The Mission: Ascend the tallest mountain in South Korea.
The Prep: I started in Seoul and flew Asiana airlines to the island of Jeju. Flight time was about an hour and there are multiple airlines that fly this route daily.
There are multiple routes to the summit and I chose to take the Seongpanak trail- 9.6km to the top and one of the most popular trails.
Waterproof hiking boots- I opted to do this hike in the dead of winter so I wore my Sorel, fur-lined Tivoli boots.
Smart wool extra heavy socks
Heat gear leggings
Heat gear long-sleeved shirt
Pull over fleece
Water resistant winter jacket
Fleece lined beanie
Snacks (lots of protein)
Mt. Hallasan is located on the island of JeJu in South Korea. I started my journey before dawn at the JeJu Express Bus Terminal. The agent did not speak English so I showed her the destination on my phone written in Korean and bought a round trip bus ticket (Bus #780). Once aboard, it was roughly a 30 minute ride to the trail head. When I arrived at the park I was shocked by what I saw…hundreds of people preparing for the hike! I soon realized this was going to be a crowded and slushy trail.
After a quick stop at the restroom, I was off. Since the days are short in winter, I started my journey before sunrise. The trail was quite dark so I followed a group of people with headlamps to guide the way. The sun quickly started to rise and with it, the melting of snow. With so many hikers on the trail and the sun high in the sky, the trail became very slushy and slippery. While most hikers had come prepared with crampons, I had only my hiking boots and meticulously chose my steps to remain upright.
I eventually reached the park checkpoint en route to the summit. The park requires you pass this checkpoint by noon in order to continue to the summit or you must turn around and head back down. Since I started early, I reached the checkpoint in plenty of time and decided to stop for a few minutes to use the restroom (which I don’t recommend using unless absolutely necessary…ewww!) and refuel before continuing my journey. By this point I thought “it cant be much further…” and boy was I wrong, the worst was yet to come. The remainder of the hike was steep and slick. Once I passed the tree line, the trail turned to ice, complete with high winds. This portion of the trail was very slow going with people hiking in both directions and very few areas to place your feet in the thick ice and snow.
When I finally reached the summit, the views were immense and so was the wind. With so many hikers reaching the summit at the same time, I became very overwhelmed and anxious to get some space. I quickly took a look around and snapped a few photos before I headed back down out of the elements and craziness. Once I was below the tree line, the wind subsided and the rest of the trip down was more comfortable and less crowded. When I reached the end of my hike, I went across the street and easily hopped back on the next bus back to the terminal where I welcomed the chance to sit, rest my feet and dream of the hot shower I would enjoy back at my hotel.
- Level of difficulty: ugh!
- Elevation: 1,950 meters
- A headlamp would have been helpful.
- Crampons are not necessary, but would definitely make life easier.
- Make sure you have enough food and water.
- Hiking poles will help with the steep terrain.
- Wear proper hiking boots, NOT sneakers.
- Most hikers come in groups on tour buses, you will have more flexibility to go at your own pace as an individual.
- Start early!! It will take roughly 4 hours to reach the summit.
- Some food is sold at the entrance of the trail and at the checkpoint, but I would recommend bringing lunch with you so you can stop and eat where and when you need to.
- If you drive to the entrance, parking is free.
- Entrance to the park is free.
- You can opt to take one trail to the top and a different trail return.
- Take your time and enjoy the journey.