Winter Wonderland, Jeju

Shots by Mary Rager-Summers


One Jeju expat reflects on her adventures in avoiding the cold-weather blues during the island’s chilly winter.My first winter on Jeju I made a common expat mistake – I fell victim to the winter blues. I’m from the Midwestern US so I’m no stranger to harsh weather, but I just couldn’t cope with seeing snow on palm trees. Beach season was gone, the holidays were spent away from home, and it was just too cold. I found myself stuck indoors.

That is, until the heart of winter came in January and I was hit with a terrible case of cabin fever—I had to get out. In my state of near-insanity, I decided to hike Mount Halla. I was able to convince my husband and a friend to join me and we planned to make the hike the very next weekend. The day of our hike found us awake at 5 am, packing our bags full of warm clothes and coffee… Lots of coffee.

Prepared for our journey, we started up the Seongpanak Trail. The hike was stunning. Perfectly white snow lay all around and icicles hung from the branches of evergreen trees—it truly was a winter wonderland. As we climbed higher the winds picked up, the snow began to pour down, and we found ourselves in the middle of a snowstorm. With only 200 meters left to go, I began to think we wouldn’t make it to see Mount Halla’s iconic crater. I grasped the rope guideline, worried I’d be blown off the mountain. Looking back at my husband I saw him doing the same, icicles hanging from his beard. Sheer determination got us to the top. After a quick photo of the surrounding whiteout, we hustled our way back down, desperately trying to stay warm, only to find our car buried under six inches of snow.

Although we couldn’t actually see the crater, we did make it to Halla’s peak and had quite the story to tell for it. The lesson learned that day? Jeju can be magical, and in any season. That memorable hike jump-started my winter activity and ever since I’ve let nothing stop me from enjoying all that Jeju has to offer—come wind, snow, rain, or typhoons.

This story took place on the Seongpanak Trail located off the 1131 highway. You can check out Mt. Halla’s other hiking trails at www.hallasan.go.kr.

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