It didn’t take long to tackle the highest mountain in South Korea, Halla-san, located on Jeju Island. The mountain, actually a volcano, possibly extinct, is not that high, only 1,950 m (6,398′) but the summit trail is 9.6 km making for a fairly long day. Halla-san is not the highest mountain in Korea as there are a couple of higher peaks in North Korea neither of which I will be tagging on this trip. The highest there, however, can be reached from China according to a South Korean peak bagger whom I met on the trail.
Even though I only arrived in South Korea Friday evening after a very long trip from Seattle, I’ve been feeling pretty, pretty good and went for the summit on my second full day here. Glad I did as rain has set in which unfortunately caused a major transport problem, the first I can remember in a long time: the ferry to Busan I had reserved for tonight was canceled. I was lucky to score a cheap flight last minute but not until Wednesday.
US$ ≈ 1,020 South Korean won (₩)
Accommodation and food Opted to spend one night in Seoul to break up the trip to Jeju and take the flight there the next day. I stayed at Crossroad Backpackers near Hongik University in an 8 person air conditioned dorm for ₩15,900 including a great breakfast with real coffee. Each dorm bed has nice amenities such as privacy curtains, electrical outlet, and a small lamp. WiFi is available as is satellite TV with all the K-Pop you can handle. Most importantly it was very easy to find from the airport line metro stop. Didn’t eat anything in the neighborhood as I got plenty of filling, bland food on the flight but the air was noticeably thick with the smoke and smell of BBQ.
In Jeju I’ve been staying at Greenday Guesthouse in Jeju City. It’s not as nice as Crossroad and pricier at ₩18,000 for a 4 person dorm with AC and way too many mosquitoes but breakfast is good and so is the WiFi. As a bonus, laundry can be washed for free but the dryer costs ₩3,000/load. The guesthouse is located near a major intersection so public transport is readily accessible. Dongmun Market is close by and that’s where I took all my meals, mainly seafood based noodle dishes for ₩3-6,000, and while it was a mystery what I would be eating it was always very good. Jeju being an island, fresh fish abounds including sashimi, often sliced octopus. Produce is not at all cheap as one apple can go for ₩2,000 which is simply insane.
Transport First order of business was getting from distant Incheon International Airport (ICN) to Seoul on the airport train. To Hongik was ₩3,950 and took ~50 minutes. I left Seoul for Jeju from Gimpo (GMP) located much closer to Hongik. That trip was ₩1,250 and ~20 minutes. Jeju airport has numerous buses to the city center with bus 500 dropping me close to the guesthouse for ₩1,000. Bus 780 from the city terminal (brisk 15 minute walk from Greenday) departs every 10-15 minutes for the 30 minute trip to Halla National Park for ₩1,800 (buy ticket inside bus terminal; from the driver for the return trip). For the canceled Jeju-Busan ferry, I reserved space in 3rd class which is up to 500 people sleeping on the floor. Bring your own sleeping mat, or Therm-a-rest in my case, for ₩43,000. Upgrade to a berth in a 4 person cabin for ₩60,000. Trips leave in both directions every night except Sunday. I eventually settled for a one hour flight to Busan with Jeju Air for ₩34,500 including 15 kg of checked baggage.
Halla Mountain summit hike The bus to the park left right on time at 8:38 and arrived a half hour later at the Seongpanak trailhead. I met Rory and Georgina from the British Isles on the bus and we set off together at 9:20 after a pit stop and sunscreen application even though it was totally overcast. The mostly stone trail was fairly flat and, even though positively mobbed with locals covered head to toe in spotless goretex, we made good time to the first break at Sokbat shelter after an hour. Another hour later we arrived at Jindalaebat shelter where hikers must arrive by 13:00 (earlier in winter and spring) or risk being denied continuing to the summit by park officials. We passed on the ₩1,500 ramen noodle cups for sale at the shelter’s small shop and forged on ~11:45 reaching the blustery summit, called Baekrokdam in Korean, at 12:45. My hiking companions opted to take an alternate descent route, the much steeper knee shredding Gwaneumsa trail, but I stuck with the ascent route to preserve what’s left of any cartilage. Left the summit area at 13:04, took one long break at Sokbat, and reached the bus shelter at 15:36. A bus arrived ~20 minutes later and I was back at the hostel, totally knackered, by 16:45.