High up in Jeju

By Lauren Lim

With 80 per cent of the Korean Peninsula covered in mountains, it is no wonder that hordes of avid hikers descend upon the various mountain ranges that run across the peninsula regardless of season.

My trip to South Korea would not have been complete if I did not climb South Korea’s tallest mountain, the 1,950m tall Hallasan (main picture).

Hiking in paradise

The 9.6m Seongpanak course at Hallasan, located on the paradise island of Jeju, brings climbers up to Baengnokdam, the crater lake located at the summit. While the Seongpanak trail ascends gradually and takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes to reach the top, we found that the challenge of trekking up this particular trail is its rocky terrain.

Picking our way across the loose volcanic rocks was very often a test of our balancing skills. One misstep and we could twist our ankles.

But all the pain was forgotten when we reached the top. It was balm for the soul just to breathe in the crisp mountain air and enjoy the sight of pretty pink flowers and lush green foliage spreading all across the mountain.

For those not up to a full day of hiking, it is possible to spend about half a day trekking part of the way up Hallasan. The 3.7km Yeongsil course is said to have some of the most rewarding views of Jeju.

The first few hundred metres were a flat stroll through the woods. The actual climb started when we came to the first flight of stairs and the majority of the hike was spent climbing vertically over stones and boulders until we reached the flat plains near the top where we were rewarded with stunning vistas of majestic rock formations. Two of my travel mates were also fortunate enough to catch glimpses of foraging deer.

Trekking Olle 10

Trekking in Jeju does not always require a hike up a mountain. It can also be done along the coast. The first of the Olle trails opened in September 2007 and today, there are 13 routes in total. Collectively, the trails stretch 216km across Jeju’s coastline.

Olle 10, which takes the trekker from Hwasun Beach Resort to Moseulpo, is an interesting trail that offers panoramic views of the distinctive volcanic coastline of Jeju as well as access to two of Jeju’s prized peaks, Songaksan and Sanbangsan. To locate the Olle trails, just look out for the blue and orange ribbons, markers and arrows.

Ascent into the clouds

Mount Gwongeumseong in Seoraksan

We started the day by taking a six-minute cable car ride which brought us near the top. But to get to the actual peak at Gwongeumseong Fortress which stands at an altitude of 1,200m, we had to scramble, sometimes on all fours, while looking for tiny footholds that would hold our weight.

At times, we would perch precariously, while overlooking a sheer drop into the ravine below and waiting for others to descend as the path could allow one person to pass at any one time. It was definitely not a climb for the faint-hearted. However, the gorgeous bird’s eye view of the Seoraksan mountain range at the peak was worth every inch of the heartstopping scramble.

We also tried another deceptively easy trail and one of the more scenic trails in the park. The 3.6km hiking course up to Geumganggul Cave would take only one hour and 40 minutes. The trek was fairly easy until we reached Biseondae Cliffs where we would have to start the final 600m steep vertical ascent up to the cave.

For the final 30 minutes of the ascent, we heaved ourselves up steps that were knee-high and climbed multiple staircases that were like ladders due to their steepness. After much huffing and puffing, we finally reached the mouth of the cave (left). We were a touch disappointed that we could not go further into the cave because it was home to a shrine but the awe-inspiring views on the way up to the cave more than made up for it.

Clouds swirling across dark grey craggy mountain tops which towered over lush green forests made for a picture perfect postcard.

Getting there

It takes one hour to fly from Seoul’s Gimpo Airport to Jeju. To get to Hallasan, take a bus from the Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal to Hallasan National Park. A one-way trip is about an hour.

Take the three-hour express bus ride from Seoul to Sokcho. To get to Seoraksan National Park, board a city bus. It will take around 30 minutes.

Traveller’s tips

– Keep a close watch on the time as hikers have to descend Hallasan before the park closes. Hiking on Hallasan is limited to only daytime hiking and mountain entrance hours are strictly enforced.

– Good hiking shoes are a must especially when trekking on rocky terrain.

– Do check out the difficulty of the hiking courses to ensure that you are fit enough to undertake the trek.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Divsion, SPH.

[Courtesy of http://www.relax.com.sg/relax/features/1149270/High_up_in_Jeju.html]