Doug MacDonald is a Getty Images artist and longtime Jeju resident. — Ed.
I make my way up the narrow, tree-lined path just a few minutes shy of 3 a.m., my small flashlight piercing the darkness around me. Rustling leaves, cracking branches and the faint sounds of small animals echo faintly through the air. The atmosphere is spooky and I silently thank myself for not watching any horror movies recently.
A light rain begins to fall about 4 km into my 9.5 km hike up to the summit of Mt. Halla. I take a brief water break before moving on.
An hour later I pass Sara Oreum, a hill with a crater lake at its peak and a miniaturized version of what lies ahead a few kilometers above me.
Now the hike gets tough as the trail steepens. I feel every kilogram of camera equipment in my backpack as I inch my way up the path. As if on cue, it begins to rain a little harder. Undaunted, I press on…
By 6 a.m., the first slivers of dawn appear as I approach the top of Halla. It’s a miserable day. Curtains of rain now fall and the sky is laden with a mixture of thick black clouds and soupy fog. Despite the relentless winds that now buffet my body, I take a few moments to crouch down and photograph a beautifully barren tree a few meters off the trail, its branches stripped of life from years fighting nature’s wrath.
I finally reach my destination a few minutes later. Over the last week, Mt. Halla has received over 800 mm of rain, filling Baengnokdam crater at its top to unprecedented levels of water.
As I reach the crater’s rim and excitedly look down into its rocky bowl, I’m met with disappointment. Despite the rain, the water level seems to have receded quite a bit compared to the photos I had seen a few days earlier.
But, as I turn around and look at the rich greens and pinks that dot the landscape below me, I realize that spring has truly arrived on Jeju Island and my trip has not been wasted.