Hiking Mt Hallasan, Jeju Island

I looked up some videos on YouTube about climbing Mt Hallasan on Jeju Island, South Korea’s highest mountain at 1, 950 m. It seems most agree that it is not an easy climb. The ascent and descent together is about 18 km in total and the average person would take an estimated 10 hours.

The ascent map shows your progress

My first reaction was surprise at the elevation. Korea has many mountains yet their highest is only 1,950 m. This cannot be compared with Mt Kinabalu in East Malaysia which is 4,095m high and I have hiked there several times. By comparison, Hallasan should be doable.

However, as the day drew near my anxiety increased. I hardly could train as I had originally planned. Saturday church ministry meant I was available for training intermittently. Thus, I tried to squeeze in some training on days and times different from the rest of the Saturday hiking group. I did make sure I had at least one endurance training which went from 7.45am to about 12.45pm. I remembered how a lack of training ditched one of my earlier group hikes in Hong Kong on the MacLehose trail. And I was not as young as before when I did my earlier hikes up Mt Kinabalu. What made things worse were weather forecasts of cold weather! That worried me as I hated cold!

When the group gathered together at the airport most of us knew each other. Some of us had hiked together for years. Others were new. The oldest was Jenny Teo, 75, the leader’s elder sister. The youngest was Eunice Lian, about 23. Most of us were in their 60’s including me. With mixed ability and levels of training, the challenge was obvious, “How can we keep the group walking and summiting together?”

We stayed about five nights in Forest Hostel (photo: Yenny)

It was good we had a few days in Seoul to relax and carbo-load before the climb. I will blog about our days in Seoul in a later blogpost. We took a Jeju Air one hour flight to Jeju island and settled into the Forest Hostel. The weather was often on our mind, so we flashed our requests up to God about this.

The light of dawn revealed the beautiful autumn colours of Hallasan
At 1,200metres
Our hiking group leader Linda Teo with her elder sister Jenny (age 75) (photo: Jeffrey)
Jessie (who surprised us) and her strong husband Jeffrey who carried her backpack!

We decided to take the difficult Gwaneumsa trail (8.7km) up, and the easier Seongpanak trail (9.6km) down. We started our hike early at 6.45am. We wanted all in the group to be able to make it by the time fixed by the park. For safety sake, they turn back hikers who cannot make it to the three quarters point by a certain time. So the leader, Linda Teo, appointed Brian to be at the front and nobody was to overtake him. He would pause and regather the group at various points up the route. She took the rearguard. The route was straightforward and no guides were required.

Steps – wooden, cement, stones, rocks, mud. Be prepared to step up!
The vegetation gets wiry the higher we go
It was cold as we got higher and there was melting frost on some parts

As light gradually shed its rays on the forest we saw how beautifully the valleys were dressed in their lovely autumn colours, set in the midst of grey rocks and dried stream beds. Taking our time to enjoy the sights and take photos, the hike seemed quite leisurely during the early part of the hike. And I was thanking God for the fine weather: it was not as cold as weather reports predicted! The terrain and vegetation changed as we hiked up the route. We paused to drink, snack, take pictures, use the toilet and to regather the group.

The rangers offices and resting and toilet area where people are turned back at a specific time.
Hong Kwen and Brian 
Eunice the baby among the seniors (photo: Eunice)
Nellie and Tan Jee Lian (photo: Eunice)
Bibi (photo: Hong Kwen)
Plodding the upper stretches before the summit
A few bridges but this was the most impressive near the summit

The last stretch was deja vu for me. It felt like that last stretch before we reached the Laban Rata rest house at Mt Kinabalu. All of us made it on time except for a lovely couple who did not meet the time requirement. They were advised to go back down the same route. Later, when they heard stories of the rest of our hike, they were glad they were turned back. It would have been impossible for them to ascend to the summit and down the trail without great difficulty. By the time they were turned back, the rest were already hiking the last uphill climb to the summit. It would be another hour and a half before we reached the summit at about 1 plus. Someone brought a Singapore flag and we took photos and looked around the summit, peering down the crater lake (more of a pond), and the cotton clouds below us.

Another mountain nearby. Good thing it wasn’t Hallasan.
Another unknown mountain. Is this the Hallasan?
The summit area
Joy Lian (photo: Yenny)
Yenny and Y.K. (photo: Yenny)
Kenny, Jenny and Beng Chai (photo: Yenny)
At the summit of Hallasan with the clouds below eye level
Looking around at different directions at the summit. Some were on the way down.
The crater lake or should we say “pond”
Filled with excitement, satisfaction and relief at the Mt Hallasan summit with a Singapore flag. (photo: Linda)
Descending was difficult for the first kilometre
This was what 5.37pm looked like near the end

Then the mountain ranger hurried us off. We were at risk of hiking in the darkness if we did not hurry. Darkness fell early at about 6pm. We raced down even though we carried LED torches with us. If we could, we would rather not hike in the dark on uneven stony paths. By 5.30pm it was already dark. We reached the car park at about 6.45pm. Others in the group returned later. I thanked God for Beng Chai and Brian, who helped one of the hikers, who sprained her ankle at the summit area, down the trail at her pace. When all were in the bus, we were happy to return back to the hostel with a great sense of satisfaction, and exhaustion. I was so thankful to God during the climb for the fine weather and the strength to summit and descend safely.

Sabah quake: Pray for TKPS

Mighty Kinabalu in the background
Mighty Kinabalu

The Sabah earthquake and the tremble of mighty Mt Kinabalu shocked and struck many chords within me. I love trekking that mountain. As a pastor I have led three church groups (20-40 members each time), of young people and families mainly from eleven years old to over fifty. To hear of news of the Sabah quake and the deaths of young climbers aged 12, and teachers of Tanjong Katong Primary School is deeply sad and disturbing. I was a teacher before, and I am a parent too, and I understand to some extent a parent’s heartbreak for I have lost a child before.

The pointing of fingers have started. People blaming the “angmohs” for disrespectfully posing naked and peeing on the sacred mountain and invoking the wrath of the gods. People blaming the school, the Ministry of Education and impersonal policies and decision making processes. Parents blaming each other and themselves. This is not the time for all these. Not the time.

Writer Ovidia Yu posted this in her Facebook:

So long as we live, they too shall live,
For they are now a part of us,
As we remember them.

Poet, writer, artist, social commentator Gwee Li Sui posted a haiku on Facebook:

Haiku to the Sabah Quake Victims
———-
As you sought to reach
the sky, it rained down boulders.
Nature has wronged you.

A church member Cynthia Koe posted in her Facebook:

In times like this it is not about what to say but what should not be said.

A time like this is a feel moment not a word moment. A listening moment not an encouraging moment.

Mourning takes time and a hand to hold not a ” aww, it is ok” hug time. Let them share their loved ones’ stories and lets hear with tears as they say their last goodbyes.

What she said is true and it inspired me to write a Haiku on my Facebook account:

Not the time for blame
But for tears and holding hands
For grief to mend hearts

So it was good that the Tanjong Katong Primary School opened it grounds for its school community to grieve.

It was good that the Ministry of Education mobilized its counselors to help survivors and classmates of the departed to grieve and process the trauma.

It was good that the government declared a day of mourning today: flags flown at half-mast, a minute of silence at all South East Asia Games venue before the start of events.

We need to pray for TKGS and all the bereaved families. It will be very very painful for them in the coming months. No, years.

RIP: Fellow Singaporean hikers who lost their lives in Sabah quake
RIP: Fellow Singaporean hikers who lost their lives in Sabah quake

Mt Rinjani vs Mt Kinabalu: which is tougher?

Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia
Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia

Mt Rinjani (3,726m)  in Lombok, Indonesia
Mt Rinjani (3,726m) in Lombok, Indonesia

At the end of our trek, we compared the level of difficulty of the Rinjani trek with the many Kinabalu treks we have done. Most of the trekkers have done Kinabalu a few times. It was unanimously agreed by all who have done both, that the Rinjani trek was tougher. I had talked about this with trekkers – people I do not know – I had met in Bukit Timah and most of them tell me Rinjani was tougher. When these fellow hikers in Bukit Timah mentioned the comparative difficulty I found it hard to believe because Mt Kinabalu is higher than Mt Rinjani. However, now that I have done Rinjani and am in a better position to compare, I have to agree with all the other people’s opinions.

Perhaps one factor that weakens my opinion is that I climbed Kinabalu about 5 years ago. Memory of the hardship and challenge has faded. However, my friends have climbed Kinabalu recently and their opinions are that Rinjani is tougher.

My friends and I are easy trekkers. We are kiasu, kiasi, and kia bo. These friends have done several treks in Nepal like Poon Hill, Annapura Base Camp, Thorong la Pass and other Everest treks. They have done Mt Fuji in Japan, Mt Agung in Bali, and a tough Trans Gopeng Cameron trek. When compared all other treks with Rinjani – everyone said this was tougher.

The comparison between Rinjani and Kinabalu will look like this in a table of comparison:

Aspects

Mt Rinjani

Mt Kinabalu

Height

3726 m

4096 m

Difficulty level of first leg

2.5 out of 4

3 out of 4

Ascent

3.8 out of 4

3.5 out of 4

Nature of challenge

-Loose gravel that sinks as you step forward.

-Sleep overnight in tents and inconvenience.

-Possible altitude sickness and thin air.

-Sleep overnight in relative comfort.

Return leg

3 out of 4

2.5 out of 4