▲ Clockwise from top, view from Seongpanak Trail. Photo by Gwon Ki Kap, trees and shrubs covered with snow along Seongpanak Trail. Photo by Oh Hee Sam, cross-country skiers on the Eorimok Trail. Photo courtesy Association of College Climbing Korea, hikers climbing down the Youngsil Trail. Photo by Jean K. Min
As reported in the Jeju Weekly’s Oct. 16 Environmental issue, climate researchers have claimed that Jeju has not technically experienced winter since the year 2000. Apparently someone forgot to inform the powers that be, since Jeju’s shores have been graced with more than 192 cm of fluffy white gold this season. On Jan 29. through until early the next morning Witseoreom received a downpouring of 21 cm.
As a Canadian, I applaud the snow’s persistence, especially since the island uses its other three seasons to great effect, putting on a number of festivals and activities. During the last week of January, the Halla Snow Flower Festival was held at Eorimok on Mt. Halla and offered an abundance of entertainment.
Though most of Jeju was free from the flakes for the Halla Snow Flower Festival, the mountain was covered, allowing for such winter indulgences as tobogganing and sledding, which were included in the program along with skiing classes, ice and snow sculpture exhibitions, and oreum (parallel volcanic cone) trekking.
This festival, though not as well known as those during the summer, affords tourists and locals alike the ability to experience performances and games not possible during warmer months. Some of the highlights include survival games, treasure hunts, and the Jeju traditional food festival, just to name a few.
But to truly enjoy Jeju’s snowscapes in their sublime perfection, one must plan a trip up Mt. Halla, to her peak. Since early December the mountain could be seen from either Jeju or Seogwipo City simply glistening in pristine snow, egging on bystanders to try to conquer her majesty. I remember picking up the gauntlet last year and accepting her challenge. Armed with only inadequate leather dress shoes, long-johns, and my motorcycle jacket, I chose the newly re-opened Donnaeko Trail, previously closed due to environmental reasons.
It is an interesting climb. At its start the ground is flush with the greenery of firs and other hardwood trees. However as one ascends, this lush environment slowly turns cool, though it does so impercep-tibly due to exertion and the cold of the climb. The weather changed as I climbed. I noticed flakes of snow under my black shoes.
Eventually the landscape was enveloped in white. The trees, the remaining grass, rocks, cave entrances and all that could be seen were covered in snow.
The climb was difficult, and I was often alone. This gave way to a rare opportunity for introspection, calm, and silence. It was as if the snow had absorbed all sound, and the only color that was not banished by white was the blue-black of crows’ feathers as the birds scavenged nearby.
It took more than four hours to reach the peak, and though I had made it I did not feel as if I had won. Exhausted, I peered off into the distance from the highest point in South Korea; the sun’s reflection off the snow was strong, and I had to squint to see. It was then that I realized that Mt. Halla had not offered a challenge, but an invitation to come and see the gradual changes of nature as I climbed and then to bask in the perfection of her snowy hills, ones that only a four-hour hike could reach.
Upon returning to sea level I thought there was so much that can be done to help people enjoy the experience, and it appears that I’m not the only one. The Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is currently discussing the possibility of developing a cross-country ski course on Mt. Halla. Due to the recent influx of Chinese and South East Asian tourists with an interest in our mountain and her white coat, the government hopes that this new addition will help to increase visitors to the island.
The catalyst behind this project is Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min, who hopes that this development will help Jeju reach his goal of increasing tourism to the island by 2 million. There have been occasional murmurs from both foreigner and native populations that an actual downhill ski slope would be an added bonus to living on Jeju. However, due to Mt. Halla’s designation as a World Natural Heritage Site, the possibility seems unlikely because of the development’s potential environmental impact.
Instead this cross-country ski course may be the best of both worlds and seems to be underway with plans to develop Youngsil Trail, without any foreseeable environmental concerns. It is possible that the 2.5 km-course could be opened as soon as next year and will also afford bobsledding courses year-round. It is believed that this could entice even more domestic and foreign tourists to the island. All I know is that if this comes to fruition I will be found all summer long waxing up a new pair of skis.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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