Climb Mt Hallasan (1950m) highest mountain in Korea
The day dawned fine and clear and with a forecast 19C we’d already decided we were on Jeju, there was a mountain here, and we just had to do this climb. We were staying very near the Jeju City bus station and Bus No 510 leaves every 15 minutes in the early morning so we were ready for an 8:30 departure. Thirty minutes later we were at the Seongpanak Trail head, shrouded in fog that remained with us for most of the day.
Seongpanak is 9.6 kilometres of climb. I had in mind what it would take to undertake a hike of that distance and didn’t think it would be too difficult, having not really factored in the climbing element. At least I was thinking clearly about the walk being on a mountain and put hat, scarf and gloves in the daypack. In effect, even though we consider ourselves fit from five months of cycle touring, we found this a tough climb due to the distance and the never ending gradient. There is a cut-off time to be passed Jindallebat before 12:00 noon otherwise hikers would not have sufficient time to summit and descend before dark. A requirement that must be met by those people who want to climb. Signage, in English, made it clear what the distances were, and elevation at certain points, and also warned that the trip would likely take nine hours, water needed to be carried, and footwear should not be high-heeled shoes or slippers!
The start was an innocuous stroll on coir matting but soon turned into terrain that alternated between stepped rocks or wooden steps. All the time we were walking through forest enveloped in fog and we had no distant view the entire climb. At one point we heard a strange clattering noise and noticed to our right, a narrow furnicular railway, hidden in the trees. One person was sitting on a deck making their way up the mountain. For us, walking all the way, there were three points to aim for. The first was Sokbat Shelter where there was a toilet that at the time of our arrival had a queue outside the ‘ladies’ because it was temporarily closed for cleaning! I wondered if the person we had seen on the furnicular, was the cleaner going to work. I ducked into the men’s toilet and timed it perfectly as there were no men in there, and none came in. I quickly walked out passed the waiting ladies, without looking anyone in the eye.
We reached Saraoreum the second point, in good time. The third point was Jindallaebat Shelter (1500m) where we sat with many other people to eat the Gimbap we had carried for lunch. We had to pass this point before 12:00 noon, or we wouldn’t have time to summit.
The closer we got to the top, the colder it became, with a biting wind. The tree cover thinned and then parted for rocky terrain near the summit, Baengnokdam, and we were met by sharp winds and icy cold blasts of air. On a clear day there is a view directly into the crater of the extinct volcano, but not today. The queue to be photographed, in swirling cloud, beside the official stone marker was too long for our limited patience. We were cold and underdressed as we did not have the thermal jackets, as other climbers did, so we hurriedly took a photo and started on down the Gwaneusma Trail.
The downward trail was a shorter 8.7 kilometres that, more steeply, wound down valleys and gullies with some stepped sections. Fortunately after a brief cold rain shower the air cleared giving views of the mountain cliffs on one side and Jeju City far away in the distance. This trail seemed to have more rocky steps and I found myself begging for each 500 metre marker to come into view, sooner than it did. With still two kilometres to go, my legs were quivering and my toes tender but there was no sympathy here, just a determined effort to finish.
This morning, before leaving we thought we would get a bus back to Jeju City. This would have meant waiting for a bus, and transferring to a second bus at some point. There were taxis in the car park and neither of us hesitated to get a ride back to our accommodation. It had been an epic day, and now bliss to sit down!