Jeju Island Story
When it comes to hiking, I’m no expert. But having lived in Hong Kong for a little more than 4 years, I started to develop a strong passion for the outdoors – from stream trekking to hiking to anything on the water.
I’ve done a couple of hikes in Hong Kong (Dragon’s Back being my first and Razor Back being one of the hardest ones) and figured it was time to take it to the next level.
As much as I am a summer-girl, I’m also all about the snow and the cold, crisp breeze. So I figured – hey, why not do a snow hike! It’d have to be somewhere relatively close, not too difficult, but one with a view.
Answer: Mt. Hallasan, Jeju Island, South Korea.
Rising up at an elevation of 1,950 m sits Mt. Hallasan – a shielded volcano (there’s a HUGE crater at the summit) and is also the highest mountain in South Korea – not to mention it’s also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site collection.
So – the trail up to the summit is about 9.6 km, and will take you around 4.5 hours one way – that’s 9 – 10 hours of trekking! Not too bad right? Oh wait – I forgot to mention, you’ll be surrounded by snow slush and ice, and factoring in the wind chill – it’ll be about -15 degrees Celsius. Again, not too bad right!? (sarcastically laughing…)
There were a couple of things I did RIGHT and things I completely missed:
I was pretty anxious about having the right gear to withstand cold temperatures (bear in mind, I grew up on a tropical island so anything below 5 degrees C is considered inhumane) so I consulted a few hiking experts.
THE JACKET – Wind / Waterproof is KEY. I wouldn’t recommend going for a heavy jacket, but make sure it can withstand wind and rain! I ended up purchasing my jacket from Columbia (great popup store in Causeway Bay Lee Gardens) but other brands like The North Face and Patagonia will suffice.
THE SHOES – Again, think waterproof, especially if you plan on trekking on snow. Shoes will probably last you a long time so it was only logical for me to splurge a little and get one of quality. I made my purchase, again, at Columbia (most hikers will opt for the boots but I’m not that hard core) so settled for the trail shoes. You can also wander down Mong Kok Shoe Street (Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok) to consider your options.
THE UNDERLAYERS – Ask any hiker and they’ll say LAYERS. As long as you have an outer layer that will do its job, you don’t need to spend a fortune on what’s underneath. Let me tell you – UNIQLO Heattech works wonders. I got mine for under HKD 150, along with a fleece jacket for HKD 199 and I was more than warm enough.
THE RANDOMS – Trekking on ice means slipping – big time. So it was recommended that I came equipped with a hiking stick and a pair of crampons. Again, considering I just spent most of my investment on the shoes and jacket, I needed to compromise. And voila, Taobao.com to the rescue – or I thought. I got my pair for around 30 HKD and thought to myself, “what a bargain!” But… after an hour of trekking, the clamps started to break off and a dark cloud of regret flew over my head. Lesson learnt – for crampons, buy them at a proper hiking store (list below).
HANDS AND FEET – boy oh boy did I screw up big time on this. I can’t emphasize how important thermal socks are (which I did correctly – found mine at SOGO on the 4th floor) but gloves? Nope. My hands were pretty much frozen from when I left the hotel to when I returned to the hotel – a total of 12 dreadful hours. Gloves – I’d recommend checking out a proper hiking store and your fingers will thank you.
HOW TO TRAIN:
Don’t forget – Hong Kong is made up of beautiful mountains and islands so you’ve got plenty of options! An easy starter is Dragon’s Back – starting from Shau Kei Wan and ending in Big Wave Bay. If you want something a little more advanced, I’d go for Twin Peaks & Violet Hill (bear in mind, there’s 3 mountains so be prepared to scale up infinite number of stairs). Another great option is a shaded walk through Pok Fu Lam Country Park and ending in Aberdeen – where you can treat yourself to a refreshing cocktail (or two) at ABOVE – Ovolo Southside paired with delectable refreshments.
BEST TIME TO HIKE MT. HALLASAN: I personally wanted to see winter wonderland so I chose to go in December, but honestly, it’s beautiful year-round! To be safe, Autumn (September onwards) might be your best option as it’s after the wet season.
OUTDOOR GEAR / HIKING STORES:
Protrek : www.protrek.com.hk
RC Outfitters : www.rcoutfitters.net
The Overlander : www.overlander.com.hk/home
All Weather Outdoor Gear Shop
If budget is a concern, check out the markets at Sham Shui Po (Nam Cheong Street) for cheap finds or you can wander the streets of Lai Chi Kok, known for its factory outlets.
And now for some highlights:
Jessica Tryde, born in Australia, bred in Taiwan, is a creative English copywriter living in Hong Kong. Her job includes whipping out creative ideas and digital executions. During her spare time, you’ll find her weight lifting in the gym, training for a gladiatorial bloodbath in a Muay Thai class or attempting to perform a yoga pose. If not working out, you’ll find her mingling with the locals at the wet market or reading at a local Hong Kong café.