Jeju Island is world renowned for its natural landscape and beauty. One of the top attractions is Mount Hallasan, a volcanic mountain situated in the centre of the island. Also known as the mountain high enough to pull the galaxy, the natural wonder towers into the sky and watches over the island like a guardian. The mountain is part of Hallasan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The national park offers plenty of hiking trails including two that lead to the top of Mount Hallasan.
Climbing the mountain is a whole day event. Although the mountain has a relatively mild incline, the climb takes a lot of persistence and perseverance. On our hike, both the young and elderly were climbing to the peak of the mountain. With that being said, hiking to the top is not an easy task. Throughout my time hiking in Korea, I have noticed that the locals are relatively fit. Seriously, there is always one or a group of ajjumas (older Korean Ladies) in professional hiking gear that is fitter than you.
The locals like to pack a lot of food so that they can have a picnic during their climb. This often includes boxes of doshirak and gimbap rolls. To top it off, the locals would often drink makgeolli, a traditional rice wine to keep them warm during the hike. Bringing alcohol with you is probably not the best idea, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. What is important however is that you bring plenty of water as there are no shops along the way.
There are two trails that lead to the summit. We took the Seongpanak trail on the way up, and then the Gwaneumsa trail on the way down. For beginners, the Seongpanak trail offers mild inclines on relatively flat surfaces. This is also the more popular route out of the two trails. There is a shop at the starting point of the trail if you need to stock up on food, water, and other necessities. As previously stated, there are no stores along the hike or at the top of the mountain so make sure you bring or purchase something to eat beforehand. Bring at least three bottles of water each, or more if you think you need it. It is the worst feeling to push through a hike when you are dehydrated. Not to mention, dangerous.
Hikers looking for a challenge may want to take the Gwaneumsa trail. Not only is this route more challenging, it also offers a more scenic view. It took us four hours to descend the mountain from this trail. We were pretty exhausted so we did not stop to enjoy the views as much as we did on the way up. What nobody ever mentions is how difficult hiking downwards can be when you are already tired. The repeated motions on the four hour climb downwards took a strain on our knees and calves. We also passed by someone halfway down the track who was vomiting.
It is recommended to start the climb early in the morning as it takes an average of nine hours to hike to the peak and back. Make sure you bring a lightweight jacket as the conditions can get quite windy and cold at the top. We hiked the mountain in summer and still found it to be chilly at the top. Since a lot of the route is rocky, shoes with thick soles are recommended as the rocky paths can start to hurt your feet after awhile.