Difficult path ahead for women hikers

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Difficult path ahead for women hikers

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I climb mountains alone from time to time, and it is not rare to run into a woman climbing by herself. These solo hikers are often spotted on tough trails, such as Mt. Jiri and Mt. Sorak.

Last winter, I traversed Mount Jiri from Hwaeom Temple to Daewon Temple, and I saw several women on this trail in harsh weather. Earlier in spring, Mt. Sorak’s Gongryong Ridge was filled with women hikers in colorful outfits.

Away from the trail, misperceptions and prejudice against women hikers are widespread.

On the trail, reality prevails.

Women carrying big backpacks move nimbly and swiftly up the Hidden Wall Trail in Mt. Bukhan and along the Darak and Podae Ridge in Mount Dobong. For most people, keeping up with them would be an exhausting proposition.

Consider, for example, Oh Eun-sun, who has climbed 14 mountains of 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) or more in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges.

And more and more women are enjoying outdoor activities, from baby boomers freed from the burden of caring for children to fitness-conscious twenty-somethings.

On the Olle Trail in Jeju, men are outnumbered by women, many of them traveling solo. Women are not just challenging the mountains, but savoring the opportunities for meditation and reflection along the scenic paths. It is only natural that Olle Trails are considered a perfect escape for women.

Regrettably, the peace has been tragically destroyed by a violent crime.

Olle hikers are different from the tourists at luxury resorts and visiting shopping centers. They are a source of income for local residents, staying in bed and breakfasts and patronizing mom-and-pop shops.

Jeju authorities closed down Olle course No. 1, where the murder took place, and plan to install surveillance cameras and strengthen security patrols.

However, it is doubtful that these steps will alleviate the fears of women hikers.

We need stronger action, such as a law to require electronic tagging devices on violent offenders, at least those in Jeju.

My wife has been eager to visit the Olle paths since spring. When I suggest that we go together, she says she’d rather go by herself to fully appreciate the experience.

Lately, her anticipation has given way to anxiety and she is unable to see beyond news of the murder on Olle No. 1.

* The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-ho

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