Closest Town: Prince Albert
Grading: Intermediate to extreme | Duration: 3 – 5 hours
Location (Area/Province): Central & Klein Karoo and Western Cape
Configuration: 57km 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
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This is one of those rides that really puts the ‘mountain’ into mountain biking.
On your bike
Set off from Prince Albert’s main street along tarmac 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 ‘To 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 amid 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 and Back, and have the T-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. Go to www.capenature.co.za for mor information
Off the bike
Antique shops, fig farms, art studios, cheese dairies, wool weavers and a Karoo vineyard add to the dorp’s earthy attraction. Don’t miss the Olive Festival (April) and the Witblits Festival (August).
Telephone: +27 44 871 4455
Website : www.ecobound.co.za
GPS: 33°13’31.7”S 22°01’47.2”E: