After doing the three-day traverse of Jiri-san and a quick dayhike up Yudal-san in Mokpo, we took the Pink Dolphin ferry to Jeju Island in order to climb Halla-san, which is a World Heritage Site and at 1950 MASL, the highest mountain in South Korea.
There are four trails up Halla-san, but only two reach the summit: The 9.6 kilometer Seongpanak Trail and the 8.7 kilometer Gwaneumsa Trail . These two can be done as a traverse dayhike and that’s exactly what my hiking companion, Kiwi tramper Jo Steven and I set out to do in September 26, 2010.
It was a rainy, early autumn day – a far cry from the crystal blue skies that greeted us in Jiri-san. The bad weather notwithstanding, we proceeded with the dayhike, taking a bus from Jeju City and getting off at the Seongpanak Trailhead. We had to pay W3000 as entrance fee for the park. Then, we started climbing at 0720H.
The ascent was gradual, and the forest very beautiful. There was an evident difference in the flora, as compared to those we saw in mainland South Korea where maples and Korean pines (Abies koreana) dominated the environment. The ascent was very gradual, and the hike very easy. The only difficulty we faced was the inclement weather. We could stave off the wetness with our raincoats, but the wind chill was something else.
The trail became a bit steeper when we were past; and the plant life changed too: there were beautiful flowers interspersed in the grassy slopes that heralded the summit; trees became stunted. Unfortunately, because of the fog we weren’t able to see the spectacular views that Halla-san is famous for, including a view of its crater.
We reached the summit at 1110H, staying there for less than a minute, just to take our pictures at the marker. We then started the descent via the Gwaneumsa Trail, whose forest was even more beautiful than that of Seongpanak. The well-organized trail winded into some majestic array of trees; occasionally the clouds would give way to imposing rock formations. The leaves are no longer purely green, but fading – signalling the arrival of autumn.
By 1500H we were at the Gwaneumsa trailhead, and from there we took a cab to Jeju City. A celebratory feast of black pig bulgogi (a speciality of Jeju Island) was at hand. For dessert, there were unique choices too such as cactus ice cream (my favorite) and orange ice cream. Aside from its natural wonders, Jeju has cultural and culinary charms as well.
Looking back, Halla-san was a very nice trek. The fog and the rain gave a unique lens through which we saw (or failed to see) Korea’s highest peak, and although we were deprived of what would have been very nice views, we can’t ask for more. Having done Halla-san, I’ve climbed the two highest mountains of Korea, and since Jo Steven has also done Seorak-san, she has completed the three highest. It was a very productive hiking trip indeed. Quite painful to the knees and hips, but well worth it. Hopefully when I come back to Halla-san, the clouds will give way.
Hiking gear I used for this climb:
Pack: Deuter Aircontact 55+10
Pants: Zebra Platinum
Tops: Mountia Dri-fit
Raincoat: Mountia Raincoat Blue
Shoes: Merrell Waterpro Maipo
Gloves: The North Face Powerstretch Gloves
Altimeter: Casio Protrek Waveceptor
Camera: Fujifilm Finepix Z33 WP
KOREA HIKING TRIP 2010
Hiking matters #98: Korea in the clouds
Hiking matters #99: Korea, shopping paradise for hikers
Hiking matters #100: Jirisan Traverse: Hwaeomsa to Banyabong
Hiking matters #101: Jirisan Traverse: Banyabong to Cheonwangbong
Hiking matters #102: Yudal-san, a scenic peak in South Korea
Hiking matters #103: Dayhike up Halla-san, Korea’s highest peak