Closest Town: Prince Albert
Grading: Intermediate to extreme | Duration: 3 – 5 hours
Location (Area/Province): Central & Klein Karoo and Western Cape
Configuration: 65km one way
Start Point: Prince Albert
Access: Public road
Beware of: Extreme heat in summer; freezing cold in winter
Facilities: Accommodation, restaurants, shops in Prince Albert
Cell Reception: Intermittent
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This is one of those rides that really put the ‘mountain’ into mountain biking, and we suggest that you put on your Big Girl Blouse before you attack this one, especially if you’re mad enough to do the return and back! One-way is already a tough 65km if you want to make it all the way to the Gamka River… It’s a cool idea to organise a lift out of Die Hel and back to Prins Albert. These guys can help: www.karoocycletours.com
On your bike
Crank off from Prins Albert main street along tarmac towards Oudtshoorn until you see the sign to Swartberg Pass on your right. From here it is gnarly gravel all the way as you granny-crank into the teeth of gravity and sweat it out along 18km of relentless climbing. Drop down for a few hundred metres until you see the sign to Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) on your right, but only head in here if you are feeling brave.
This challenging 50km slog on eroded gravel roads, up ruthless dirt passes and down hair-raising switchbacks will eventually bomb you into Die Hel. Brutal road conditions, extreme weather and an accumulated climb of around 3600m for the return journey make this a ride you shouldn’t attempt lightly. It may be best to do the route over two days and camp overnight in Die Hel or cycle in and arrange for a backup vehicle to pick you up.
For die-hard competitors, there is always the annual ‘ Hell and Back’ MTB Challenge – for info, see www.tohellandback.co.za. Set off from the De Hoek camp site (outside Oudtshoorn) and into the teeth of a steep 19km climb to Die Top. Just before the 50km mark, you hit Heartbreak Hill. Tales of woe and despair concerning this 5km, constantly rising, never-ending, cramp-inducing, son-of-a-hill have done the rounds, so expect the worst.
The mocking “NO PUSHING!” signs become more and more difficult to ignore as you near the top where you can finally stop to breathe and take in the awe-inspiring view across Die Hel before zigzagging down Elands Pass into an arid valley unfolding amidst mountainous scrub. Don’t look back up at the 1000m climb that is waiting to be conquered first thing the following morning.
The battle with Elands Pass is a mind game you can win, but you can be sure there will be a sense of relief when you hit the downhill from Die Top on the return journey. Whoop it up as you fly the Swartberg switchback down to De Hoek. Eight hours, an extremely sore butt, lots of sweat and a good 122km later, you can honestly say that you’ve been to Hell & Back and have the Tee-shirt to prove it!
Note that another route option into Die Hel is available to mountain bikers. This is the even tougher 4×4 eco-trail. However, riding within the Swartberg Nature Reserve is not allowed without permission!
Off the bike
Antique shops, fig farms, art studios, cheese dairies, olive oil estates, wool weavers and a Karoo vineyard add to the dorp’s earthy attraction. Don’t miss the Witblits Festival in April.
Best Time of Year:
Both winter and summer go hand in hand with extreme elements.
How to Get There:
Prins Albert is on the R407, 46km towards Oudtshoorn from the N1.
Telephone: +27 44 871 4455
Website : www.ecobound.co.za
GPS: South 33°13’27.65″ / East 22°01’48.93″