CONTRIBUTED BY JANVIKA SHAH
Out of the numerous mountains to climb in Korea, one must make the pilgrimage to Jeju Island to climb the famous and beautiful Hallasan. Hallasan is a shield volcano and Korea’s highest peak at 1,950 meters. Not only are you conquering the highest point in the Republic of Korea, but you are hiking in an extremely bio-diverse ecosystem throughout. The varied flora and fauna of this volcanic geography made Hallasan a national park in 1970 and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2002.
There are five popular trails to choose from and two going to the summit, Gwaneumsa and Seongpanak. Seongpanak is less rugged and more gradual of a climb, dubbing it more popular for ascending than Gwaneumsa. However, if you’re fit and you’d prefer a less crowded experience, take Gwaneumsa as I did to the peak. Both courses are approximately 9 kilometers in length and take about four to five hours to hike.
Along the way, I recommend observing the changes in the vegetation as you climb from subtropical to and alpine zone. There are a couple of watering holes spewing clean and very crisp spring water to quench your thirst. At the top, be aware that it will most likely be crowded year-round. Be prepared for cloudy coverage, strong winds or rain when you go as weather can be unpredictable.
Climbing Hallasan is wonderful year round; although during the winter, the hiking courses open later and close earlier. You should expect snow around winter and early spring. If you’re lucky in the late spring and summer, you’ll catch the most idyllic postcard view of the brilliant blue crater-lake and stunning backdrop. The shallow crater- lake’s name, Baeknokdam, translated into “white deer lake,” derives from an ancient legend in which the mountain gods would play with roe deer. About 1,000 of those deer still live in the national park. We climbed Hallasan the second weekend in November when flights to Jeju Island were less than 100,000 won round trip. We were lucky with weather as it drizzled on Saturday and cleared up on Sunday. There were patches of icy snow closer to the summit and the lake was dried up and nonexistent.
There are shelters in the park to stay overnight, but we just camped at Gwaneumsa Campground which was conveniently located at the start of the Gwaneumsa trailhead. The parking and park admission fees are all less than 2,000 won. I couldn’t sleep the night before hiking as I was cold and charged with adrenaline; however, the fresh air and beautiful landscape gave me energy to easily hike to the peak.
To get here: The website below has very extensive options for flights, driving and public transportation. It takes about one hour to get to Hallasan from Jeju’s airport.