It was definitely a trek, and we were on one of the easier shorter trails. But as the locals say, “Jeju is Mount Halla; and Mount Halla is Jeju.” As the tallest mountain in South Korea, a visit to Jeju Island would not be complete without a hike up to the summit or as far as one can go, of Mount Halla. Rising 1,950 meters above sea level, it can be seen from everywhere on the island, that is when the clouds aren’t surrounding the top. It’s striking from every angle and the lush vegetation and signs along the trail that direct hikers to enjoy this vegetation add to the enjoyable yet exhausting experience. In 2007, ‘Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes’ were designated as Korea’s first UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site and the natural splendor of the mountain is worth every step up to see.
At the start of our trip, we headed toward the Yeongsil Trail. On the southwest of the mountain, this trail is the shortest and so, as we realized, is quite popular with the tourists looking to get a half days hike in. The cars wrapped around down the street, and though we were just in front of the parking ticket booth the attendant told us that the cars wrapped around for quite some time and we’d be waiting awhile. He directed us to head just around the bend to Eorimok Trail on the northwest side of the mountain. This trail is short and relatively easy for beginners, we were told. I hike at least once a month as most of my readers may be able to tell by my posts about hiking with the teachers, but my husband does not. He came to the mountain in jeans and sneakers if that says anything, though he wasn’t the worst by far. We saw a girl with a skirt and flip flops on and countless tourists in dresses making their way up the mountain. I do not suggest this to anyone going up this trail, it’s not that easy.
Signs every couple of kilometers let hikers know how far they’d come, which areas were the most difficult, and which areas to look forward to. It was great way to get people to pace themselves. The first hour of the Eorimok trail was the most strenuous, as the signs had led us to believe would be so, but once up and out of the lush forest a wooden platform path with a slight incline wrapped the rest of the way up the treeless slope. Yeongsil trail and Eorimok trail met up at Witseoreum. Here hikers rested and had their fill of ramen and coffee and chocolate bars. At this point there was a choice to be made. We opted to hike even further toward Mount Halla to South Wall Fork, even though we could see the peak of Mt. Halla clearly from here. Getting to the peak is what I’d hoped for, but unfortunately the trail from this side had been marked restricted to allow years of hikers’ foot prints to be taken over once again by the mountain. Not many hikers continued on from Witseoreum, instead they went down Yoeongsil trail or just turned around. The path was quiet past the rest stop and overgrown in some areas. It was so quiet in fact that a young deer came out of hiding and stood quite close to where we stood. Crows squawked all around Witseoreum, leaving a very eerie impression on me, but once we’d made it out of eyesight of the rest stop the crows’ sounds ceased and a calm serenity could be found. We met only a few other hikers along the path and took the time to enjoy the view of the mountain, of the oceans below and of the meadows surrounding us. It was truly breathtaking. Nature always has a way of dazzling me.
In total, Eorimok to Witseoreum was 4.7 kilometers and from there to South Wall Fork was another 2.1 kilometers. By the time we made it back down the mountain, exhausted and in need of immediate full body massages we had hiked 13.6 kilometers up and down. It was well worth it and the full body massages we received afterward were well deserved. Next time, I want to hike a trail that will allow me to get all the way to top!
Trails on Mount Halla:
Gwaneumsa Trail: 8.7 km; Goes to the summit
Seongpanak Trail: 9.6 km; Goes to the summit
Eorimok Trail: 4.7 km; Midway point
Yeongsil Trail: 3.7 km; Midway point
Deonnaeko Trail: 9.1 km; Midway point