Shortly before Christmas 2018 my wife and me decided to visit the subtropical island of Jeju, located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsular. I have already been several times on Jejudo but never made it to the top of Hallasan (한라산 / 漢拏山). I really wanted to visit the highest elevation of South Korea and before leaving we already prepared and packed our hiking gear which was suitable for winter weather. Read here more about our journey to the Baengnokdam peak of Hallasan.
We studied several hiking routes and after having realised that only two of those leading up to the top of Baengnokdam. We decided to take the Seongpanak trail (성판악 탐방로/城板岳 探訪路) where you need 4 hours and 30 minutes for a distance of 9.6 kilometer and 1,200 meters elevation gain. The other option would have been the slightly shorter Gwaneumsa trail (관음사) which is slightly shorter but steeper. Before having left home we made sure we had proper hiking gear which included hiking shoes, a backpack, a fleece jacket and a wind proof winter jacket. Having those in different layers was helpful as the wind and temperature varied on different stages of the hike, but of course this might be a different story in summer. The evening before we also went to shop enough food for the hike. Beside water we got sandwiches, kimbap (Korean rice roll), Jeju Mandarines, Bananas and Chocolate.
All park entrances can be reached by bus or car. With your own car the starting point of the Seongpanak trail can be reached from Jeju City and Seogwipo within 30 minutes or so.
We parked our car at the National Park entrance for the Seongpanak trail and paid the 1,000 Won parking fee. There is no entrance fee to the national park. During winter season it was possible to start hiking from 6am onwards, but times are subject to be changed anytime. Since the sunrise would only be around 7:30 a torch is necessary until dawn. We walked around 2-3 kilometer in the dark.
We parked the car and left from there at 6:10. The parking fee was 1,000 Won. After one hour it started to dawn slowly.
On the first few kilometer some speedy Korean hikers overtook us. But this morning the hiking path seem to be rather quiet. Most of the time we would only hear the wind blowing through the trees and ocassionaly some crows sitting in the forest.
Signs along the route are pretty good.
Sunrise was at 7:32 am and it became slightly warmer with the sunshine.
At around 1,400 meter above sea level we reached the clouds again.
The rest station
At the elevation of 1,500 meter is the Jindallaebat Shelter (azalea field). The rest point is about 7.3 km from the starting point. From here to the top it takes roughly another 90 minutes. So its a good idea to rest here on both ways, unless you decide to go down the Gwaneumsa trail. At the shelter there are toilets and an indoor rest area. Power plus are provided as well.
The shelter station needs to be passed at a certain time in order being able to reach the top. In our case it was possible to climb up until 12 noon. On top of the mountain you have to decend before 13:30. As usual, those times are subject to change and depend on the season. Up to date information are available at the official Hallasan National Park webpage here.
Inside the Jindallaebat (azalea field) Shelter. From here it is another 90 minute to the top of Hallasan. On the way up there we not that many people but when we came down it was rather full and most hikers had cup noodles. The hot water you have to bring along but there are also electricity plugs provided.
Sign at Jindallaebat (azalea field) which indicates that you have to leave here 12 noon latest in order to reach the top. The time depends on weather condition and season and is subject to change.
The icey wind is getting stronger due to altitide and less protection of trees.
Beautiful winter wonderland which appeard to be close to magical.
The cold didn't stop our good mood.
Together we can do it.
The last few steps before the top.
We did it! 1,950 meters above Jeju, on the highest spot of South Korea!
Soju, the national drink of Korea. The Hallasan brand is the most popular one on Jeju island. The consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the National Park so I only took it along for picture purposes.
The hike was amazing, the only thing which could have been slightly better was the view on top. Covered in clouds and with strong winds we couldn't see more than 20 - 30 meters. This is how the view would look like in better weather conditions. Hope on our next visit we would see the Baengnokdam crater.
On our way down we crossed a lot of hikers. It was certainly the right decision to leave as early as possible.
There is a little side train from Seongpanak. Within 20 minutes it is possible to visit the Sara Oreum Sanjeong Lake and a viewpoint which offers a great view of Hallasan and to the southern direction toward Seogwipo.
After having walked up for 9,6 kilometer the walking down part was actually even more challenging. Especially in the parts where those big stones govered the hiking trail. Hiking sticks would have been quite helpful in this area.
The last few kilometers before getting back to the car parking area. When we left in the dark in the morning things looks very different here.
We did it. Beside the long distance I felt like the weather with the cold winds was most challenging. Especially on the peak we were glad to have brought the right equipment along.
It was a great day. The tour to the highest elevation of South Korea in the winter season was one of the best travel experiences I ever had in South Korea. The Koreans we met along the way were friendly and some of them were happy to make some converstation.
I would certainly want to climb Hallasan again but maybe I would pick spring or autumn to have a slightly different experience. And on the next trip I would only climb the mountain if there is a good visibility on top so I would be able to see the Baengnokdam crater.
Tours and trips in the Hallasan National Park should be properly planed, especially during winter season. The parth to the top is in a excellent conditions and the challenges are more the distance and the weather which can change very fast.