A Visit to Piro Pong in 1865 by Cho Sung-ha (趙成夏)
(Note: Here is an account of a visit to Piro Pong (毘盧峰), the highest and an almost inaccessible peak of the Diamond Mountains. The trip was made in 1865 by a Mr. Cho Sung-ha (趙成夏), nephew of the famous Queen Dowager. His account shows that there was pluck and determination in the old ruling families of those days, and more, that they were master-hands at the pen. Few travellers could give a more vivid picture than this. J. S. G.)
I reached the Diamond Mountains in mid-autumn, and one morning after breakfast decided to ascend Piro Peak. I was afraid there might be an attempt made to stop me, so I secretly found a priest to choose bearers and show the way.
We passed the Myo-kil Buddha and when we had reached the turning point in the road already noon had come. From here we went straight up. By clinging to creepers and taking advantage of every stone and twig, and with the help of the men who accompanied, pushing and pulling, we made our way up. What with bushes and stones it was a most difficult obstructed path, dim and over-grown, in fact hardly visible at all to the naked eye.
Thus we advanced some ten miles deep into the solitude. It was a world waste and void. I imagine there must be some regular road to Piro Peak but we were evidently not on it, and instead were into an inextricable tangle. There are in all, several hundred priests in the Inner Hills and yet scarcely one of them has ever climbed Piro; two only of our whole number could I find who had made the trip. I imagine these men, too, led us wrongly.
We finally reached a high point and looked out, but there were three great peaks that propped up the heavens still ahead of us. The bearers suggested that we go back and try again another day, but I felt that to go back would be to lose all the effort we had put forth. So we sat down and thought it over. I urged them and at last got them to swear to see it through. One man shouted, “I’ll see it through, live or die” and the others followed suit.
I then tied a handkerchief about my head, put off all my outer robes, brushed the shrubs aside and went up on all fours, clinging to points and horns as opportunity offered. We skirted precipices that went down thousands of feet, and skimmed by ledges the height of which no man could measure, till, finally, we crossed all the obstructing peaks. We gasped, and blew for breath, and at last stood on the top of Piro, the top of the topmost peak. The blue heaven was just above us with all its vast expanse, with the stars almost touching our heads. The air I breathed came from about the throne of God, but oh, we were tired and thought of how Kwa-po had exhausted himself chasing the sun.
I was thirsty and wished a drink and yet where was there water? We had long passed all springs and streams, and not a drop was there to be had. We looked off toward the east and there lay the Sea of Japan mingling with the sky. There was water everywhere but it was like the cherries of Cho Cho, devoid of satisfaction. How were we to cure this thirst of ours?
In their search on the high peak, would you believe it, one man found under a stone a small spring of water. It was not a spring either, nor was it water from any apparent source. It must have been the melted snows of ages gone by, and yet it looked like nectar of the fairies. We drank of it till all was gone. No Tong drank seven bowls and yet was not satisfied, how much less we?
We walked back and forth while the sun went down, and darkness fell upon the world. Those who accompanied me were dead tired and reduced to a state of unconsciousness. They were scared too out of their wits. We sought out the smoothest part of the rock and there sat back to back and let the dew fall upon us while we dozed off.
The priests brought some shrubs and trees and heated up a little rice and cake which we ate. When this was done we had come to nearly the fifth watch of the night. The moon had fallen. The sound of the wind across the hill face was like the whistling of goblins. Its cold edge had in it points of arrows. Mists arose from the lowlands and filled the valleys. As I thought it over, I felt that it was indeed a mad journey, an insane venture. To come here meant really all sorts of risk to life and limb. What use was it? Still I remembered how I had longed to see this famous mountain, to taste of its hidden mystery, and now my dreams were realized. Here were the fairy cloud lights about us as we squatted among the rocks and shrubs. It was a rare and wonderful experience. I turned to this side and that, and gazed all about me. The night stretched everwhere. Yonder were the Seven Stars of the Dipper, and here the reflection of the white topped hill. The dew moistened all the world. I was on a boat sailing on ether between the Seven Stars and the Lovers’ Bridge of the Milky Way. The North Star had passed the 38th degree, and the Yellow Meridian was in the constellation Soonmi. The Red Meridian was crossing that of Great Fire. Our position on Piro was not quite even with the star of God’s Throne.
A little later we saw a Great Horn rise from the sea and mount up as the sky and water touched each other. Little by little clouds appeared. A little later all the sea and sky turned a fiery red, and the yellow wheel of the sun tipped its light over the horizon. Then it cut loose from the watery depths and was free to run its upward course across the sky, a red and fiery ball. The colours of the sun, yellow, blood red, light red, are due to the proximity of the water. It looked as though it was distant from me only a hundred li (30 miles) and about 70 kil high (400 feet). The water of the sea meanwhile had grown dark and the hills red. A little later the lower world gave off puffs of vapour so that all the vast expanse beneath us was turned into a sea, with Piro, where we sat the only little island remaining. We seemed to be lifting and falling with the heavy swell of the waves about us. A little after Yung-nang came through and then in a flash Choong-hyang. Then the Sun and Moon Peaks like a pair of twins showed their heads; then Soo-mi, Tan-pal, Paik-ma each in its place.
We looked off toward the East Sea, where I felt like rolling up my trousers and wading in, determined to reach the Pong-nai Hills of the fairy.
The day was now light and all the party bestirred itself.
They gave a sudden cry of alarm. What was the reason? Here were tracks of a great tiger going this way and that round and round us. He had hovered about our sleeping place, evidently, all the night Then suddenly there was a great shout on the part of my company. “The scholar is a man richly blessed, for the spirit of the hills has sent the tiger to guard him through the night.” So each man bowed down and said his word of thanks to the God that guards the mountain top.