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On Walkabout On: Kamak Mountain, South Korea

Besides being the 59th anniversary of the Battle of the Kapyong, this week is also the anniversary of the Battle of the Imjim, which is best known by the last stand of the Glorious Glosters on Hill 235.  The British Gloucestershire Battalion held Hill 235 over 4 days before finally being defeated by the numerically superior Chinese force.  However, the stand of the Glosters on Hill 235 allowed the United Nations Forces time to regroup and repel the Chinese’s 1951 spring offensive:

Here is how Hill 235 & Kamaksan Mountain looks today when viewed from Google Earth:

kamaksan image

As good as Google Earth is to see a battlefield it is still best to visit the battlefield yourself, which below are pictures I took while visiting Korea such as this picture of Hill 235 where the British made their ill fated last stand:

The Battle of Solma-ri - Hill 235

Here is the memorial to the Battle of Solma-ri at the base of Hill 235:

Gloster Memorial in Korea

However, the best place to get an overview of the terrain that was fought over during the Battle of the Imjim is to climb the highest peak in the area, which is Kamaksan Mountain at 675 meters:

Korea's Kamaksan Mountain

Kamaksan during the Battle of the Imjim was controlled by the Chinese during the battle.  Later on in this posting you will see how much of a piece of key terrain this mountain is that the Chinese controlled during almost the entirety of the battle.  This picture below shows how the elevation of the mountain easily exceeds all the other hills in the area around the Imjim River:

Kamaksan Mountain Viewed from Hill 205

The trailhead up Kamaksan mountain is across the street and a short walk from the Gloster Memorial.  The person working the ticket gate at the memorial is who pointed out to me where the trail up Kamaksan begins.  The fact that Kamaksan is a piece of key terrain is still evident today with the variety of bunkers that line the sides of the trail up the mountain that are still used by the modern day Korean military:

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Most of the trail up the mountain is surrounded by a thick cover of forest.  About half way up the mountain I got my first look down towards Hill 235 where the Glosters made their last stand as well as a view over the nearby village of Jeokseong:

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Further up the mountain I could see the ridgeline that during the Battle of Solma-ri that some Gloster soldiers decided to try and run across towards the 1st ROK Division lines:

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These soldiers were met with heavy machine gun fire from the Chinese the minute they exposed themselves on the saddle, which as the above image shows the ridgeline was easily visible from the Chinese held Kamaksan Mountain. These soldiers were ompletely surrounded and being fired at from above so they laid down their weapons and surrendered to the Chinese. Some other soldiers would leave the column to try and escape on their own but they to would eventually be rounded up and captured as well.

The defile in the above picture is also where the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) led by Lieutenant Colonel Dionisio Ojeda tried to break through the Chinese lines to rescue the Glosters, but ultimately failed.  The Chinese by controlling Kamaksan mountain could see everything going on around the Imjim region and always had the high ground during any engagements.

After about a couple of hours of hiking I made it to the summit of the mountain.  The walk up was really quite pleasant with very few people on the trail.  I saw about 8 people all day on the trail.  Anyone who does a lot of hiking in Korea can tell you that often times a trail can be filled with people, especially trails near Seoul.  However, Kamaksan had few hikers on it despite its proximity to Seoul.  The summit of the mountain is capped with a ROK Army watchtower which provides an incredible view across the Imjim region.  Here is the view looking towards the west and the Imjim River:

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The south side of the Imjim River in the above photo would have been a full scale battle zone during the Battle of the Imjim, which is today just peaceful farming land.  Here is the view looking northwest across the Imjim River and into North Korea in the distance:

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Everything just looks so beautiful and peaceful when viewed from the summit of this mountain that it is hard to believe that the most heavily fortified border in the world along with the world’s most repressive regime North Korea, is just a short distance across the Imjim River.

Here is the view looking towards the north and upper reaches of the Imjim River in South Korea:

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Here is the view towards the northeast that shows the rift valley running north from the city of Dongducheon towards the Cheolwon Valley:

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Along the slopes of the mountain you can see the radio relay facilities used by the Korean and US armies.  Here is the view looking towards the east where the US military installation Camp Casey is tucked away into the slopes below Soyo Mountain:

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Here is another view towards the east where the city of Dongducheon can be seen stretching south away from Camp Casey:

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The growth of Dongducheon is just incredible when viewed from above for those of us who have seen it grow over the years.  Probably the most odd thing to see on the summit of Kamaksan is a large statue of the Virgin Mary:

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This surprising statue looks towards North Korea and was put here as a religious beacon offering hope towards the impoverished people of North Korea:

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Finally here is the prominent rock face on Kamak Mountain that drops off from the summit and can be seen from all around the Imjim region:

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That concludes my profile of Kamak Mountain.  For those wanting to visit the site themselves there are buses that run to Jeokseong from the downtown Uijongbu bus terminal.  The Gloster Memorial can actually be walked to from Jeokseong, but you could always take a cab as well.  Even if you are not into Korean War history, Kamak Mountain is still a great place to go hiking since it is one of the most scenic mountains in Gyeongi-do province.  I just think any visit to the mountain is just enhanced by understanding the tactical importance of this mountain during the Korean War and the heroic efforts of the British soldiers who died on the slopes below it in their efforts to defend South Korea from communist aggression during the Korean War.

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