Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Volcanoes in the Snow - Hiking Hallasan

Truth be told, while I was eager to enjoy the other delights the Island has to offer, my primarily reason for visiting Jeju (and that of my companions as well) was to hike Hallasan (한라산) and complete the Korean hiking triumvirate of Jiri, Sorak & Halla.

Looking toward the peak from the Sara Crater detour.
Although Hallasan, at 1950m, is the tallest of Korea's three major mountains - and, indeed, of all of Korea's mountains - I would say that it offers the easiest hike for it's size.

My companions en route - these two are off to Nepal next - sooo jealous!
Quite possibly the best sign ever. We found this one on our route down.

Hallasan is home to a number of trails, only two of which reach all the way to the top. The 9.6km Seongpanak (성판악) route on the eastern side of the mountain, winds it's way mostly through the trees, providing a nice, gentle ascent. The 8.7km Gwaneumsa (관음사) route on the northern side by contrast, is a stunning but narrow trail with a great many stairs and a number of ups and downs. Knowing this, we chose to take the gentler route up and the harder route down. This proved to be a wise decision as most of the Koreans who went all the way to the top, also chose this route. 

Walking through trees on the Seongpanak ascent.
Our route choice proved to be a good one for another reason as well. About halfway up the Seongpanak route there is a 45minute detour to Sara Crater Lake (사라 오름-Sara Oreum) and a lookout point. Although the clouds mostly obscured the view from the lookout point, the crater and it's frozen lake made quite a pretty sight. 

the boardwalk lining Sara Oreum
Overall, the hike was absolutely gorgeous - possibly made even more so by the snow. We were also lucky in that we had a gorgeous clear day (above the cloud line that was) and not too much of the blustery wind that Jeju is so famous for. It should be noted that if you are planning to hike it in winter, cramp-ons are an absolute necessity (particularly on the way down). We picked ours up at the Seongpanak park entrance for about 10,000won ($10US). Nicer, more expensive ones were also available.

Windswept snow at the top.
More proof of Jeju's strong winds. This is on the northern side.
A further note for any planning to hike to the top - there are checkpoints on the mountain that you must pass by a certain time in order to be allowed to continue. A time sheet (along with route info) can be found here. We started off from the base at around 8:30 and had no trouble reaching the upward checkpoint by noon, even with our detour. The full round trip (with some rest time at the top and one of the shelters further down) took us until about 5pm at a moderate pace.

Up at the top.

Not what you expect from the peak of a volcano!

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