South Korea Travelogue 3: Hallasan on Jeju Island

Let me give you a brief introduction about Hallasan, so you can see where I am coming from later. Hallasan is the highest mountain in South Korea and a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. It is a massive shield volcano and forms the bulk of Jeju Island. The peak of the mountain is at an elevation of 1,950m (6,400ft).

hallasan map

(Source: http://www.hallasan.go.kr/hallasan/map/english.html)

There are seven trails up the mountain, but only two to the summit: Seongpanak Trail (9.6km) and Gwaneumsa Trail (8.7km). The time to the summit for the two are pretty similar since Gwaneumsa is shorter but steeper. The trails are opened in the daytime and entrances are closed by a certain time so that hikers are able to climb down the mountain before sunset.

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We woke up when it was pitch-black, at about 4.30am, so that we could start the climb early. Daylight started to appear as we pulled into the carpark to Seongpanak Trail.

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Do not believe the trail grading of ‘easy’, ‘normal’ and ‘difficult’. It should have been ‘difficult’, ‘more difficult’ and ‘most difficult’!

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The trails are easy to follow, as there is a clear path. However, it is mainly made up of uneven rocks and mud for almost the whole of the trail. We slipped and slid and twisted our ankles. At certain points, there are wooden walkways, which are a much needed reprieve from the torturous trek. We also took the opportunity to rest and take photos.

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You will reach Sokbat Shelter about 4.1km into your climb. I strongly suggest you make use of the washrooms there because the second other washrooms at Jindallaebat Shelter about 3.2km away (and 2.3km from the summit) are disgusting! You can practically smell the washrooms from a distance and I could not even step near the facilities there because they made me want to retch at the awful stench (no words can describe how stinky it is).

The toilet at Sokbat Shelter is cleaner and there is an automatic foam-like mechanism to “flush” the human waste, so no hands are needed.

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We finally reached Jindallaebat Shelter (1,500m). Other than the nasty toilet, you can find a small rest stop selling food like cup noodles, chocolate bars, water and isotonic drinks. There are no rubbish bins along the trek, so you have to carry all your trash with you up and down the mountain.

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It was about the last 1km or so that we reached the stairs and I was on my last legs. You can note the lack of photos for most parts of the climb because I simply had no energy to take any more pictures or even enjoy the scenery.

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The peak was covered in clouds and there was not much to see. We did not want to stay up there for too long as it was about noon and the sun was scorching. We quickly caught our breaths, took some pictures and made the agonising climb down. The sad part is that there is no shorter or faster way down (unless you want to go by the more harrowing Gwaneumsa Trail), so it was a long, arduous journey over the rocks again.

According to a Korean friend, we were fortunate to reach the summit because the weather is constantly changing and it is not really easy to make it up to the peak.

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We rewarded ourselves with cup noodles at Jindallaebat Shelter. The prices of the food items at the rest stop are very affordable, so you do not have to worry about being ripped off.

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It was a total of 19.2km for a round trip and the trek took us about 10 hours (excluding toilet breaks). It was late in the afternoon when we reached the carpark and we had no energy to do anything, except to have a good meal and head to our B&B.

I would strongly DO NOT recommend the climb, unless you have a whole day to spare (not on a tight schedule) and proper hiking equipment. Most of the hikers we see here (mainly Koreans) came with outdoor clothing, gloves, hiking boots, day packs and trekking poles. The poles and proper foot wear are essential as the trail was extremely rocky and they would provide good grip and balance. I was really not well equipped with my Sketchers.

To choose a good time to climb, you can go to hallasan.go.kr/english for weather and real time updates through their webcams.

Following our hike, we checked into Hyomin’s Ocean View Villa, which we found on Airbnb for $143 per night. It accommodates four, with a queen sized bed and two singles.

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The first floor was really dusty and it was later after exploring that we realised we were supposed to wear our slippers/ shoes on the first floor and leave them on the second floor landing before going to the bedrooms and bathroom.

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The rooms were clean, but there was hardly any place to put our luggage, so we left them on the first floor and only brought up what we needed. Still, we had to go up and down quite a number of times.

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The bathroom is equipped with an overhead shower, towels, shampoo, conditioner and soap. We did not know how transparent the glass was till I went out one night and happened to see the toilet lit from inside!

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Hyomin recommended that we try this seafood restaurant which was a minute’s walk from our place. It was a good recommendation! We ordered Abalone Porridge (12,000Won), Rice Topped with Raw Fish (10,000Won) and a 40,000Won set which came in such a huge portion that it would have been good for the four of us! The set consisted of sautéed black pork, grilled sea bream and seafood soup in earthenware pot. Happy!

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