In the path of the Gods: Hiking South Korea’s tallest mountain

Thousands of years ago, the spirits of a beautiful mountain towering over a deserted island created three male demi-gods.

These holy men spotted a ship approaching the island while climbing the mountain. On it were three princesses sent by a master of a foreign kingdom. They married the three demigods and founded their own empire at the bottom of the mountain widely known as Mount Hallasan.

This is how legend describes the origins of Jeju, an island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula which draws tourists from all over East Asia. While there have been reports of overcrowding and excessive development, and the island’s coast has seemingly endless rows of hotels, its interior is surprisingly empty.

Mount Hallasan – at 1,950 meters the highest mountain in South Korea – dominates the island, its summit covered in clouds most days, leaving visitors to guess at the vastness of the volcano’s bulk.

Hallasan National Park, which was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2007, features four main trails, two of which lead to the summit. From the east, the Seongpanak trail has the shallowest incline, making it the most popular route to top. The start of the Gwaneumsa trail, which approaches the mountain from the north, is closer to Jeju City, slightly shorter but also steeper.

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