Elevation: 1950 meters (6400 feet)
Location: Jeju Island, South Korea
Claim to fame: South Korea’s highest mountain
Mt. Halla or Hallasan as it’s known in Korean sits almost dead center on Jeju island and can be from anywhere on the island as long as the clouds are not covering it. South Koreans will travel from all parts of the country for a weekend trip to hike Hallasan.
Hiking is popular amongst South Koreans. So much so hiking clothing is frequently worn even when not hiking. Similar to how wearing yoga pants outside of yoga has become commonplace in the US.
My cousins having never hiked Hallasan before agreed to take me since I was visiting and it’s a must. They live less than an hour away but had never hiked Hallasan before.
A hike to Hallasan requires some advance planning. There are currently two paths that lead to the summit, Gwaneumsa Trail (관음사) – 8.7 km and Seongpanak Trail (성판악) – 9.6 km. For all trails they you need to make it past a designated point by a designated time in order to make a push to the summit or else you will not be allowed to advance.
We hiked Seongpanak Trail (성판악) and needed to make it past the halfway point by 12:30pm. We started hiking at 6:50am which gave us plenty of time. The time changes depending on the season and also the trail. By 2pm everyone must leave the summit.
We woke up at 5:30am had a quick breakfast and headed out. We stopped by a kimbap shop to pick up lunch for everyone. I usually pack a pb&j sandwich for my hikes so this was different for me. In addition we each had a cup ramen to go along with our kimbap. We arrived at the car park for Seongpanak Trail (성판악) and it was packed. It’s not a very large parking lot. We were able to find street parking close by. Already the area was swarming with people. Because of the cutoff times I think most people try to start early.
The weather was supposed to be nice so the trail was packed. Hiking culture is a but different here. Usually everyone’s a quick hello as you pass by or if someone ahead is moving slow they will let the people behind them pass. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. You will find people with trekking poles taking up the entire path. I thought about trying a Korea version of “on your left,” but wasn’t sure if it would translate well. Instead I would wait for an opportunity to cut off the person in front of me and forge ahead.
The first third of the trail is long but the elevation gain is minimal. The first main rest area or shelter has an indoor area and restrooms. The second rest area or shelter has the same and also sells ramen. We stopped here for lunch. After lunch we made the push to the summit, it’s estimated to take about 90 minutes, we were able to do it in 60 minutes. The summit is crowded. There are people everywhere. There’s a stone with Hallasan engraved on it and there’s a line to take photos. This is Asia, photo opportunities are never missed and everyone had a selfie stick.
While hiking up there a lots of people struggling and in true Korean fashion they are drinking makkoli, soju or beer. Not sure if they thought to pack any water….
The weather couldn’t have been any better. The sky was blue and the clouds were off to the south. We snapped a couple photos and ate some snacks trying to soak it all in. My cousin was excited to finally have hiked Hallasan and was uploading photos to Kakao. We decided to leave when we saw the clouds rolling in. We didn’t expect rain but did expect it to get colder so we headed down. The trip down ended up taking just as long going up. The path is rocky and a but tricker to manage on the way down. We stopped at the rest stop again for a ramen break. I took a pass but I was pretty hungry at that point.
We returned to the trailhead around 3pm or so.