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The spine that connects the Koreas: Kim’s soldiers smile in stunning images from the Baekdu Daegan mountain range, as the North and South work towards reuniting
- New Zealand photographer Roger Shepherd has spent years trekking through the Baekdu Daegan mountains
- He moved to South Korea after becoming fascinated by the mountain spine that runs through both Koreas
- His pictures capture the soldiers posing for pictures in the North, villagers as well as the stunning scenery
These incredible images capture the beauty of the Baekdu Daegan mountains that snake through North and South Korea.
New Zealand photographer Roger Shepherd has spent years researching and trekking through the mountains that run through the Korean peninsula – and named his collection of photographs ‘ONE KOREA: Mountains, Villages, & People’.
It comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in agreed at a landmark summit last week to work towards a permanent peace treaty to replace a 65-year-old armistice agreement. Seoul and Pyongyang have remained technically at war since the 1950s.
Mr Shepherd moved to South Korea after becoming fascinated by the 1,700km-long mountain spine and has made several expeditions into the Baekdu Daegan, capturing Kim Jong-un’s smiling soldiers posing for pictures, rural villages and the people who live in them as well as the stunning scenery.
Although he has captured photographs in South Korea, the majority of Mr Shepherd’s work concentrated on the mountains in the North. The South Korean side of the Baekdu Daegan is a well-known trail, but the North side remains relatively untouched.
Mr Shepherd was the first outsider to climb these remote peaks – but with no GPS to help navigate the vast area, he had to rely on old maps printed in South Korea and the knowledge of locals.
New Zealand photographer Roger Shepherd has spent years researching and trekking through the mountains that run through the Korean peninsula. Pictured left, young girls making the pilgrimage to Paektu-san 2750m take cover under an umbrella in Samji-yon county in North Korea and right, two women who work at Paektu-san as guides wave farewell
His incredible images capture the beauty of the Baekdu Daegan mountains that snake through North and South Korea
The photographer captured this shot of Duryu-san, which is 2,309m tall, in Kapsan county, Ryanggang-do province in North Korea early in the morning
Soldiers on the pier in Wonsan, a port city and naval base located in Kangwŏn Province, North Korea, take time out to pose for a picture
He would often be shown around by a rural worker or one of the older villagers, who had some knowledge of the area.
Mr Shepherd said he has been on four expeditions in North Korea since 2011.
‘The people I met were usually forest service workers or just the best local in the village that knew the way, usually an older bloke in that case,’ he said.
‘The village people are farmers. They grow foods as part of a coop farm, and also produce their own foods in the backyards of their homes. They also graze cattle as a village, which they take to the hills most days. This includes goats and sheep.’
He added: ‘I’ve been to North Korea every year since then for other stuff. I can positively say that since Kim Jong-un came to power, he has made many improvements to Pyongyang and so far areas that service that, like the East coast.
Roger Shepherd’s series ONE KOREA shows his expeditions through the mountain system known as the Baekdu Daegan, meeting rural villagers as well as photographing the beautiful landscapes.Pictured, a picture of the photographer with his team on Sam-bong in Deokseong county, Hamkyongnam-do province, North Korea
Koreans pose on the summit of Paektu-san just before the sunrise in Samji-yon county in Ryanggang Province in North Korea
Herders bring their goats down from the ridge past our campsite in Ryeongjo-ri village in Beopdong county, Kangwon-do
A brother and sister are pictured traversing along Duryu-san to see their grandmother in the opposite village. They also helped the photographer find spring water at the summit
‘He has also made improvements in the rural sectors, large orchards, more meat coop farms.
‘The very remote rural parts though still need a hand and have been subsistent with little regular infrastructure support for a while, but the North Korea economy doesn’t have the financial reach yet to help those areas as much as they would wish.
‘That’s mainly due to decades of sanctions, and an international military threat that forces them into military developments.’
His work has been exhibited and shown to both sides of Korea and Mr Shepherd says he is often approached at exhibitions by older Koreans who once lived North of the border and distinctly remember once living in the village or even being reminded of a particular mountain.
Some locals making the pilgrimage to Korea’s sacred Paektu-san mountain in Samji-yon county, Ryanggang-do province
Midday storms light up the caldera of Paektu-san in Samji-yon county, Ryanggang-do province. At 2,744m, it is the highest mountain of the Changbai and Baekdudaegan ranges
The source of Korea’s longest river, the Amrok-gang (790km) at the foot of Paektu-san, goes on to form the northwestern frontier between China
The horn-shaped peak of Bukpotae-san, which is 2,288m high, in Samji-yon county, Ryanggang-do province in North Korea
Mr Shepherd said he has been on four expeditions in North Korea since 2011. Pictured, a small hamlet in Kapsan county, Ryanggang-do province
Mr Shepherd added: ‘Some of the exhibition visitors were even born near some of the mountains I photographed in the North, and these are some remote never photographed before peaks.
‘I remember one older man coming to one of my exhibitions and telling me he was born in the county where this particular distant photo was taken. I asked him if he remembered this mountain and his reply was ‘all I can remember as a boy was many mountains’.
‘In the North, they finally get a chance to see photos of mountains they’ve only ever heard about. For the most part, the mountains of Korea mean identity to them. There’s typically a human story attached to it like my great grandfather came from that area and always talked about that mountain. This has much more impact when that grandfather or mother was born on the other side of the border they can no longer cross.’
Mr Shepherd said it was the abundance of the mountains that first caught his eye.
‘At first, it was their abundance and shapes that intrigued me,’ he said.
A forestry worker and village elder who helped Roger Shepherd find a way to Seongjae-san 1102m in Beopdong county, Kangwon-do province
A woman and baby cycle by us on a country road in Sinyang county, Phyongannam-do province in North Korea
A farmhouse near where the photographer camped in the valley leading to Huisa-bong in Deokseong county, Hamkyongnam-do province in North Korea
A monsoon brews over the grassland plateau of Kaema-gowon in Hyesan county, Ryanggang-do province, North Korea
An old rail bridge built by the Japanese to shunt minerals and timber from the mountains, crossing a stream in the village of Yongam-ri, Unhung county, Ryanggang-do province
‘They are all accessible, as none are over 3000m. So when you stand on a ridge, you look out over waves and waves of more ridges, and when the light hits them, it can have an impressive effect, like looking at broken layers of paint.
‘Then when I walked the Baekdu Daegan ridge (687km) in South Korea and wrote a guidebook about that. I started to discover this other world of Korea’s mountains.
‘They contained a deep history of fairy tales, mythologies, animistic religions, culture, foods, arts, and literature, all stemmed on mountains.
‘In this busy Korean world, they had this ancient influence from their mountains, which they were all understandably born of.’
Mr Shepherd is planning to release a book about his work on the Baekdu Daegan containing photos of the amazing scenery, as well as the villages and its people.
He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release, which will also include essays on the Baekdu Daegan.
The untouched slopes of Bukpotae and Nampotae-san 2433m in Samji-yon county, Ryanggang-do province in North Korea
A potato patch in the village of Yangsan-ri in the county of Maeng-san, Phyongannam-do province
Mr Shepherd hopes that with both North and South Korea in negotiations over bringing peace to the peninsula that the Baekdu Daegan can became a symbol of unification.
He added: ‘These are different times, different leaders. I would like to see a two-country one-nation system slowly developed. The border reduced from fortified to crossable, and then some mixture and development via exchange.
‘We could end up seeing a new political direction for Korea. An emergence of both a socialist and capitalist system.
‘Koreans are talented people with a will to do it their way, given a chance. There are also willing and keen to adapt and take on all technologies and global ideas. They can set an example.
Mr Shepherd hopes that with both North and South Korea in negotiations over bringing peace to the peninsula that the Baekdu Daegan can became a symbol of unification. Pictured, the majestic and sacred Chonji lake in Paektu-san
Woodsmen raft their logs down a swift stream in the village of Daejeonpyeong-ri, Unhung county, Ryanggang-do province
Mr Shepherd is planning to release a book about his work on the Baekdu Daegan containing photos of the amazing scenery, as well as the villages and its people. Pictured, the twin falls of Myohyang-san in Phyonganbuk-do province
Penned cattle wait to be released for grazing on a frosty morning in Chail-ri village, Pujon county, Hamkyongnam-do, North Korea
‘I think during all of this, there needs to be a symbol for all of that. The Baekdu Daegan is the perfect one, the spine that connects the nation. It’s apolitical and symbolic to all Koreans.’
Mr Shepherd will also be going on a historical trip with his tour guide company HIKEKOREA.
The unique opportunity will see a group go on an overland trekking expedition of the Paektu Highlands in the northern province of Raynggang- do, in North Korea for the first time.
These highlands are part of an exclusive preservation zone at the foot of Korea’s highest and most sacred mountain, Paektu-san.
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