Sunday, May 28, 2017

Climbing Mount Halla: Gwaneumsa

I used to think that they were giving you a bit of cushion room when I heard it took about 9 hours round trip to the top of Halla Mountain. They were, I thought, accounting for people who were out of shape or who planned to take longer breaks--or maybe people who planned to climb in the snow or other strenuous conditions.

I've gone up the Seongpanak trail (click for blog post) 3 times now in different seasons and at my weakest, I've taken around 7 and a half hours. When I heard that the Gwaneumsa trail was finally open again, I was ready for a different perspective. And now I know why they say 9 hours.

The Facts for Gwaneumsa (관음사 코스):
Distance: ~8.7 km (sources vary, even on the trail)
Vertical Climb: 620 m start to 1,950m summit
Campground available at base: Sources paid max 6,000 to park, rent site and use shower facilities

Compared to Seongpanak (성판악 코스):
Distance: ~9.6 km
Vertical Climb: 750 m start to 1,950 summit
No campground at base

Yes, Gwaneumsa is technically shorter (by 2km in the round trip), but you are climbing up an additional 130 m which makes for a whole lot more stairs. Seongpanak is definitely a gentler beginning with the most difficult part at the end. Make sure to bring lots of liquids and snacks for the climb. As of right now, the check point does not sell any food and I don't know if it ever will.

Still, when you finally get out of the trees and can look back toward the coast, it is so worth it.
Panaramic view toward Jeju City. If you can see the small building, its the Check Point about 6km in.
I doubt I will ever climb Halla in better weather conditions. Not only was it an ideal temperature (started with 12° and worked up to about 22°) and sunny, but the day was so clear. I could see islands off the coast that I had no idea existed.
I never knew you could see Gapado and Marado through here! 
That big white half moon shape (Right side close to sea) is the Jeju World Cup Stadium.
Ignoring the lucky weather, I think the highlight of the Gwaneumsa trail in comparison to Seongpanak is that Gwaneumsa weaves more into Halla on the way up and as a result has better views (IMO). Both trails are mainly in the woods until they arrive at their respective check points, but afterward is where the big difference lies. Seongpanak takes you around the dome as it climbs, which is nice, but it's basically looking back at the same parts of the island the whole time. Gwaneumsa takes you into a folded valley and has a switchback, giving you an alternative perspective on the mountain in addition to the distant hills and towns way below AND then the same views as Seongpanak from the top. There was one side of the mountain that reminded me of the hills I trekked around in Somerset. I almost expected a couple of goats or sheep to pop up amid the grass and rocks. Gwaneumsa also has a nice big bridge and some cool caves along the route which again makes it stand out from Seongpanak.

With my sore calf muscles, it's too soon for me to say I'll head up Gwaneumsa again. I still want to summit when there's snow, but who knows what route I'll choose then. Who knows, maybe I'll go up one and down the other when the time comes.
Top of Halla looking down Seongpanak Trail
I spy Udo and Sunrise peak~~~
If you're contemplating climbing Halla and are determined to summit, I would recommend Seongpanak if you are not top physical form, but if you would like more of a challenge, hit up Gwaneumsa. If you don't care about going to the summit, hands down I say skip both and do Yeongshil instead. (Or up Eorimok and down Yeongshil; click for Yeongshil in the winter). ㅎㅎ

Happy Trails!

Love and Hugs.

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