▲ Jeju’s indigenous roe deer are a shy species, and not often seen in the wild. As well as experiencing wonderful views, Songpanak hikers can also hope to see the occasional glimpse of this more elusive Jeju resident. Photos by Colleen Hyde
Koreans are known for taking pride in their distinctive four seasons, and as with most of the world, autumn has a great deal to offer. The rains of summer have stopped, but the biting cold of winter has not yet started. This makes fall the most perfect time to hike Mt. Halla.
Songpanak offers hikers great opportunities to enjoy all the natural beauty that Jeju has to offer. The longest of the four routes up Mt. Halla, at 7.3km, Songpanak looks challenging on paper, but most hikers will find it easy to complete. Hikers start right after getting off the bus. The first 5km are relatively easy, but the trail is lined with bumpy rocks which can take a toll on hikers; good shoes are a must. There is currently work being done to improve this trail, and hikers will see large bundles of wood and red beams sitting by the side of the trail.
Jeju's indigenous roe deer lives on the slopes of the mountain, and Songpanak gives hikers a great chance to see them. Starting out in Jeju’s well-known temperate forest, hikers can enjoy the shade of the trees and the quiet of the outdoors. Roe deer graze and crows fly from tree to tree. There are fewer people on the trails as the weather cools down, so hikers will have a chance to enjoy the solitude. The leaves have started to change color and make for a perfect picture of autumn.
After hikers leave the forest they are finished with the easy part, as from this point the real hiking starts. Stopping at the Jindallae Emergency Shelter is a good idea. Hikers can rest before the final push and grab some snacks to tide them over. The shelter is also where hikers can get their first look back at how far they've come. During the autumn the mountain is a beautiful sight as it is blanketed in reds, oranges, and yellows.
After a snack and some rest, hikers will face the harder segment of Songpanak. The trail becomes significantly steeper for the last 2km. While the hiking gets harder, the scenery gets better. Due to the elevation there are no large trees to block the view of Jeju City, the ocean, or the rest of the mountain.
It is a good idea to rest often on these trails; hikers can easily burn themselves out by trying to get to the top too quickly. There are plenty of large rocks to sit on along the way, and, while resting, hikers can take some great photographs. Korean hikers are generally a friendly group and many want to ask foreign climbers questions about where they're from and why they're visiting Korea.
Once hikers make the final push to the top they will be treated to amazing views. The most obvious being Baengnokdam crater, which is filled with water on days after heavy rain, but empty most of the time. They will also get great views of the entire island, from Jeju City, to the ocean beyond. Most hikers take some time to rest on the top, and as with the other mountain routes, hikers can chose to go back down the way they came, or try a new trail. Songpanak and Gwaneumsa meet at the top of Mt. Halla and it’s a great idea to choose Gwaneumsa for hike down, stopping to admire the beautiful temple on the way.
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