Hallasan 한라산, the tallest mountain in South Korea, is not a mountain but a dormant (though some argue extinct; I am no scientist) sacred volcano that rises up from the center of Jeju into the clouds.
The sacredness of this striking mountain comes from Korean folk beliefs tell the creation story of Jeju by Grandmother Seolmundaehalmang 설문대할망 who formed Jeju by carrying mud in her skirt and flinging it into the sea and giving birth to the sea life that calls Jeju home. Her most crowning achievement was Hallasan, which she built to reach the stars. Another myth tells of gods and enlightened people ascending to Hallasans summit to play on the backs of white deer and in the crater lake. Koreans, especially the people of Jeju, consider this one of the most sacred places in Korea, making the assent a spiritual journey for many. Whether or not your purpose is spiritual, it’s hard not to be in constant awe of the beauty of this mountain.
I began my trek up the sacred Seongpanak Trail 성판악, in which Grandmother Seolmundaehalmang’s sons or generals were turned to stone out of grief for their mothers passing at 7am. I started the trail by scanning my QR code for my reservation and trying to convince the ranger that I have had previous hiking experience and that I am carrying 3L of water so he would let me hike this alone. Hiking alone can often be dangerous, but since this is a high-traffic trail, I wasn’t worried about not getting help if needed.
The trail started off easy between boardwalks and volcanic rocks through a beautiful dense forest. Although the hike is busy, the peacefulness of the woods does not get lost. It helps that just as you feel bored of the scenery, the landscape changes to a climb amongst red pines after the first way stop.
Shortly after the way stop, I hear a loud buzzing noise to see a cart being pulled up a track that goes the length of the mountain, bringing supplies to the rangers. I followed it to my last stopping point.
The last stop before the summit was unbelievably beautiful; between cloud deck that was passing over the trail, I was able to see a peak of Seogwipo underneath them for miles. It is here that the scenery changes again, moving from forest to grasslands. You start seeing the Ravens that call Hallasan home, and if you’re lucky, you can catch a deer grazing. I spent the last section of this hike mistified of the raw beauty of Hallasan. This hike really makes you wonder if there is truth in Hallasans Mythology because the world around you feels alive.
After being in constant awe in the last part of the hike reaching the summit was disappointing at first. When you climb a mountain, the pinnacle feels like pure ecstasy after accomplishing a difficult feat. The rush of adrenaline and view makes every hardship that brought you to this precise moment in your life worth it. However, on Hallasan, a line forms just before you reach the top, tricking you into thinking there is a cue to get to the top. It was quite a letdown to be so close, yet a queue of 60 people away from accomplishing what I had set out to do that day. Don’t get tricked like me. It’s just a line to get a picture with the name of the mountain and elevation. Once I figured that out, I skipped the line and went to the top to view the lake, which is breathtaking.
It’s hard to put into words the feeling that is created by summiting Hallasan. The surface Of seeing this Gigantic crater with a clear blue, green lake in the middle. The view is exactly what you see taken by National Geographic photographers in remote, seemingly impossible places to get to. Hallasan is genuinely mesmerizing.
*This hike does require pre-registration, and you must make it past the last waypoint before 12:30pm (in the summer fall and winter hours vary ) to complete the assent*
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