Squirt Top Trail
You’ve seen the George number plate, right? Locals will have you believe that the ‘CAW’ stand for ‘cold and wet’, but this is just a malicious rumour spread by the outdoor crowd there keen to keep you off their trails …
– Photographs & Copy: Jacques Marais
No my china, George is anything but cold and wet. Despite the year-round rainfall, you’re in for a lekker moderate climate, ideal for outdoor adventure. That’s good news, because it means you can hit those trails for most part of all the four seasons.
Sure, some days are going to bucket, but a betting man will walk away in sunshine nine out of ten. This in-land city originally has its roots in the forestry industry, but an on-going eco-tourism boom means it has now become a mountain biking mecca of note.
Endless gravel roads and tracks – often linked to the famed Outeniqua Hiking Trail access routes –offer unfettered access to much of these rugged slopes. Plus, purpose-built single-track traverses the indigenous forests and plantations, largely thanks to a dedicated crew, many of them members of the local Hillbillies MTB Club.
Historically, this beautiful part of the Cape was only settled around 1688, two centuries after the Portuguese seafarer, Bartholomew Dias, landed in Mossel Bay. The local Khoi tribes referred to this rich valley as the ‘Outeniqua’, or ‘land of milk and honey’.
The early settlement became known as ‘George Town’ in 1811, named in honour of the then reigning monarch, King George III of England. There you have it: George can no longer be overlooked as a Garden Route destination in its own right.
An efficient airport, breathtaking mountains, great trails, a thriving foodie scene, craft breweries, proper old-skool values and bucket loads of history make it as much fun off as on the bike – check out www.visitgeorge.co.za.
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FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Intermediate to Technical|
|DURATION:||45 minutes – 3 hours|
|CONFIGURATION:||Various – your choice|
|START POINT:||Garden Route Dam|
|GPS COORDS:||33°57’54.2″S / 22°30’45.7″E|
|TERRAIN:||Gravel roads, jeep-track and single-track|
|MAPS:||Available on www.georgetrails.org.za|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Free Access – donations or Hillbillies Pass suggested|
||Good route coverage|
|ACCOMMODATION:||View accommodation options on www.visitgeorge.com|
||Hillbillies (Emile) – 082 880 0760|
Nope, you’re not suffering from a serious case of déja vu! We’re back in George, because we got to spend some lekker time there last week while shooting ‘George Mountain Ultra Trail’, and worked in a quick exploration of the trails as part of the trip.
Our focus for this issue of the MOUNTAIN BIKE ROUTES Blog covers ‘Garden Route Dam’ – another build by the ‘Hillbillies MTB Club’ – as well as connections from here to ‘Saasveld’ and the ‘Pepsi Pools’ trail networks. Let’s kick it off by explaining how to get there …
Right, first off you need to understand that George is no longer a dorp. More than 250 000 people now live here at the foot of the Outeniqua ranges, with the city spreading along the N2 all the way up to the forested foothills.
Head from the city centre towards said mountains, either along Madiba Drive (Saasveld Rd) or one of the streets connecting via the Eden suburb to the new Garden Route Dam (many locals still call it George Dam, even though that dam is right up in the mountains).
Meyer or Stander Street will get you onto the gravel road to the dam, where you will need to sign in at the boom during office hours. About half a kay of dirt cranking will get you to the dam parking lot, but you just keep going across the dam wall.
You’ll see a sign depicting a moose up in the plantation ahead; this is good news, as you are in for a ‘Moose-A-Nice’ ride on the edge of the Garden Route Dam. This is a little bit like Forest Gump’s ‘box of chocolates, with half a dozen permutations awaiting you along the route network.
Keep it flat and fast along ‘Dam View’ jeep track, then power into a quick ascent up ‘Dam Drop’ and onto the meandering ‘Ridge Trail’ section. You will see signs to ‘Die Hark’ and ‘Bosvarkland’, popping you into the ‘Valley’. Keep in mind that there is no set route, so you can mix and match to suit your fitness and your mood on the day.
Life is not always downhill, though, so gear down and get ready to hit ‘Damn Climb’ all the way back up and over to the ‘Dam View’ jeep track again. From here, you could head back to the start to bomb the ‘Graveyard’ and ‘Moose-a Nice’ sections to finish off your ride (it comes to around 12km in total from the gate).
Bump up your stoke by linking from here onto the SAASVELD Trail Network, just across the wooded valley to the east. ‘Root Farm’ and ‘Forest Buzzard’ connect off ‘Bosvark’ to the ‘Parking Trail’, with loops tripping along the Saasveld Entrance Road. Gooi mielies on ‘Yster Martiens’, ‘Drongos’, ‘Jelly Tot’ and the ‘Rooikat Run’, to name but a few (you can add at least 8km to your ride here).
Take a breather along the Saasveld Entrance Road to the scenic PEPSI POOLS, just off the ‘Dam View’ track. The trails to the north here link you into even more mountain bike magic, with ‘Lazy Horse’, ‘Elephant Bath’, ‘Short Kat’ and other singletrack segments all along the Top Contour and Railway Service Road.
In short, the Garden Route Dam and Saasveld Trail Networks are mostly on MTO Forestry land, with service roads and jeep tracksaccessing constantly evolving singletrack systems. Signage is limited outside Hillbillies territory, so best you download those GPX route files before you saddle up. Trails are Easy to Intermediate, spanning everything from family outrides to solo MTB missions.
Good Mapping Apps (both Fatmaps and Trailforks work) will add to your riding pleasure, or you can just plug into www.georgetrails.org.za for directions. NOTE: Most tracks in George are free-to-ride, but out-of-town mountain bikers should donate on-line or buy a Hillbillies Pass to support trail builders.
Best Time to Visit
Generally, summers are warm and pleasant, especially in the forests, while winter may come packaged with snow or extreme cold, with the brunt of the elements high up near the rugged peaks.
A quick Google search will deliver a multitude of opinions and fancy charts, all with intricate detail on the ideal tyre pressure, but we believe it is something you need to learn and ‘feel’ over time …
Pressure will constantly vary for any specific rider or terrain, and what you need to understand is that the correct tyre pressure will allow your bike to roll with minimal resistance and make for a smoother ride, while also avoiding flats.
Narrow tyres need to be inflated to a higher pressure than wide ones: for example, road bicycle tyres typically require 80-130 psi (pounds per square inch); mountain bike tyres, 25-35 psi; and hybrid tyres, 40-70 psi.
When you ride, you should also take the terrain into account; sharp stones or ridges mean you need more pressure, while mud or loam allow you softer tyres. Try this: literally pinch the tyre with your fingers to feel whether it is too hard or soft. This is a skill that takes time to develop, but it becomes very useful once you start being able to judge it correctly. When you’re out on the trail, you won’t always have access to a pump with a gauge or a gauge itself!
Most importantly, it is critical to make sure you have a quality sealant – and enough of it – in your tyres. SQUIRT Sealant allow you to get away with over- or under-inflation because of the added protection it offers against flats.
Yup, it will get you home every time!
Map, Elevation Profile & Flyover(s)
Turn off the N2 highway into George along the N12 to Madiba Drive (Saasveld Road) before turning right to the NMU Campus Entrance. You can also follow Meyer or Stander Streets through the Eden Suburb and on to the Garden Route Dam dirt access road.