Sunday, June 12, 2011

Korea Memories - Tuesday, May 24th part 1

Note: Sorry for the delay in posts. I've been trying to load the videos from our hike on Halla-San for the last couple weeks and for some reason Blogger hasn't been accepting them. But it looks like they're loading back to it!

The last post was a little long, so I didn’t describe our accommodations in Jeju. We stayed at Hwang To Mae Ul ( Hwang To means orangish dirt, and this dirt is full of minerals and is supposed to have healing capabilities when you stay in the huts made out of it. Worth a shot, right? At the very least, it was a really cool, picturesque, unique, and authentic place to stay for a couple nights.
Tuesday was our hiking day. Our goal: the Halla-san volcano rim. This volcano is nearly 2,000 meters tall and hasn’t erupted for probably about 1,000 years, so we figured we were pretty safe. Hiking in Korea is just a little different (should I just create an autotext in this series of posts for “a little different?”). The mountains are definitely steep and challenging, but most of the trails aren’t what I grew up hiking on in the Rockies. They are actually boardwalks and steps made out of wood or stone.

Before we began we had received a number of well intended warnings from locals about trying to hike all the way to the top. People said it was extremely long and difficult. The trail to the top was a little over 6 miles, so we were prepared to do more than just a short walk around the block. But I wasn’t sure how to take the warnings, especially since both Susie and I have pretty extensive hiking backgrounds. The guidebook and locals said to prepare for 8-9 hours each way.

It turned out to be a challenging, but really fun hike. The scenery was beautiful, and it was the best weather day in quite some time to hike up to the rim. Susie was wearing shorts and a jacket, and I was wearing jeans and a cotton shirt. We (especially Susie) got quite a few comments about our dress since most of the Koreans were outfitted in super technical gear with hats, gloves, balaclavas, nice boots, and hiking poles – everything name brand. The North Face is very popular in Korea. I bet some of them had a thousand bucks tied up in what they were wearing.

I don’t know if it’s because we have longer legs, or because we’ve hiked quite a bit in the past, but Susie and I generally hiked quite a bit faster than most of the Koreans on the trail. But we were impressed at the number of senior citizens making it to the top. They took it slower but they still had the stamina to pull it off. We finished in about 5 ½ hours, and to hear some of the comments in the parking lot you would have thought we’d just won Olympic gold.

We couldn’t see the summit from the trailhead due to quite a few clouds, and we spent a lot of the day hiking up and back through the clouds. Despite the boardwalks and stairs, there were a couple of challenging sections to the trail.

This next picture is the beautiful Halla-san volcanic cone. Pretty impressive, huh?

We didn’t stay too long at the top since it was super windy. We figured that we needed to keep moving to keep from getting cold. The air wasn’t cold by itself, but because of the high winds, we didn’t want to take a chance. These are our best “Hold still in gale-force winds for one picture” faces. And then I don’t think these videos do the wind justice, but I was holding the camera right next to my face and hollering into the mic and you still can’t really hear too well. Welcome to Jeju!

At one point just below the summit, the clouds whipping by suddenly broke for maybe twenty seconds. The view down to the ocean was stunning, and I was able to get a couple quick pictures. Then it closed back up and we were in the clouds again for most of the way down.

This is what a lot of the hike down looked like. It was kind of an eerie setting, but still beautiful the whole time.

After we got back down and were driving around near the water, the clouds opened up briefly once more. Here’s a picture of the volcano from below. During our few days in Jeju, this was the only time we could actually see the top. We later discovered that we were extremely fortunate to be able to get up to the top, since the recent weather hadn’t been very cooperative at all. As someone who grew up in Colorado, this was really one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Since this post is a little longer, I’m going to finish up the 24th in a different post. Later that afternoon I got a great picture of a phenomenon that I hope never makes it to America. (at least that I have to take part of). But it was something that was humorous for us to see while in Korea.

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