Best Road Climbs in Korea: Sammak Temple (삼막사)

Located on the outskirts of Annyang just southwest of Seoul, Sammaksa is one of the best climbs in or near Seoul. Its only real competition for best climb near Seoul is probably Namhansanseong. This one is that good.

The main Strava segment for Sammaksa is 3.19km and gains 299m of elevation at an average gradient of 9%, with more than half of it at double-digit gradients as steep as 20% in the hairpins. And if that isn’t enough for you, once at the temple there is a service road that continues upward for an additional 1km and 119m of elevation gain at a brutal 12% average gradient. The service road is rough going on some pretty nasty ridged pavement, but goes up through some nice forests and at the top affords a great view of Annyang in the distance and its surrounding mountains.

I don’t know how it’s possible that I didn’t know about this climb until just a couple months ago, but since learning about it I have been out to ride it a few times, and each time I am a little confused about how it is that I had so easily forgotten how brutal it is. And this climb, despite its shortness, is, in fact, brutal. If it wasn’t for the two sections that flatten out a bit and offer some recovery time, this climb would be pure agony. However, the brutality of this climb is worth it for one primary reason: ambiance.

The road up is quite narrow, and, aside from a random car here and there (I’ve only seen three total), it is only used by cyclists and hikers. As such, the sounds of birds and wind and cranks turning and heavy breathing are all to be heard here. And when you reach the top, while refilling your water bottles at the fountain, you might be greeted by the sounds of monks chanting at the temple. This is, without a doubt, one of the most peaceful climbs I’ve ridden in Korea, a great respite from the usual experience of riding in a megacity.

Sammaksa is fairly easily accessibly by the Anyang Stream (안양천) off the south bank of the Han River bicycle path a few kilometers west of Yeoui-do. Getting to Sammaksa from on the stream requires only a little road riding, and if you follow the Heart Course it is accessible from eastern Seoul as well mostly by dedicated bike paths as well (in the link above, Sammaksa is the second climb).

And, just as an additional note, take the downhill easy: narrow roads, sharp corners, steep descents. Turn one of those corners into a group of hikers or another cyclist or a car, and it’s not going to turn out well, as there is very little room for maneuvering at speed.

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