Hiking South Korea’s Highest Mountain

When I’m visiting a new place, in addition to the usual traveller stuff, such as trying the local food, meeting new people, seeing the sites etc. I like to try to attempt two things: 1) Watch a movie at a local cinema. 2) Reach the highest point in that country.

Unsurprisingly, I make it to the cinema a lot more often than I reach these highest peaks. It’s much easier and more affordable to buy a ticket to see the latest blockbuster than making the traveling plans and paying out on the transport or equipment. But as I’m getting older, I’m growing more passionate about getting to these summits, and I’m proud that I’ve already managed to make it to several across multiple countries.

Hallasan (한라산) being one of them.

Hiking Hallasan Korea

Hallasan is the highest mountain in South Korea, standing at 1950m (6398feet).  The mountain is a volcano located on Jeju Island, off Korea’s southern coast, and is considered a hugely sacred, cultural and historic landmark for Koreans. Hiking Hallasan is popular for hikers because it’s diverse range of flora, it’s waterfalls and many viewpoints of the island below.

I knew that during my time on Jeju Island, I wanted to make it to Korea’s highest peak (especially after almost 3 years of living there), so I tailored it into my travel plans and let my friends know that one day we’d be doing a hike.

I don’t think it was their idea of a good time, or something they wanted to do on their vacation, but after showing them photos of the viewpoint at the top and then being informed by our hostel owner that it was ‘for beginners’ and ‘an easy walk’, they were good sports, and off we went early one morning with backpacks full of water and snacks.  Spoiler alert: it was not easy!

The start of the climb was easy. A couple of hours on relatively flat ground through picturesque woods, meandering pathways, and the possibility of seeing wild boar and deer.  Our spirits were high and the sky above our head was blue!

We appreciated the fresh and crisp air as we chatted and laughed, enjoying the scenery, but, we were by no means walking slowly, so seeing the numbers on the hiking path not increase much was starting to get demotivating as the hours passed. How long exactly is this going to take? Do we have enough water? Are we even close? All questions that were running through our heads.

Hiking Hallasan Korea

The weather then decided to take a turn for the worse as the rain started to pour. At this point, we were still sheltered by the trees, but what did this mean when we were at the top?

After an hour or so of plodding along, stopping for water here and there, the path turned into stairways and steep inclines.  The physical part of the challenge had begun! We slowed down, and increased our number of stops, but we persisted forwards.

Hiking Hallasan Korea

The steep path suddenly turned to scrambling up some rocks using rope and our bare hands.  To be honest, I welcomed the chance to use my hands to give my legs a break, and despite not being able to see far Infront of us because of the clouds, the dramatic drop in temperature told me that we were close and we’d soon be there! I started to feel re-energized and motivated!

A little while longer and finally…3, 2, 1…. We made it!

Hiking Hallasan Korea

It was an exciting, proud, and self-gratifying moment. We touched the trig point on the summit, had some photos taken and sat down for a rest. An old Korean lady approached us, trying to make us wrap up warmer, but we weren’t prepared but the cold at the top, so we had to deal with it.

But where was the beautiful lake in the volcanic crater? the panoramic view of the island below? Hiking is always a risk. You never know what the weather will be like, especially when you reach the summit. This was not our lucky day! I personally wasn’t too bothered, but it would have been nice to have some visibility.  At least the rain had stopped!

To make the journey down more exciting, we took the most difficult path. Wow – coming down was hard on the knees! However, the views from this side of the mountain were much more impressive, so the pain was worth it.

No meal ever tasted as good, or was more deserved than the chimaek we ate when we finally made it back to the bottom. 치맥 or chimaek, restaurants are extremely popular throughout South Korea.  It’s a hybrid of the word chicken and maegju (Korean for beer).  Basically, they are restaurants that only serve fried chicken and beer, very delicious!

To say we ordered excess would be an understatement. Platters of BBQ-glazed fried chicken, Chilli fried chicken, garlic-honey fried chicken, and of course a plain one for the more delicate taste buds.

We smelled and looked horrendous, but we didn’t care. We relaxed, ate, and drank the evening away!

However, it turns out that giving the body that much exercise followed by too much fried food and beer wasn’t a good idea. No sooner than when we had finished only 2 of the large platters of meat, had my friend ran to the bathroom to vomit it all up! Good memories, huh!

In the end, the 치맥 beat us, but we walked home content and ready for a good night’s rest.

Needless to say, we struggled to walk the next day!


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