I didn’t know hiking Hallasan would be the highlight of my trip, when I started out. I knew the mountain was South Korea’s tallest mountain (1,950 m), second in the country to Baekdusan (2,744 m) in North Korea, but I didn’t realize I was getting to see one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature until I read the sign saying so when I finished. It’s this enormous presence, you can’t help but feel the giant over your shoulder where ever you are on the island.

When we were planning out how I’d get back, Imo and Samchon told me most people take nine hours to finish, eight at the least. Knowing Koreans like to take their time, I expected I would finish in around seven. They laughed this off and said they’d be ready to pick me up in the evening. I ended up finishing in six. Not to say it was easy. It kicked my ass.

Samchon walked with me for the first two kilometers. We didn’t talk. I followed his lead, slow at first. I think he was getting tired of shuffling around the crowd though because he picked it up and we started passing people. I couldn’t stop smiling, watching him chuckle to himself as he slipped past couples holding hands and hopped over others struggling with their hiking poles. He’s pretty spry. I started to wish he could hike to the top with me.

I’d like to say my time on the mountain was everything the travel book said it would be and more, but honestly, it was one of the worst hikes of my life. At first.

I enjoy hiking because it’s getting away. I like experiencing nature in the quiet, just putting one foot in front of the other for a time and seeing some wildlife. But Hallasan is not the mountain for any of these things. At least not on a Saturday, even at the break of dawn.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to hike with people. This was the first time I had hiked without talking for hours, getting to know someone. But today I couldn’t get more than a couple minutes out of shoulder-to-shoulder traffic, being nudged and cut off with hiking poles nearly every step of the way. A lot of hikers were playing the song of their choice on their radios or were on their cells phones, often stopping right in front of you, mid-stride to answer a text.

I thought if I passed enough people I’d eventually make it through the crowd. But the line and the stream of kimchi gas that followed it, was never ending. I was really disappointed and did a lot of Yosemite-Sam-cussing-under-my-breath, most of the way up. And that was just over the people.

The path itself is poorly designed and no way by a hiker. I looked around and saw the rocks were not there naturally. I guess the terribly painful, uneven stones were meant to reduce erosion but they were awful to step on, hour after hour, with no relief.

So how did Hallasan become the highlight of my trip?

Making it to the summit.

If you look closely, you can see that’s not just the sky behind me, but the coast and the ocean too.

Views like this make me feel so small. In a good way.

My camera does not do this place justice. But it will hopefully give you an idea.

Almost there.

It really felt like looking at Earth from another planet.

Everyone taking lunch.

Posing with Baeknokdam Crater


My peanut snacks inflated.

One last picture after lunch, then back down. The ajussi who wouldn’t let me go without taking this photo told me I was very lucky to have made it to the peak today. Apparently there are only about two days a year when the weather is both nice enough to hike the mountain and clear enough to see down it.

The other side of the mountain.

I can’t be the only person who felt like they were on some epic Lord of the Rings journey…

If I ever had it in me to hike Hallasan again, I would hike it backwards.

This is much more uplifting to have in front of you. I had to keep looking back to appreciate it.

Emergency bail cart? My legs were shaking pretty bad at this point, so this was tempting. Haha

Pretty fall colors.

See, I’m not the only one. The rocky trail is such a pain to walk on that people have made footpaths around it. But this was only every once in awhile for just a few meters. I started running because being short of breath felt better than abusing my feet on top of the rocks any longer than I had to. This part of the trail seemed to go on forever.

But I made it :)

2 1/2 hours up, 1 hour at the peak, 2 1/2 hours down.

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