Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tripling the hundred mountain challenge

Korea and Taiwan too have honour rolls of their favourite one hundred summits.

If any yama-holic is reading this, perhaps sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink. Climbing the one hundred mountains of Japan is challenge enough, especially if you go about it by fair means. But what if you then set out to scale the hundred mountains of Korea? And, after that, the matching set in Taiwan?

Winter landscape (detail) by Sesshu
Turns out that mountain lists have been proliferating all over northeast Asia. Korea’s one hundred mountains were compiled in 2002 by the country’s Forest Service, a government agency, presumably to promote tourism. But a hiking organisation and a mountain goods company have put together other lists.

Understandably, the mountains in the official Korean list are all in South Korea. And most appear to be of modest stature. That can't be helped. For the sad fact is that all of the Korean mountains that top out above 2,000 metres – about one hundred of them – stand in the northern half of the peninsula.

The noises emanating from Panmunjon this week were encouraging. If they lead to an outbreak of peace, it might one day be possible to compile and climb a unified one hundred mountains of the Korean peninsula. Until then, however, the highest one, Mt Paektu, will be bestridden by the Supreme Leader alone.

While waiting for North Korea to open up, yama-holics would do well to consider the one hundred mountains of Taiwan. This list, like Japan’s Hyakumeizan, is completely unofficial. It was put together in the 1970s by a group of prominent Taiwanese mountaineers.

Known as the Baiyue (百嶽), the one hundred peaks are selected from among Taiwan’s roster of 260 peaks that top 3,000 metres. Actually, two of them turned out after a re-survey, to come in slightly under that height, but they kept their place in the list on the merit of their other qualities.

That’s an important point: the Baiyue are by no means all among the highest hundred mountains in Taiwan. Instead, they excel for their aesthetic qualities, including uniqueness, danger, beauty and prominence. This too makes them kith and kin to the Nihon Hyakumeizan, as curated in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a repurposed novelist.

The Hyakumeizan author, Fukada Kyūya, chose his mountains for their character, history and "extraordinary distinctiveness". And he would include a mountain only if he had climbed it himself. Height was a secondary consideration; ideally, a "Meizan" should top 1,500 metres, but two in the list - Tsukuba and Kaimon – do not.

The Nihon Hyakumeizan originated as a magazine series commissioned by Ohmori Hisao, then a young editor and today a doyen of Japan’s mountain literary scene. Later, the articles were collected into a book. Only then did the notion of actually climbing all these mountains take hold with the mountaineering public.

In Korea and Taiwan, things happened the other way round. The lists arrived first, and it may be that the definitive books about their one hundred mountains have yet to be written. But that’s OK too. As Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

You know, the same might be said for the idea of actually climbing them all. Yama-holics, remember you read it here first ...

1 comment:

wes said...

I've often wondered if Taiwan and Korea had their own meizan, so many thanks for this informative account. I knew that Taiwan had a couple of hundred 3000m peaks - now if I can just find an excuse to head over there!

Oh, and you'll be surprised to hear that Tanaka-san is now doing the 300meizan, all by fair means! That includes reclimbing both the Hyakumeizan and 200meizan. I guess it's a bit easier now that he has full sponsorship and a support/logistics/TV crew to follow him around.