Bagpipes on Hallasan?!
Since I realised it was a thing, I have enjoyed taking my bagpipes to unusual places and playing, just for laffs and poopies. I have played in the Swiss Alps, on the Great Glen Way overlooking Loch Ness, at Giant’s Causeway, in the Drakensberg more times than I can count, on random mountains in Cape Town etc. So when I found out that I could hike to the top of South Korea’s highest mountain (1950m) in one day, it went without question that I needed to play my pipes at the top. This is my journey up Hallasan. With my bagpipes!
The morning of
There were mixed messages on the level of difficulty of this climb but I reckoned that even in my current state of unfitness I could handle it. It wasn’t wrong, but only just! So at 6:30am on the last Sunday we were in Jeju I packed up my pipes and crammed into a taxi with three others from our tour group. We arrived just after 7 at the Seongpanak entrance and started our climb.
The actual hike
At first the slope was gentle, the weather was cool and we were in a wonderful, shady forest. I was lulled into a false sense of security as the kilometres just floated by. The first rest stop came and went and I was feeling strong. We’d done nearly the first half in about an hour, easy game!
Then it got tough…
And then the uphills started. Oh my did it get tough. In my defence I was carrying 8kgs of bagpipes and water in a bag not made for any kind of extensive walking let alone mountain hiking. There is a fun little diagram that pops up every now and again to show where you are in the trail and rate the difficulty. By the time we had reached the rest stop after the ‘medium’ section and before the final ‘hard’ section, I had sweated possibly half my body weight.
The hike changes between stumbling up volcanic rock and pushing yourself up Korea’s obsession with stairs. The final stretch to the top is on 2.3km. Not even a 3rd of the 9.7 to get there. But there are places where it feels like you are going straight up. By the time we reached the summit I felt like I might being seeing my heart and legs left behind somewhere. But I had made it!
If I had one let down on the day it was how busy the mountain was. There must have been several hundred people hiking up and down and everything felt horribly crowded. So at the top I set out to find a space that wouldn’t be right on top of people to play. I eventually found my spot. It opened up over the rest of Jeju and I played a few tunes. Despite much finger shaking from being tired, I got an appreciative audience and I can now add Hallasan to my list.
The scenery on and around the mountain is absolutely stunning. The trees had just started to change to their autumn colours and created a multi-coloured canvas of nature. I was lucky that when I reached the top the clouds cleared to a large extent, giving an amazing view of the island on the way down. The forests on the mountain are thick and vibrant. Despite the mass of people, it was still a very peaceful place to be in. I’d love to visit again out of tourist season because I think the mountain could have a much greater emotional connection.
Coming back down!
Unfortunately what goes up must come down. I did not fully anticipate the level of intensity of the downward hike. As a group we decided to go down the opposite side of the mountain, Gwaneumsa. We had heard there was a more scenic view. We were not disappointed. The autumn splatters of red and orange mixed with green followed us the whole way down and made most of the pain worth it. I’m glad we didn’t hike up this side but coming down felt like a never ending bad joke of stairs. 5 days after the hike I’m still hobbling up and down stairs.
This is so many degrees more intense than the hike up and if it wasn’t for the fact that there was no other way to get down I probably would have given up halfway down. I also nearly had a few nasty falls. Hundreds of feet had churned up a lot of mud that made navigating the rocks pretty precarious. The whole hike took around 8 hours, the group I was hiking with had made our walk a little longer by taking a detour to look at Saraoreum Lake, worth it, but it added a fair number of stairs to our overall hike!
Final thoughts on Hallasan
If you visit Jeju and feel adventurous I would definitely recommend hiking to the top of Hallasan. Just don’t underestimate its difficulty! There are shorter hikes that don’t go to the top. They still let you experience the mountain’s natural beauty as well. It is an amazingly beautiful area and I’m glad I hiked it!
Other bagpipe hikes!
Seonginbong in an extinct volcano on the small island of Ulleungdo off the East coast of Korea. When we moved to this little island paradise I had to climb the mountain and play my pipes at the top as well. Here is the full story on my Ulleungdo adventure!
If you’re looking for a bit of an off the beaten track adventure in Korea, away from the cliched crowds of Jeju, then Ulleungdo is the place for you. Here are some of our highlights of the island:
Happy travels and blue skies!
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