Climbing Mt. Halla – An Adventure Post!


Confidence is a funny thing. It’s a virtue that I lack in most areas, such as solving math problems or giving a good back rub. However, from time to time, I’ll find myself exceptionally confident about something that I have no logical reason to feel confident about. The most recent example of this has to do with mountain climbing. Specifically I’m talking about climbing Hallasan, a shield volcano that, at 1,950 meters tall, is the highest peak in all of South Korea.

Hallasan – or Mt. Halla – is located in the center of Jeju Island, which is mostly known for being a big honeymoon destination for Koreans. It was also recently named one of the seven ‘New Natural Wonders of the World.’ Since I was on vacation from work, I thought I’d take a short trip there with my girlfriend. After conducting some research (i.e. Googling ‘what to do in Jeju’), I learned that one could hike to the top of Mt. Halla, where there is a big volcanic crater.

“Cool,” I thought. “We’ll do that.”

I mean, nothing says ‘romantic getaway’ like walking up a 9.6 km/6 mile trail to the top of a volcano, right?

My girlfriend didn’t bat an eye at the suggestion and was so confident about it, she initially planned to do it in flip-flops. “Are you sure you can hike up a mountain in flip-flops?” I asked her, skeptically.

“Sure,” she said. “These are very comfortable.”

I told her to pack a pair of sneakers just in case. This would turn out to be the best advice I’ve ever given someone, narrowly beating out the time I told one of my kindergarten students not to eat crayons.

In due time, the big day came. As I alluded to earlier, one has to trek up a 9.6 km trail in order to reach the summit of Mt. Halla. This is such a time consuming task that the final stretch to the summit is closed off at noon, due to fears that people will get stuck on the mountainside past nightfall if it was open later. For that reason, we left our hostel at 4:30 AM and reached the mountain just as the sun was coming up. True, getting up early sucks, but it’s nothing compared to having to sleep on the side of a mountain with a big jagged rock for a pillow. Knowing how inexperienced and, frankly, nonathletic we are, we thought it best to get going as early as possible and so, at exactly 5:20 AM we were off, headed up the trail at the speed of lightweights.

This is basically what you walk up. It alternates though, between stone steps, rocks, and finally a sweet wooden staircase that appears to go up and up forever.

If you look closely, you can spot my girlfriend basically collapsed on the stairs there (note the sneakers). Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t read a lot about going up the mountain during that preparation period. If I had, I might have realized something I otherwise neglected: it’s actually rather difficult to climb a mountain. Had I have known that, maybe we would’ve gone to the beach instead. Going up took 4 hours. It was not fun. Others on the path were decked out in sleek hiking gear, with walking poles to help them and backpacks full of water and food. We brought basically nothing, just a couple bottles of water which I carried in the plastic bag from the 7-11. Hiking gear? None. Shorts and sneakers all the way. There was a point somewhere on the wooden staircase when making it to the summit was in doubt, but we had begun with confidence and that would not fade (until the way down, at least), and finally we achieved our goal and made it to the wonderful, glorious, breathtaking spot I like to call the tippy top.

We hung out at the summit for about 15 minutes, breathing in the fresh air of accomplishment, and then embarked on the nightmarish descent. Every step down felt like I was getting hit in the knee by a shopping cart, making me wince in pain and cursing the mountain. “Damn you Hallasan!” It actually took longer to go down than it did going up – 5 hours down – and the effects lasted for about a week. Encountering a standard stairwell in the subway, for instance, brought the fear of God into my heart. My body ached too much to go down it. I looked and felt like a 90 year old man inching my way to the bottom. It was as though I had somehow left my youth and my calf muscles up on the mountain somewhere.

A little soreness is just a minor detail, though. This adventure post is not about climbing mountains or being physically fit. It’s about having the confidence to do something and then doing it. No, it wasn’t fun and it certainly wasn’t well researched, but I believed that I could go up a mountain and I did. I even remembered to take a camera so that I could supply myself with photographic evidence. Here I am, standing by the plaque at the top of the mountain. Do I look confident? No – it had been drained out of me at that point. It didn’t matter though. I’d made it, ma, top of the world.

And I’d never, ever do it again.



13 thoughts on “Climbing Mt. Halla – An Adventure Post!

  1. Holy crap, dude. Your legs are as white as mine.

    Anyway, good on ya’ for, you know, climbing the mountain and accomplishing all the related metaphors. I have a sneaking suspicion if I’d tried it I’d’ve thrown in the towel half way up, which would be stupid, of course, because it would just provide my hiking companions with joke fodder at any and all future bar trips.

    But not you, man. You climbed through the exhaustion, white legs and all.

    And for that I tip my hat to you. *mimes tipping hat*

    • Hey lady! That’s awesome that we share a common skin tone. Yes, I am very white. It doesn’t help that the moisturizer here in Korea has skin bleaching stuff in it. I might be opaque by the time I leave.

      Nah, the funny thing is that the mountain in reality isn’t that hard…it’s just hard if you’re out of shape and keep physical exercise to a minimum (i.e. me). I’m sure you could’ve sprinted to the top.

      Thanks for the hat tip! Made my day! * mimes happy jump in air with heel click *

  2. Nicely narrated! The summit view is breathtaking! I tried trekking a long time ago, and what started out as a two-legged human being wearing white canvas shoes returned as a four-legged animal with dirty brown rags wrapping its hind legs!

    • LOL! Yeah, I trekked a little mountain (hill?) in Vietnam that had no path and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was just covered in mud and exhausted and wanted to die. Even though it was mostly rocks, at least there was a path to follow on Mt. Halla.

      I would’ve loved to have seen you transform! I respect any girl who refers to her lower section as ‘hind legs.’ : )

  3. Impybat

    Oh, I feel your pain. Years ago, an old boyfriend took me on a “small day hike” for my birthday. “We’ll only be gone a few hours.” He promised me that it 1) wasn’t out of my physical skill level, even as a pack-a-day-smoker, to climb this “hill”, and 2) there would be ice cream afterwards. Not only did he see fit to let me climb what turned out to be an 8.9 mile mountain expedition to Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire wearing Keds, but he also left off the part about sheer, slippery, rocky faces and the straight-downhill-descent. At least he was honest about the ice cream.

  4. themeredithmouth

    Regarding the descent: Now you know what it’s like to walk around for hours on end in a pair of stillettos.
    Also strong work!

  5. Whoa! You are brave to attempt a mountain that you have to climb both UP and DOWN! I would not have even tried. Last mountain I climbed had a chair lift you take to get down….and a cafe at the top for you to fuel up (or booze up to numb yourself with).

    At least you got to work on your tan! 😉

    • Yes…my tan. I’m currently about as tan as a corpse. Anyways, having booze at the top of the mountain would NOT have been a good thing. I would’ve definitely died going down, although my confidence would’ve been higher. The chair lift sounds amazing – I will contact Mt. Halla about installing an escalator.

      Thanks for the comment, Suzanne. : )

    • Hey Rustic! Nah, you could’ve done it. Seriously. And yeah, totally worth it. I mean, on the trip to the island, we went to the beach and did lots of fun stuff…but it’s the crazy mountain trek that stands out in the memory easily over the other things.

      Now stop being down on yourself and go hike Mt. Fuji!

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