Opened to the public on Nov. 1, the newest addition to Mt. Halla’s web of trails is 600 meters in length and only accessible after a 5.8-kilometer ascent from Seongpanak. However the drastic change in scenery alone is valuable enough to justify the extra expended sweat.
Finding the right window of time to peacefully enjoy the environs alone or with a few people – without the hundreds (if not thousands) of similarly dressed, tour bus-deposited, mainland hikers – is the only drawback.
Halla National Park official Yang Chun Suk told The Jeju Weekly that the organization had plans to extend the trail and improve hiking facilities.
“This year, we have done construction work under the budget and opened [the Sara Oreum trail and observatory] to the public,” said Yang. “We are planning to finish working on the other parts of the trail and extend places for users to take a rest.”
▲ Photo by Shin Yong Man
After trekking the Seongpanak Trail, to see Sara Oreum hikers must climb steep stairs up a narrow wooden walkway, before entering a shaded natural path. About 10 minutes later, the crux of the journey visually presents itself: the crater lake.
On this particular early December inspection, the crater was bone dry, and this writer thought he was having flashbacks to New Mexico’s barren brush lands.
Tumbleweed would not have been out of place.
Hidden from Seongpanak and the observation platform, the location completely transports a hiker to another place, expanding the imagination. Nature is fully at work here.
Yang explained: “Because of this fall’s drought, the crater is dry. It usually holds water in the spring, summer and fall when it rains. Also, we can see the crater with water in winter when snow melts. Mt. Halla’s top crater lake Baengrokdam also has a similar circulation of water.”
When the lake is actually a lake, it measures 80 to 100 meters across and 250 meters in circumference. A raised, boarded walkway skirts the left side on approach to Sara Oreum’s observation platform.
Like many other spots on Mt. Halla’s trails, Sara Oreum provides views on a cloudless, fog-free day. Sara Oreum, at 1,324 meters in altitude with a rise of 150 meters, is no different. At the observatory, which has a small control center shelter, hikers may have a crystal clear look at Seogwipo City, along with the oreums of Gyeonwolak, Muljang and Seongneol.
For botanist lovers, Yang described possible sightings along the way depending on the time of year.
“Not only herbal species such as Aconitum japonicum, Hepatica and various orchids, but abores including Jeju Malus sieboldii, rowan trees, wild pear trees and Euonymus sieboldianus are present,” she said.
According to oreum expert and photographer, Kim Hong Gu, a large portion of the southeastern slope of Sara Oreum succumbed to a woodland fire in 1988. As a result, the area around the oreum – Jeju dialect for a parasitic volcanic cone – is filled with Sasa bamboo.
The government is introducing Sara Oreum through public media, Internet and information leaflets. In total, the provincial government spent 400 million won to install Sara Oreum’s walking path.
There are a few glitches which hikers have identified, Yang said.
“Users are claiming the muddy path is an inconvenience and [that] there are limited places for gathering,” the veteran park official said. “We will improve these problems next year.”
Sara Oreum is open until 3 p.m., during the four winter months of November through February, and until 3:30 p.m., for March, April, September and October. The closing time in summer is 4 p.m.
Adding the 600-meter stretch of Sara Oreum, Mt. Halla now officially has 36.4 kilometers of trails: Seongpanak (9.6 km) and Gwaneumsa (8.7 km) meet at the 1,950-meter summit; Donnaeko (9.1 km), Eorimok (4.7 km) and Yeongsil (3.7 km) connect at Witsae Oreum (1,700 meters).
In a Jeju Weekly article published earlier this year, Kim Hong Gu poetically provides justice to Mt. Halla’s newest trail: “Let your thoughts be with Sara Oreum and you will know. The dreams and overwhelming feelings of happiness all lie in the bosom of nature.”
The four hours of round trip time to see Sara Oreum are worth the investment. Sometimes a short trek can be the most fruitful.
(Translation by Erin Ah-nam Kim)
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