Jeju Island: Hallasan for beginners

September 8, 2017

Hallasan mountain hiking, Jeju, South Korea

We came to Jeju for beach life and relaxation, but after arriving, it didn’t take long before we decided that of course we also had to get to the summit of Hallasan (1950m/6400ft), which is the highest mountain in Korea. None of us had brought our hiking clothes, but AC has been living in Norway for so long that most of her clothes are suitable for outdoor activities. I only had my running shoes and workout pants, but it was ok, according to AC.

We booked a taxi to pick us up at the hotel in Hyeopjae Beach at 6:30am, as we wanted to start the hike right after sunrise. Our plan was to take the Seongpanak trail up and the Gwaneumsa trail down. It was a 18km/11mi hike in total, but we could see there was a shelter 2.3km from the summit, where you could rest and buy food and drinks.

When the taxi dropped us off, it was raining, so I went inside the store at the Seongpanak entrance and bought a rain poncho. It looked like a big blue garbage bag, and I felt like a mutant Smurf, but it turned out to be a very good investment.

The first part of the ascent went smooth. We kept a good speed and even managed to overtake some Korean hikers along the way. Around halfway up, it became more difficult with long stretches of wooden stairs and rocks, and from that point, we were the ones getting overtaken.

When we reached Jindallaebat shelter, it was very windy, and it was still raining a lot. Our shoes were wet, our legs hurt, and AC’s iPhone had died. We therefore went inside for a bowl of cup noodles and a review of the situation. It didn’t seem too tempting to go out in the rain again, but now that we had come so far, none of us wanted to turn around either, so after buying all the energy drinks and chocolate, we could carry, we started the final ascent.

The last part of the hike was really hard, as there were no trees to shelter us from the bad weather, and it was so windy I feared that me and my Smurf poncho would get blown off the trail. We somehow made it to the top, but it was so hazy, we couldn’t even see Baengnokdam, which is a crater lake (Hallasan is a volcano) right next to the summit. At one point, I lost sight of AC, but luckily, my blue rain poncho was easier to spot. What was supposed to be the climax, turned out to be rather meh, so after taking a couple of photos, we started our descent.

We were both exhausted and soaking wet and the trail just seemed never-ending. We didn’t talk much, as none of us could manage to focus on anything else than just putting one foot in front of the other. The beautiful sites we passed were quickly shot with the iPhone, but we didn’t have the energy to take it in properly. It was quite a shame because especially the last part of the trail was very beautiful with lava formations, canyons and rivers.

When we got back to the hotel, we slept for 12 hours straight and woke up with sore feet and aching muscles. During the hike, we were so busy cursing the mountain and the bad weather, so it wasn’t until we went through my iPhone photos (AC’s phone never came back to life) that we realized how beautiful it was up there, despite the rain and the wind. Besides, the more we thought about it, the more awesome it felt to have hiked to the summit of the highest mountain in Korea, so today I’m therefore very happy that we did it. If some of you are considering hiking to the top of Hallasan, I have put together some advice, which I hope can help you make your hike a little smoother than ours:

 

Check the weather forecast

Trust me, it sucks to have walked 10 kilometers uphill only to find out it’s so hazy you can’t see a thing.

 

Rise with the sun

Hiking is only allowed at daytime, and there’s no accommodation facilities available inside the park. If you don’t start your hike or reach certain checkpoints at specified times, depending on season, you’re not allowed to proceed to the top. Depending on which route you take, expect to spend at least 8 hours on the hike altogether.

 

Know your limitations

Both AC and I were very determined to reach the top, and I think we both got a little summit fever. When you’re tired, there’s a greater risk of injuries, and looking back, we probably should have turned around at the Jindallaebat shelter.

My Korean friends told me that Koreans would usually prepare for Hallasan months in advance. While AC is an experienced hiker, my “preparation” was a couple of yoga classes in Bali. I don’t think that counts.

 

Dress for the occasion

You might be laughing, when you see the old Koreans with so much gear, it looks like they’re planning to climb Mt. Everest, but there’s no doubt that the right equipment would have made our hike both easier and more comfortable. If it rains, wear waterproof from head to toe, and make sure you have a good pair of hiking shoes, as the trails get slippery. Also bear in mind that the weather at the summit might be very different from the conditions below.

 

Bring enough supplies

There were a few shelters along the way, but only one of them, Jindallaebat, on the Seongpanak trail, was selling a very limited supply of snacks and drinks. I got a lot more hungry and thirsty than I expected, so unless you want to drink rainwater and eat leaves from the trees, you’d better bring as much as you can carry. Also note that there is no garbage disposal on the mountain, so you have to take all packaging and empty bottles with you.

 

Take a selfie

If you have a photo on your phone or other kinds of proof that you made it to the top, it entitles you to a certificate, which you can pick up at the visitor center at the entrance for a small fee.

 

 

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