One Halla of a mountain - Hallasan
As Australians we are used to hiking in warmer weather. As expats living in a country with wildly differing temperatures we have learned to adapt. Normally we would not have considered a hike if it was under 10°C (50°F) but after being presented with a 4 day weekend and return flights for less than $50 USD per person, we jumped on the opportunity - and rugged up for a 4°C (39°F) hike.
Hallasan, or Halla Mountain in English, is located on Jeju Island, south-west of the South Korean mainland. It is a lazy hour flight from Gimpo Airport and when you land in Jeju-si the city centre is only 5 minutes from the airport. the island while quaint in appearance compared to the larger cities of South Korea, it has a population of around 600,000. That is 100,000 more than Tasmania (Dean's home state) which is itself about the size of South Korea. It also has a similar feeling to Tasmania.
People flock from the mainland to tackle Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea. It stands at 1,950m (6,400ft) above sea level and has a number of tracks circling and partially ascending it. There is only one track, however, that allows you to reach the summit - the Seongpanak Trail (9.6 kms each way). There are a number of other tracks that lead into each other and can be used to descend from (Gwaneumsa Trail) once you are at the summit, but the Seongpanak Trail is the only way you may climb up.
The trail we selected was the Seongpanak trail - 19.2km return. We arrived at 7am with a bus load of older men, known as ajusshi (older men) in Korean, dressed in their finest fluro hiking gear to hit the mountain. We were both wearing a fleece layer and a outer wind shielding layer, but within 2 hours the fleece layer was off.
There is no cost to climb the mountain. There are a couple of cash only vendors at the beginning of the Seongpanak train and at a rest stop before the summit proper but the price can be quite high. Bring your own food and drink. We carried 2.5 litres of water each and both went through the lot.
The ascent took us just over 3 hours, some parts were tough but we kept a good pace and only stopped for photos and a brief lunch before the summit. At times the steps were quite steep and my little legs (I'm 5'3") struggled. Having said that, there were quite a lot of older people and very young children making the climb as well. After all hiking is the national pastime in South Korea.
On the way up I noticed quite a few people with walking poles, which at the time, I laughed to myself deeming them as completely unnecessary. But on the way down I wished I had a pair myself. The descent is unrelenting downhill, with no leveling out. Step after step down = total jelly legs. The descent took us around 4 hours.
But what about the view from the top, that's why we climb these things isn't it? I am happy to report that this climb was totally worth it. Lucky for us it was a fairly clear day and we were able to see Jeju City (Jeju-si), and more importantly, the stunning crater created during Hallasan's active volcanic period.
Hallasan is a stunning and unique climb. It is a shield volcano which means that the structure was formed almost entirely from the flowing magma which solidified around the mountain base. Because of that, many parts of the Seongpanak trail are uneven rock surfaces. We recommend wearing hiking boots with ankle support, though many people just wore sneakers. Boots are a little more comfortable and twisting your ankle on a 19.2 km walk could ruin your holiday.