Manhangjae, a mountain pass that crosses Hambaeksan, Korea’s 6th tallest mountain, is both the highest altitude road in all of South Korea and one of the single best cycling destinations in the country.
There are four Manhangjae climbs, well, three and half really, approaching from each of the four cardinal directions. The climbs from South, East, and North are all category 2; and the climb from the West is a category 1 that shares half of its profile with the climb from the south, as the western road and southern roads converge at about the 1,000m altitude mark.
The climb from west is probably the most famous. It is 12km in length and adds 679m of elevation gain at an average gradient of about 6%. What makes this climb so enjoyable is that it seems almost like three separate climbs strung together.
Prior to real beginning of the climb just outside of Gurae-ri riders must do a 15km uphill drag at 1-3%. As you pass through Gurae Village the gradients start to increase and take you along some wide, smooth tarmac surrounded by lush, verdant forests. But after 4.5km the tarmac disappears and is replaced by a narrow, concrete roadway that meanders along the side of the mountain at a low gradient. This part of the road continues for about 3.5km and offers some of the prettiest riding you’ll find, as the surrounding forest hangs over the roadway close enough to touch. And then, just as suddenly as the previous tarmac disappeared, it reappears and takes you the rest of the way up the climb, kicking up significantly in steepness and making for a pretty tough finish.
Overall this is an A+ climb that I recommend to anyone and everyone.
The climb from the East coming out of Taebaek is a Category 2 climb that adds 536m of elevation gain over a little more than 7km. The average gradient for the climb is a misleading 7%, a number that is brought down because of a relatively flat final 1.5km. Most of this climb is a brutal 9-12%.
While this is a really tough climb, it is also a gorgeous one, especially as you start to reach the upper slopes. The view looking East toward Taebaek is remarkable, especially during fall, and if you’re lucky you’ll see the view from the photos below of an early morning mist trapped between the mountains.
The climb from the North that approaches from Gohan-eup is probably my least favorite of the Manhangjae climbs. It is a decent climb, but I much prefer it as a descent.
This climb is Category 2: 7.5km at 6%, adding 472m of elevation gain. It starts out at low gradients but pitches fairly steep at points near the top, though it is nothing like the Eastern climb. This road, especially in comparison to the other Manhangjae roads, is in pretty bad condition, all cracked and potholed, and comparatively narrow. And the scenery this way is nice, but not as impressive the views offered from the other climbs. But, if judging it purely as a climb, it is really good. It’s fairly long and it increases in difficulty as you go up, and it has low traffic volume. However, if you’re a confident descender who can handle the bad road conditions, this road makes a gorgeous descent. I can’t properly explain it, but for some reason, at high speeds, the surroundings on this road are truly beautiful. Perhaps it’s because of the narrow road and closeness of the forest trees as they blur past that gives it such beauty.
The road from the South is a category 2 climb of 8.1km at 4% that adds 358m of elevation gain, sharing the final 3.5km with the final 3.5km of the western climb. Th beginning part of the climb is a bit uneven, which is why the average gradient is so low. The road spikes up and then drops a bit several times, so the reality is that the climbing gradients are usually 7-8%. But, just like the other three climbs of Manhangjae, this one too is an excellent one that I highly recommend.