Three Days Cycling in Namwon

A couple weekends ago I spent a few incredible days of riding outside of Namwon. The rides included some big climbing, stunning scenery, and extreme suffering.

Namwon is a small city in North Jeolla Province that gives easy access to Jirisan National Park just to the southeast and to several other areas of the Sobaek Mountains south and east, and other mountains to the north.

Day 1: Seongsamjae to Odojae and Jianjae

Day one was a 117km solo ride (link above) that started out with Seongsamjae, one of the most notorious climbs in all of Korea at 10km long and averaging 9%. The climb is tough from the very beginning, but the views from the peak are worth it. The road itself is in decent condition and there isn’t much car traffic to deal with, as it winds its way up through a lush forest that encroaches up to the roadsides. And at the top is a rest area where you can refuel and rehydrate.

The descent from Seongsamjae goes through a gorgeous river valley and passes several camping sites. After the descent I continued on to Odojae, which is a medium length climb (5.2km) that averages double digit gradients after the first quarter of it. It’s not a spectacular climb in any way, but the the descent going northward is gorgeous. The north slope is even steeper than the south slope and links up with Jianjae, which is one of the most famous roads in the country with its sharp switchbacks.

At that point there was a little more climbing left before getting back to Namwon. It was a tough ride with 2,400m of elevation gain, but it was a good one. Absolutely recommended.

Day 2: Seoguijae and a Jirisan Kicker

This was the toughest ride of the weekend. It was long. It had even more climbing. And I was riding on tired legs.

A friend of mine bused down the night before in the morning we headed north out of Namwon to ride Seoguijae, a gorgeous mountain about 45km outside of the city. Before reaching Seoguijae we did Biheangijae, a nice, steady 4.5km long climb right before Seoguijae, a 6km climb at 6%. The eastern slope isn’t terribly impressive, though the top is quite pretty. But the descent going west is beautiful, giving some awesome vistas and views of the road below.

From there we headed back the way we came and then continued southeast out of Namwon to Jirisan where we went up Jeongryeongchi, the biggest climb in South Korea at 14km and gaining over 1,000m of elevation gain. The average gradient for the entire climb is 7%, but that doesn’t give a proper impression of how hard this climb is, considering the final 6km average 10%. This climb really is brutal, especially if saved for the end of a 140km day. But it is also a must-ride, since it’s Korea’s biggest.

Day 3: Muryeong Gogae and BbaeBbaeJae

The final day of riding was probably the best of the weekend. It was another 120km and over 2,000m of elevation gain, but it also took us on the best roads, some of the best I’ve ridden in fact.

The first climb of the day Muryeong Gogae, a 12km climb that averages about 5% with a fairly steep final couple kilometers. The roads leading to the climb are gorgeous as they trace the edges of a reservoir and steadily rise at a shallow gradient through beautiful forests, fields, and farms. There were almost no cars to speak of during this part of the ride and the kilometers passed by quickly and smoothly.

Almost immediately after finishing the descent comes a second climb, an intermediate one called Yujsipryeong. It’s a category 3 climb of about 3.6km at 7% and has a rest stop at the top for food and water. The descent is quick on the other side with few hairpins and wide lanes.

BbaeBbaeJae came next, and it was, once again, a nice climb. It wasn’t anything overly spectacular, but it was generally enjoyable. The scenery was okay. The roads were okay. The 6km at 7% was okay. Just a decent climb.

The ride back toward Namwon did come with a bit more elevation gain but nothing like a single climb, just roads that went upward before finishing really fast back to the starting point.

All in all it was one of the best weekends of riding I’ve done. The rides were really hard with tons of elevation gain, but it was all worth the suffering and pain. If you ever get the chance to spend some time in Namwon with a bicycle, get out and enjoy the mountains. You’ll be glad you did.

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