A friend and I recently took advantage of Jeju’s glorious spring weather to check out one of the Jeju Olle courses, a new hiking option on the island. While the hike was a rewarding adventure, I hope the courses don’t become a victim of their own success, with overuse resulting in the spoiling of the nature they seek to showcase. It would be a shame to see trash along the trails, fences broken down or bushes trampled.
It would also be a shame if people along the route decided to cash in and set up stalls selling all manner of food and trinkets. People hike the courses to be close to nature, and that must be preserved. The courses do go through rural villages and that gives people a chance to offer food, drinks and even lodging.
We didn’t get going until close to noon, so we decided to just do a portion of Course One, which starts near Seongsan and takes in two oreums, farm fields and a nice coastal walk, for 15 km. total.
I’ve done some beach walking and hiked Hallasan, but I was curious to get off the beaten path and check out rural Jeju. We chose to start at Siheung elementary school, and just hike the oreum portion of the course.
While I had heard that the courses can be quite busy, we saw very few other hikers as we set off under a bright blue sky. We had a little trouble finding the start of the course, as the directions just say to start at the school. After making a loop around the school grounds we found a sign, in Korean only, pointing the way to the start of the trail.
We walked on a narrow country road before veering up a trail to the top of Malmi oreum. The signage was a little erratic, over marked in some places, not marked at all in others.
As we reached the top of the oreum, which was a long ridge, all of northeast Jeju lay spread out before us. Seongsan Ilchulbong was magnificent against the ocean backdrop, and the patchwork quilt of plowed and planted fields delighted the senses.
Songbirds twittered and flitted in bushes, just out of sight. A light breeze brushed the treetops.
As we dropped down off the oreum and hiked along a farmer’s road, I saw my first piece of trash: a brightly colored candy wrapper, shining in the sun. I picked it up and put it in my pocket before continuing.
The Olle Course creators have worked hard to build a system of 200 kilometers of courses that have the potential to bring many more visitors to Jeju, but they will only keep coming if the routes remain pristine. No one wants to hike along a garbage strewn path, or worse, one with obvious toilet stops along the way.
So please, if you are going to hike the Olle courses, and I highly recommend you do, follow these simple rules: Do not litter, and if you see trash, pick it up. Stay on the trails and don’t cut across farm fields. Don’t help yourself to produce growing in the fields. Be quiet and calm around farm animals. Never yell or throw rocks at them. If you open a gate, close it. Don’t break branches off trees or bushes, or pick flowers. Leave them for others to enjoy as well.
There is a saying that is popular among hikers in America: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
With summer still ahead, the Olle courses will no doubt see many, many visitors. Let’s hope every visitor can enjoy their “backcountry Jeju” experience as much as we did.
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