Alla on Halla Mountain

It all started after watching Netflix’s “Losing Sight of Shore” (2017) about four brave women who crossed The Pacific Ocean in a rowboat, facing numerous challenges such as a malfunctioning GPS, mental and physical problems, they were able to complete their 8,000-mile journey in about 9 months.

I was so inspired that it prompted me to search for a personal challenge, which is not something I would normally do. You see in the same month of March, I wanted to complete a 30-day meditation challenge, which required me to practice this simple yet mindful task on the daily bases. With a lot of skipped days and long periods of inactive meditative days, I signed up for a new challenge – Hiking Halla Mountain (Korea’s tallest) on May 4th in Jeju Island. I was hoping that this far away goal would motivate me to exercise and stay active more in order to conquer this 1,950 meter (6397 ft) mountain.

How does one prepare for something like that?!

I don’t know, I’m no hiker.

But I did do more leg strengthening exercises, as a result, walked more, took the stairs instead of escalators and wrote a will.

Just kidding.

I also invested in some hiking boots with ankle support, which came in very handy during a Ragged Ridge hike I did recently. A windbreaker jacket and a pair of hiking pants purchased from a second-hand store were also a great addition to my “new hiking hobby.”

Finally, I psyched myself mentally, reminding myself regularly that I’m doing this and I’m finishing this NO MATTER WHAT. Because why would I go all the way to Jeju Island (330+ km away from home), pay the necessary fees just to come home empty handed… ‘No’ wasn’t even on the radar!

Korea’s 3 day holiday weekend came quick and it was time to pack and depart at 1 am on Friday night.

My tour group of choice was GOH Travel Korea, who are frequently advertising fun sightseeing trips around Korea. A large bus of about 40 picked me up from Daejeon’s Bokhap Terminal and off we went to Haenam, where a 3-hour ferry took us to Jeju-do.

The first day of the trip was packed with activities – we took a short ferry to U island, where we rented bicycles and electric vehicles in order to sightsee the beaches, sleepy coffee shops and tasted their famous Peanut Ice cream. Afterward, we hiked about an hour to “Sunrise Peak” volcanic mountain which delivered us a great view of the city and the sea around it. Then, we ventured through the long lava tubes of Manjang Cave, which just happens to have the tallest lava column in the world. To fill our hungry bellies, we devoured the very delicious black pork belly, which was an all you can eat affair. Lastly, we stopped over at the very sexy Love Land for a quick tour of the romantic and sexually explicit park with statues and other suggestive items. I’m blushing just thinking about it 😛

Here’s a quick collage of day one:

At first more than a handful of people wanted to hike Hallasan the following day, but as Saturday came to an end, that number reduced to just four. Well, I thought, there is a chance that I may have to hike alone, but knowing Korea, I wouldn’t be the only one on the trail.

Sunday came quick and so did the 6:00 alarm bell. Our planning was all over the place when I was eating breakfast alone, while the others were still charging their devices, getting ready or buying supplies. We shared a taxi to a trail recommended by the taxi driver and our tour leader – Seongpanak, which promises the most gradual of ascends, but lasting 9.6km and 4.5 hrs one way. Yup, one way!

It was going to be a long day…

At the bottom of the mountain, they recommended that we bring at least 3 bottles of water and some food, which we did, while also hoping to resupply along the way.

Emphasis on HOPING

Here’s what the beginning looked like:

The boys quickly picked up pace and left us, girls, in the dust, which was fine because as the Russian proverb goes: “The quieter you go, the farther you will be.”

It was great to see the different zones of trees and flowers which changed as we got closer and closer to the summit. Helpful maps along the way were a great guide, but their signs for Potable water and Shelter left us wondering where the refillable stations actually were. Where was the Makkoli selling man? I’ll even take a weirdly flavored squid snack if he is selling, but where is he exactly? Probably further up!

All hope for water or snacks had vanished when we got to the final Shelter. This location must be reached at different times during different seasons, so for us (summer hikers) it was by 13:00.

Following that destination the mountain had opened up, there was no longer a tree canopy which was a nice protectant from those bright sunshine rays. We could now see the summit, but it still felt so freaking far…

More stairs, more rocks, the last hour and a half were the hardest for me. Luckily, my hiking buddy, Heidi, was very encouraging and motivating, even though the views from there were enough for me to turn around. What don’t I do to get a picture?! 😛

Alas, with shaking legs, sweaty backs and parched mouths we made it to 1,950 meters – The Top of My Korean World!

The summit was just like any place in Korea – busy. People were replenishing their energy with snacks and drinks, some were waiting in line to snap a picture with the Marker Stone, while others were climbing over the railings to get closer to the crater. The crater was deep but dry with just two small puddles of water, instead of the picturesque lake you normally see on images of Hallasan (what else is new.) We also took our time up top, savoring every minute of having made it after 4.5 hours of almost non-stop walking and going up the endless stairs. We shared what small snacks and foods we’ve brought and agreed that next time we’d be more prepared because there were still NO VENDORS insight…

From previous hikes, I knew that walking down the stairs would be absolutely killer on the knees, so I was glad to have prepared some knee support band and tape. It was very helpful, while my back was screaming: “Forgot all about me, didn’t you?!”

It took us 9 hours to see the signs of Seongpanak again, where we hailed a taxi around and drove straight to a local Craft Brewery to celebrate!

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