Ice Climbing in Korea

Ice Climbing Article
By Zenith Bose

South Korea is a gem of a country, often overlooked by travellers trekking through the giant continent that is Asia. Yet this country has much to offer to the average traveller, whether seasoned or novice. When visiting a country that is more or less made up of a series of mountainous terrains, why not
try something that allows you to truly embrace the natural makeup of the host country? Hiking? Camping? Korea can do better than that. Ice climbing. If the first words that popped up in your head were “extreme sports,” fear not. Since the 1980s, the number of ice climbers in South Korea has rapidly
increased, as the ice climbing equipment became readily available, in higher and higher quality. During the winter months, this sport is a popular substitute for its summer cousin –rock climbing.

It was on a cold winter morning that I had my first experience with this particular mountaineering sport. I had heard of a place called O2, the tallest indoor ice climbing facility in the world. And it was only a subway ride away. So early one morning, Sven Schelwach (my boyfriend) and I, took the subway up to
the north of Seoul, and after navigating our way through the sloping backstreets that are so typical of Seoul, we found ourselves inside a gym like no other. There were walls of ice as far as the eye could see. We were immediately greeted by Peter Jensen-Choi, an avid climber and the founder of a climbing
company in South Korea, Saniran gAlpine Networks. The two of us were given proper climbing winter jackets to don over our laughable “warm” attire, and were taken to the equipment room to continue our transformation from average Joe and Jane to bona fide ice climbing machines. Well, something to
that effect.

The equipments were more fascinating than the sport in the beginning. Crampons, gaiters, ice screws galore…words that were simply foreign to my ears. After putting on our climbing boots, with the metal spikes protruding from both ends (the aforementioned crampons), we entered the ice gym. Peter
gave us a thorough talk on safety before starting to teach us climbing techniques, as we continued to adjust to our new getup. “Redundancy is key,” Peter would remind us again and again during the safety training session. Redundancy in rock climbing refers to the system of having multiple backup safety
features, to give you several layers of protection in case one of the safety features malfunctions. “The extra few minutes you take now to double check all your gear, will help avoid unpleasant scenarios when you’re on the wall,” Peter explained. Only once we mastered the buckles, and the figure-eight
knots were we allowed to start climbing the walls. But the wait was well worth it.

And so, our love affair with ice climbing began. Once every few weeks we would put on all our warmest clothes, pack a bag with water and snacks (lunch was provided), and head out for whatever trip had been organized for us. Our first time climbing in the indoor gym (O2), was just a taster. The real deal
was yet to come. The climbing trips that followed were all outdoors. And what does one climb on when doing ice climbing outdoors in Korea? Frozen waterfalls. If it wasn’t on your list already, you can go ahead and add it now.

We were taken to all kinds of waterfalls. Some were so high –one as high as 80 meters– the view from the top covered miles on both sides. Some had shaped themselves to cater to beginners, with short pitches as well as long ones. And it truly was a challenge for everyone who tried their hand at this
activity. Even for Sven, a climbing enthusiast, ice climbing was still a challenging physical activity, albeit a refreshing one. “The moves are different. The nature of the gear handling makes it almost a different sport from rock climbing,” Sven recounted, after his first ice climbing experience in O2. “But, it’s
exhilarating,” he added. It must be what keeps ice climbers coming back for more. The thrill of wedging yourself into a wall of ice, working your way up, and peering down past your crampons to see how high you can ascend with nothing to rely on but your muscle strength –there’s something deeply satisfying
about it.

There were a few times I didn’t join Sven, and each time he would come back and tell me of a new waterfall, tucked away between the mountain ranges that run through the country (in Gogok, Garebi, Pocheon etc). I’d hear about the long trips, and how the climbers would see the moon rise behind the
fall as they would make their final ascent. The mid-afternoon lunch breaks where the climbers would huddle around the camping stoves, keeping themselves warm by gulping down bowls of ramyeon and hot broth. These outings were such a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the usual city life!
So for those of you Seoulites looking for an inland getaway, a rendezvous with nature, a last fling with winter before spring takes control, and a decent workout, you’ve come across the right article. Check out the outings and the courses offered at Sanirang, or the directions to the ice-climbing spots on KOTR, and who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself at the foot of a frozen wall –ice picks in hand– exploring a very different side of Korea.

More Info:
Companies: SanirangAlpineNetworks and O2 World
Cost: For daily drop in at O2 indoor gym- 10, 000 won per hour plus equipment rental
For outdoor trips (10 hours including commute) with Sanirang- 55, 000 won and up

Ice Climbing Courses & Outings

Getting there:
02 World: #181-7, Ui-Dong, Gangbuk-gu, Seoul, Korea
Take the light blue line, (line 4) to Suyu Station. From Suyu, take bus number 120 and get off at the last
stop, called Ui Dong.. Head up the hill for about a block and the Kolon O2 store and gym will be on the

Sanirang Alpine Networks: The trips out to the waterfalls with Sanirang are always at different locations.
When you sign up for a trip, you’re usually contacted soon after with the details of the outing. Sanirang
drives its climbers to and from the waterfalls, from Seoul.