Hallasan: Dormant yet Dominant
Hallasan is South Korea’s tallest mountain, its summit sitting just below the 2000m mark. It protrudes from the centre of Jeju-do, dominating this quiet fishing island that lies to the south of the peninsula. Jeju-do, Korea’s largest island, was created by volcanic eruptions & Hallasan itself is a dormant volcano. But do not be fooled by this sleeping beast! It can still hurt you! It’s destruction may not be as catastrophic as a million years ago but your legs won’t be feeling such empathy after a hike up it.
Hiking Hallasan is an all-day excursion. 4 hours up, 3 hours down… & that’s if you’re tanking it. There are two trails that lead to Hallasan’s summit, Gwaneumsa (관음사) & Seongpanak (성판악). Seongpanak is the longer trail in distance (9.6km), Gwaneumsa (8.7km) is the longer trail time wise, starting lower & requiring a steeper ascent. We opted for the more challenging Gwaneumsa trail to the top before descending down Seongpanak. The trail started off as a rather pleasant stroll through the woods. Nice flat paths, laden with wooden slats to ease your soles… But that didn’t last.
After just 1.7km of tranquility on the trail it suddenly became a whole new world of pain. Stairs. Those slightly inclined veranda-esque paths quickly morphed into strenuous steps… countless, crushing steps!! I shudder to think who many freaking steps we went up.
After a tiring 2½ hours we were within sight of the summit. We took a break at the penultimate shelter before our assault on the summit. As we rested weary legs we gazed around at the panoramic peaks above. From sheer cliff faces to fields of green, the diversity of the valley walls was quite stunning. All the while clouds darted around the breathtaking bumps & brows, hugging the heights of Hallasan before floating elsewhere. But… back to the grind. We were yet to conquer the crown of Jeju.
Anticipating a challenging last few kilometers to the top was not enough to envisage the reality. The stairs below us paled an insignificance compared to the sheer slopes we were about to encounter. We trudged on for another 1½ hours, cursing every moment a leg was lifted. We finally reached a flat plain, the crest of Hallasan, & staggered on to the summit. We were rewarded with the beauty of Baengnokdam (백록담), a volcanic crater lake that rests in the curvature of Hallasan’s cone. Our view from the top was obscured by lowing lying clouds that had dropped to the base of the beast, but the scenery surrounding the summit was crystal clear. A breather & a bite to eat & we were back on the dreaded stairs for the long journey down into the Gotjawal (곶자왈) forest.
Hallasan, you may have battered our legs to an unfathomable feeling of nothingness with your infinite steps of torture… but we made it to the top, & it was worth it.
~ Rhys ~