And so begins our last day in Jeju and it was going to be a busy one of epic proportions. We had to (1) hike up and down the 18.2 kilometer/11.3 mile round trip Seongpanak Trail, (2) go back to the hostel to pay and pick up our luggage, (3) head to the rental car place to return the car, and (4) get to the airport to catch our plane to Busan.
Let us begin!
As we got there at around 7:30, which was most definitely behind schedule because I took into account everyone’s hiking speed and how the estimated time for completion of this route was 8 hours, I was itching to start, but not before a quick bathroom break. The area was a bit chilly, the sky grey, and there were crows everywhere.
And we were off!
At first, the trail was fairy easy with a steady incline with rocky steps that came regularly. My feet were still fresh so it was simple and soon enough, I was at the start of the line followed by my male travel mate.
Every so often, we would come across a map that would show you how far you had to go to reach the summit or, as I later found out, for how much longer I had to suffer until I got to the top. I loved how they also color coded which parts of the trail were harder and which were easier; towards the end though, it all seemed fairly difficult. It didn’t help that was was wearing Croc sneakers which allowed me to feel every single rock or pebble under my feet.
As we moved up in elevation, we reached an area where we were passing predominately pine trees. It was beautiful. I also loved that awesome wooden path they had for us. However, sooner or later, the man-made walkway would end and we would meet with inclines or these wicked rock steps made from boulders – or were merely just boulders placed to make a path. I have no pictures of these though, as I was too busy trying to make it to the end of that section to enjoy the view, never mind take photos.
Then, we returned to the pretty autumn foliage from before, following the area of pine trees. The good news was that there were two main rest stops where there were areas to sit, rest, bask in the sunlight (as the sky had began to clear… or perhaps we were starting to get to the point where we were higher than the clouds), snack, take restroom breaks, and the main part: wait for friends to catch up. At this point, I would like to point out how I highly disliked those hikers who carried nothing on them and literally pranced up those rocks. My friends also greatly disliked this one guy who carried nothing and was listening to his mp3 player which was filled with ballads. Then again, there were some who needed encouragement (myself included) as the altitude got higher and so I was there to give them a “hwaiting” and I was given the same in return when I looked like I needed it. ^^
And finally, we were near the summit! There was a point where there were a series of stairs after flight of stairs – never ending, it seemed. This soon stopped and gave way to just a series of rectangular logs that were nailed to the ground with make shift rope railing. Then there was a moment where there were just rocks. Ah, the summit still looked so far, but at this point, some of the people that had made it up there before us and were heading back down, encouraged me to keep on going as it wasn’t too far off. Yes! I could do it – a mountain can’t stop me!! Though the sun could – I could feel my skin baking.
I admit I did stop to take a rest several times; I had been walking on the trail on my own for a while by now. At one point, I turned around to take a look at the view – and I was officially above the clouds! There was a point where I had to walk to what looked like random pockets of fog, but turns out what I was walking through were clouds. Well, picture opportunities are great rest stops as well.
I finally got to the summit. It was packed with people meeting up with their respective parties and just sitting down after that hike. The “lake” itself in the crater was this puny little thing, but I still felt accomplished, though it was a close call. I was feeling slightly panicked because we took roughly 5 hours to get up and we still had the return trip. I briefly walked around, took some pictures, and met up with the guy that had went before me. We stayed for a little longer before heading back down.
Shortly after we went back on the trail, we met up with a third member of our party. She was close enough to make it to the top, snap up a couple of pictures, and head back down, and so she did. She left her heavy purse with my friend and so we left her to it and then went back down to see where our fourth wayward member was. By the time we got to her, it was clear that she wasn’t going to make it to the top and then do all our errands to make it to our plane on time. She was rather bummed (understatement), but there was nothing we could do about it.
The good news is that the way back down was faster for the other half of my travel mates, but the way back down is always more slow going for me. By this point, my feet were tender and sensitive and I swear I had a giant blister or two somewhere. Not to mention the lack of treads. It never fails that I never got myself hiking shoes no matter how many times I told myself to get a pair.
Ah, but the view still got me happy, though I started to mentally curse at all the rocks I encountered. We finally made it to our car roughly 9.5 hours after we began from all the waiting and the brief resting periods and picture taking opportunities. Halla-san was a mountain I ultimately conquered.. Barely.
We finished everything and actually made it to our gate at Jeju International Airport with 15 minutes to spare until it was time to board. We were tired, dirty, sweaty, and aching but we made it.