. From his account of the journey, and the discussion it called forth in the Royal Geographical Society, are derived the facts given in this article.

The country traversed during the first four days of the journey was typical of the center and south of the Korean Peninsula. "Korea is a land of mountains. Go where you will, a stretch of level road is rare, and a stretch of level plain rarer still. The view from any prominent height is always the same; the eye ranges over an expanse of hill-tops, now running in a succession of long, billowy lines, now broken up like the wavelets in a choppy sea, often green with forest, but just as often bare and. forbidding. Clear mountain brooks or shallow streams rushing over beds of gravel are never wanting in the valleys below, where a rude long bridge, or curling smoke, or the presence of cultivation, leads you to observe the brown thatch of some huts clustered under the lee of a hill." On the fifth day Mr. Campbell "branched into untrodden country for the purpose of visiting a remarkable range called the Keum Kang San, or Diamond Mountain, where the most notable collection of Buddhist monasteries in Korea is to be found. There was a considerable change in the configuration of the land as we passed eastward from Keum-Seng. The valleys contracted into narrow, rocky glens, forests of oak, pine, maple, and chestnut clothed the steeper and loftier slopes, and cover sufficiently thick to delight the heart of the sportsman abounded everywhere." A pass too steep for laden animals had to be crossed with the help of bearers. It is known as the Tan-pa Byeng, and is the western barrier of the Keum Kang region. "The summit is about twenty-eight hundred feet above sea-level. Thence in clear weather a view of the Diamond Mountains was said to be obtainable, and the name Tan-pa, which means 'Crop-hair,' was given to the ridge in the early days of Korean Buddhism, to signify that those who reached this point had taken refuge in the cloister, and should sever their connection with the world by parting with their hair.

"From Tan-pa Byeng, a journey of sixteen miles in a northeasterly direction brought us to Ch'ang-An-Sa, or the Temple of Eternal Rest, a Buddhist monastery at the foot of the Keum Kang San (Diamond Mountains). These mountains are a remarkable section of the main range which practically determines the east coast of Korea. Elsewhere the aspect of the chain is tame enough, but in the north of the Kang-wen province it suddenly starts into a towering mass of irregular, precipitous rocks, whose appearance earned for them many centuries ago their present designation. Viewed from the Eastern Sea, which is not more than thirty miles off as the crow flies, their serrated outline is very striking, and must always make them conspicuous. The district they occupy is a fairly well defined one, some thirty miles long by twenty broad. Few places are more renowned in any country than these mountains are in Korea; in popular estimation they are the beau-idéal of scenic loveliness, the perfection of wild beauty in Nature. I found that both Chinese and Japanese spoke and wrote of them, but more because they are a Buddhistic center than for any other reason. At Seoul a visit to Keum Kang San is quite fashionable, and supplies all the material necessary for reputation as a traveler. Buddhism evidently found a home in these secluded mountains soon after its introduction into Korea, which Chinese and native records tell us occurred in the latter half of the fourth century after Christ. A Korean book—the Keum Kang San Record—states that Ch'ang-An-Sa was restored or rebuilt at the beginning of the sixth century, and at the monastery itself tradition dates the oldest relics from the T'ang period (a. d. 618 to 907). At present upward of forty shrines, tended by three or four hundred monks, a few nuns, and a host of lay servitors, are scattered over the east and west slopes of the Diamond Mountains. The great majority of the monks are congregated at the four chief monasteries, and the nuns possess a small sanctuary or two where they find sufficient to do, apart from religious exercises, in weaving cotton and hempen garments and other womanly occupations. The monks, when not in residence at the monasteries, travel all over the country, alms-bowl in hand, chanting the canons of Buddha from door to door, soliciting subscriptions to the building of a new altar or for the repair of an old one, and begging from day to day the food and resting-place which are rarely denied them."

The route followed a rough torrent winding up the west slope to the water-shed—which is 4,200 feet above sea-level, and the highest point reached in the journey across Korea—and descended the eastern flank by a wild mountain-path. "The monastery of Ch’ang-An is superbly situated a little way up the west slope. The lofty hills which wall in the torrent on the north recede for a few hundred yards, and rejoin it again, leaving in the interval a semicircular space of level ground, upon which the temple is built. Nothing could be more effective than the deep-green setting of this half-circlet of hills, rising up like a rampart from the rear of the buildings, and rendered additionally pleasing to the eye by a symmetrical covering of leafy forest and shrub. In front, the water swishes and swirls through rough, tumbled granite blocks, here and there softening into a clear pool, and beyond this again towers a conical buttress of the Keum Kang San, thickly clothed with pines and tangled undergrowth for half its height. The peak possesses the characteristics of the range. Gaping seams and cracks split it vertically from the summit down until vegetation hides the rock, at sufficiently regular intervals to give one the impression of looking at the pipes of an immense organ. The topmost ribs are almost perpendicular, and gleam bare and blue in the evening sun; but lower down the cracks and ledges afford a precarious lodging to a few conifers and stunted oaks." The other mountains along the route occupy equally pretty situations. Soon after crossing the Keum Kang range, Mr. Campbell struck the Japan Sea. A journey of sixty miles along the coast brought him to Wen-san, one of the ports opened to trade by the treaties with foreign powers. Hence he followed the coast-line northward for six days, passing through a number of populous towns, to Puk-ch'eng. Trade, which was not active on the Seoul-Wen-san route, was particularly stirring along the east coast. It is mainly in Manchester cottons. Fairs were common between Wen-san and Puk-ch'eng—as they are in all the populous districts of Korea. "The road was always animated with a concourse of merry, brightly dressed people, wending their way to the market town; women carrying jars and baskets of melons, pears, chillies, etc., on their heads, and babies on their backs; bulls and carts laden with brushwood for fuel; produce of all kinds, including grain and dried fish, borne by ponies and men; sturdy, half-nude coolies, perspiring under lofty, wooden frameworks, to which assortments of earthenware pots and turned wooden dishes are attached; and, more numerous than all, the pleasure-seeker, or ku-kyeng-kun, in holiday dress, strutting along in company with a batch of friends, gesticulating, laughing, and cracking jokes productive of the most hilarious mirth. Such throngs greeted the foreigner with amused surprise, sometimes a trifle rudely, but always good-naturedly. The women, in most cases, behaved as properly conducted Korean women ought to do when their faces run the risk of being scanned by a stranger, and turned their backs upon him; yet frequently all scruples vanished before an overpowering curiosity to take in the particulars of so odd a costume, or to discuss the singularity of the equipage. The main street of the town or village is the marketplace. It often widens into a sort of place or square, where straw booths are hastily erected for the occasion; but, ordinarily, each man exposes his wares on some boards, or on a cloth spread on the ground in the best spot available. The articles for sale are of the simplest."

From Puk-ch'eng Mr. Campbell took the direct, across-country route through Kap-san, to Peik-tu-san, in preference to the more interesting circuitous route, because of the lateness of the season. Following the Peik-ch'eng River to its source, he then, next day, after leaving the city (September 24th), reached the crest of the range which here fringes the highlands of North Korea. The top of the pass, called Hu-ch'i Ryeng, is 4,300 feet above the sea; thence to the Yalu, at Hyei-san, a distance of a hundred miles, there was a gradual descent, with one remarkable irregularity, to an elevation of 2,800 feet. "The aspect of the country had completely changed. We had left some valleys producing rice and cotton, and had entered a plateau-like region, where these crops were impossible, their places being taken by oats, millet, and hemp. At first our way lay through a forest of spruce, pine, birch, and oak, broken by an occasional marshy glade; to this succeeded an undulating country, which bore traces of being recently cleared. Clearings were made simply by setting fire to the forest—a process which I saw in operation. The population was scanty, but evidently increasing; the houses were log-huts, plastered with clay, roofed with thatch or shingle, and fenced with palisades of stakes six or eight feet high. Game hereabouts was very plentiful. . . . Tigers, leopards, and bears are also said to be easily obtainable. The tiger, indeed, is a fruitful subject of discussion. From Wen-san to Peik-tu San, and thence to Peng-yang, I heard endless stories of the brute's ravages, and more than once I was asked to delay my journey to shoot a 'maneater.' In the Yalu backwoods I passed through a deserted clearing, where four out of a total of ten inhabitants, had become the prey of a man-eating tiger during the previous winter and spring." Large tracts of cultivated land became common near Kap-san; and the neighborhood is said to contain most of the mineral wealth of Korea; gold, silver, and lead being worked at several places, but with sorry appliances and little skill. There is no doubt that the country is rich in useful and valuable minerals, but it has yet to be ascertained whether they can be worked at a profit.

The first view of the White Head Mountain was obtained from the crest of the ridge overlooking the Yalu, about thirty miles north of Kap-san. "Its renown was at once comprehensible, for, distant as it was, the view was majestic. The white, irregular mass towered, without any marked or prominent peak, head and shoulders over the surrounding hills, though one could see that it was not lofty, as mountains go. . . . Just at the point where this mountain is first visible a small temple has been erected for the purpose of offering sacrifices, which is done by the King of Korea every year on the 4th of the eighth moon (August) to the Peik-tu San deities. At Seoul I was led to believe that the officials deputed to perform this function actually ascended the mountain, but they evidently preferred a compromise, the efficacy of which has apparently never been doubted."

The rest of the journey to the mountain, with only hunters' paths and blazes through the forest, which was made in the first days of October, was beset with difficulties on account of the wintry weather. The last settler's hut was passed, and after that the party had to depend on the hunters' huts, which had been deserted for the winter. When two or three miles from the end of the journey, the best guide who could be depended upon fell in a fit brought on by overexertion. The superstitious Koreans attributed his paroxysms to the malevolent san sin, or mountain genii, and spent the night in offering prayers and propitiating sacrifices of rice to the offended deities, while Mr. Campbell doctored the man with Liebig's extract. The man had somewhat recovered from his disability, but in view of the discontent of his party, and the risk of going farther into the wilderness under the circumstances, Mr. Campbell made no further attempt to reach the top of the mountain.

This mountain, the Old White Mountain, as it is called by the Chinese of Manchuria, "is the most remarkable mountain, naturally and historically, in this part of Asia. The perennial whiteness of its crest, now known to be caused by pumice when not by snow, made the peoples that beheld it from the plains of Manchuria give it names whose meanings have survived in the Chinese Ch'ang-pai Shan, or Ever-white Mountain. This designation, obviously assigned to the White Mountain alone, has been extended to the whole range without apparent reason, for no other peak of it, so far as is known, can pretend to perennial whiteness, whether of pumice or snow. . . . The great point of interest in the mountain, apart from its whiteness, is the lake—twelve miles in circuit, according to Mr. James and his party, the only Europeans who have seen it—which lies in the broad top of the mountain at a height of 7,500 feet above sea-level, and is supposed to be the source of the three rivers, Yalu, Tumen, and Sungari. The Tei-Tei-ki (Great Lake), as the Koreans call it, is the nucleus of a mass of legend and fable. It is a sacred spot, the abode of beings supernatural, and not to be profaned by mortal eye with impunity. Curiously enough, neither Chinese nor Koreans have the faintest notion of the real character of Peik-tu-San. The Chinese say that the lake is an eye of the sea, and the Koreans tell you that the rock of which the mountain is composed 'floats in water,' for lumps of pumice were common on the Yalu at Hyei-san. My crude geological explanations, that this cho-san (ancestral mountain) of Korea was a burned-out volcano, whose crater had been filled with water by springs, were listened to with polite wonder and treated with less credulity than they deserved. I pointed to the black dust, to the clinkers, and to the rocks lining the banks of the Yalu for miles, many of which looked as if they had been freshly ejected from some subterranean furnace, but to no purpose. If the occurrences I had spoken of had taken place, they must have been handed down by tradition, and it was useless to cite lapse of time—Koreans are ignorant of geological periods—to people whose history extends as far back as four thousand years ago. According to my observations, most of the forest between Po-ch'm and Peik-tu-San grows on volcanic matter, which was without doubt ejected from Peik-tu-San during successive eruptions. The general inferiority of the timber hereabouts to that of the rest of Korea led me to examine the soil wherever an uprooted tree or a freshly dug deer-pit furnished the opportunity. Beyond a thin coating of leaf-mold on the surface, there was seldom anything else than broken pumice, broken to the size of a very coarse sand. According to the hunters, this was the subsoil everywhere in the forest. . . . Nearing the mountain, we get the clearest evidence of the character and recency, geologically speaking, of the eruptions which spread this vast quantity of volcanic material over such a wide area. Ten miles due south of the White Mountain, the Yalu, now eight or ten yards broad and very shallow, flows between banks like a railway cutting, sheer, clean, and absolutely devoid of vegetation, for denudation was too rapid to permit the slightest growth. The sections thus exposed were often over a hundred feet in depth, and at one of the deepest portions I counted thirteen layers of black volcanic dust, all varying in thickness, and each separated from the layer above by a thin stratum of volcanic mold. So fine was this dust that the least breath of wind caught it and scattered it freely over the adjoining snow, to which it gave a grimy, sooty appearance. The forests of South Manchuria, though uninhabited now, were, we learn from Chinese records, the home of many races in ages past. The comparatively recent kingdom of Ko-ku-rye, which arose in the first century b. c., is said to have occupied the Ch'ang-pai Shan and the head-waters of the Yalu River." Very few, if any, traces of these ancient peoples are found now; but this is hardly to be wondered at, considering their low civilization and the temporary character of their dwellings.

Captain Younghusband, speaking to Mr. Campbell's paper, described the trip which he, Mr. James, and Mr. Fulford made to the mountain from the northern or Manchurian side in the summer of 1886. At the foot of the mountain they found some most lovely meadows covered with iris, lilies, and columbine, surpassing even those of Kashmir. "Passing on up through the forest, we came to the summit of the Ch'ang-pai Shan. Before us were two prominent peaks seen from the north side—there are really five all round—and between these the saddle. Arriving there, we expected to see a view on the other side toward Korea; instead of that, however, we saw, straight under our feet, this wonderful lake situated right at the top of the mountain. It was of the most clear deep blue, and surrounded by a magnificent circle of jagged peaks, ascending one of which I got a clear view of all this country, over which Mr. Campbell traveled later on. We saw through the forest the course of this Yalu River and the Tumen River, which both rise on the spurs of this mountain, and out of this lake flowed a small stream which eventually runs into the Sungari, perhaps the most important tributary of the great Amur River, which flows along the southern edge of Siberia. . . . The whole of this country shows signs of a volcanic origin. There is no doubt that this mountain Peik-tu San was formerly a volcano, and that this lake is the crater of the volcano."

Mr. Campbell's narrative and the discussion furnished some pleasing pictures of Korean life and character. It is a curious fact and suggestive that the most conspicuous and seemingly the most lasting traces left of ancient Korean settlements are the strawberries. The beauty of the situations of the Buddhist monasteries was remarked upon. For centuries Buddhism has been under a ban in the country, and its followers, driven from the settled country to the mountains, have established their monasteries there, out of the way. In selecting the most beautiful retreats for the study of their religion, they have followed, said one of the speakers, the bent of Korean character. "These monasteries form hotels for those travelers in the country who take their delight in leaving town life, taking simple food, and traveling day after day, piping their way on the roads, rejoicing in the beauty of the country. I should think in hardly any country in the world the ordinary rustic takes so much delight in Nature as in Korea; when he goes with you up the mountains, and, on arriving at the top, you expect him to sigh as if nearly dead, he will expatiate on the beauty of the scene before him. In this love of scenery, as in many other points, the Korean differs greatly from his neighbors the Chinese."

The Korean hamlets are of two kinds, "the purely agricultural, and those which depend as much on the entertainment of travelers as on farming. The site of the agricultural village is a hill-slope facing the south. Over this, low, mud-walled, straw-thatched hovels, each standing in its own piece of garden, which is protected by a neat fence of interlaced stems, are scattered at random, and there is not much of an attempt at a street anywhere. Every house has its thrashing-floor of beaten clay, the workshop of the family. The stream which runs past the foot of the hill, or courses down a gully in its side, is lined with women and girls washing clothes with sticks instead of soap, preparing cabbages for pickle, or steeping hemp. Seen from a distance, these places are quite picturesque. The uneven terraces of thatch are brightened by the foliage and flowers of gourds and melons which climb all over the huts. In the gardens surrounding each house are plots of red chilli, rows of castor-oil plants, and fruit trees such as peach, apricot, pear, and persimmon. The roadside village, on the other hand, is generally a most unlovely spot. The only street is the main highway, which is lined on both sides by a straggling collection of the huts I have mentioned. Heaps of refuse, open drains, malodorous pools, stacks of brushwood for fuel, nude, sun-tanned children disporting themselves, men and women thrashing grain and occasionally a crowd of disputants all combine to make it a very indifferent thoroughfare. Most of the houses are inns or eating-shops. The main gate of the inn leads directly from the street into a quadrangle bounded on two sides by open sheds, which are provided with troughs for the feeding of pack-animals, and on the other two sides by the guest-rooms and kitchen. The court-yard is often dominated by a powerful pig-stye, and littered with fodder or earthenware pitchers and vats." General agriculture is, however, not so elaborate and fruitful as in Japan and southern China. "The principal farm animal is the ox; in mid-Korea he is a splendid beast–hardy, tractable, and bearing a strong resemblance in build to our short-horned stock. A cane or iron ring, for which his nostrils are pierced when young, suffices to control him, and he is early accustomed to his constant work of load-carrying. Plowing is done with the ox; rarely or never with the pony. Dairy produce is unknown, or nearly so. Draught cattle and ponies are fed on coarse fodder and a boiled slush of beans, chopped straw, and rice-husks. The remaining domestic animals are black, hairy pigs, wily gaunt creatures, and horribly loathsome; wolfish dogs, possessing a surprising nose for foreigners; and fowls that almost equal their wild congeners, the pheasants, in powers of flight and wariness."

An incident which happened to Mr. Campbell during his journey in which a woman by bullying and coaxing forced a party of unwilling bearers into his service—gave a fresh blow in his mind to the theory of the subjection of women in the East, and strengthened his opinion that "women in these parts of the world, if the truth were known, fill a higher place and wield a far greater influence than they are usually credited with."

In a paper read before the French Association for the Advancement of Science, on the Succession of Media inhabited by the Ancestral Series of Man, M. Fauvelle presented a genealogical table of beings in which, waiving the question of plants, he showed forth the successive development of animals, beginning in sea-water, continuing afterward in fresh water, then in moist and marshy soil, to reach a higher stage on dry lands. The beginning was the cell, which originated in sea-water, an aquatic medium; the climax was man, a product eminently aërian. M. G. de Mortillet, while he recognized the ingenuity and attractiveness of M. Fauvelle's system, suggested that, to put it on a solid base, it would be necessary to prove that sea salt existed at the time of the origin of life.

In a paper at the British Association on the worship of meteorites, Prof. H. A. Newton gave accounts of divine honors having been paid to meteoric stones in early times, and of myths and traditions pointing to such worship. Particular attention was directed to the indications of this cult that are found in Grecian and Roman history and literature.