The whole island of Jeju is in fact an extinct volcano that started his life about 2 million years ago and had its last convulsions 5,000 years ago. For thousands of years it was celebrated as the goddess of the island. It stands tall at around 2,000 meters above sea level – we climbed to 1800 meters. There is a crater lake in the middle, but more interesting, there are 368 smaller cones scattered throughout the island. They are called Oreum. Some are modest in size, a few hundred meters high, others are impressive. My tourist guide book refers to them as “parasitic”, which is an interesting but scientifically indefensible image, until the Trump team sets its roving eye on it.
So we walked and climbed the Halla, from 1200 meters 600 meters up in 2 hours, down in 1:40’.
The track was very well designed, marked and maintained and at the end of our part a shelter sold plenty of useful stuff, like instant noodles –soul food for the Koreans I was told -, water and coffee, and further basic equipment like raincoats and crampons so that the shoes get grip on the ice.
The track that we had chosen did not go till the crater, because the fauna and flora enjoyed a sabbatical year to recover from the tourist stampede. The weather was not ideal. Most of the time we walked in the clouds. The signboards on the tracks showed from time to time the panorama’s that we should admire, and looking up we just saw grey soup. The winds were fast and cold. As as the hours grew we had occasionally patches of blue sky and a glimpse of the sun. These few moments, and those when we were briefly sheltered from the wind, we were happy and congratulated each other for our bravery and stamina.
And we went up and up, sometimes on smooth wooden platforms, sometimes on woodblocks that alternated with rocks. For the steep parts we had regular stairs.
The trees became shrubs in strange shapes, tortured by the winds. At the end the vegetation was minimal. A type of dwarf bamboos –I mistook them for grass at the beginning – survives till the top.
It had snowed the day before. Where we were supposed to admire the alpine flowers according to my book, from 1600 m. altitude onward the layer was thick with no intention of melting. Slippery at times, I understood the more professionally equipped raiders with crampons on their shoes, mountain gear, solid shoes, gloves, thermic clothing and a decent hat, all things that seemed rather ridiculous at the base.
The last stretch to the shelter was very very beautiful, and you will be able to judge by yourself. The snow had transformed the crippled shrubs into a Disney Christmas card. I had material to feed you with pictures and I was happy for this and many other reasons.