Start: Prince Albert
This is a big one and you could see in the demeanor of the three of us that we knew it! Swartberg Pass, up into Die Hell, up Die Leer and then out to Seweweekspoort would rate in any adventure mountain biker’s book as big! Not knowing what was in store for us, Sarah looked at us quizzically when we told her that she had to leave with us to take advantage of some spectacular photo opportunities and that we weren’t waiting a moment (now she knows!).
We left in good weather and hoped for the best as we started the 800m ascent of the Swartberg Pass to the turn into Die Hell. The first kloof that is the gateway to the pass is quite spectacular and sets the scene for the long ride up one of Thomas Baine’s most famous passes (built by the hands of convicts who as Danie pointed out, weren’t driven to a Prince Albert B&B every night, but rather kept in Die Bliktronk). All went well for a few hours, but then suddenly the weather changed and by the time we reached the turn to Die Hell, it wasn’t just raining, but snowing! What’s up with this weather, doesn’t it know it’s spring?
After she had given us hot chocolate and food, we left Sarah who had to drive over the pass towards Oudtshoorn and then up Seweweekspoort as there is no road access into and then out of Die Hell on the other side. We rode as quickly as we could in the hope that as we got to lower altitudes, the weather would improve, which it did and we rode into Die Hell in sunshine again. Die Hell may be lower than the top of Swartberg Pass, but anyone intending to ride into it, is warned that you climb like hell to get there.
After a snack stop at the restaurant, it was off to Die Leer which is the original donkey path used to get produce out of Gamkaskloof (the true name for Die Hell) and goods in. Everything was carried on donkeys up to the top and then by ox wagon or vice versa. This little path climbs 440m in less than 2km, so don’t expect to be riding it! It took us an hour and a half or so to lug our bikes up! Many may think it insane even to contemplate it, but the rewards are immense as this is one of the most beautiful parts of the entire Spine of the Dragon Trail.
From the top of Die Leer, it’s an enjoyable rough track which continues the climb out of Gamkaskloof to a dirt road leading to Seweweekspoort. In all we climbed over 3000m and have now climbed the equivalent of six Everest summits from sea level.
For more info and photos: www.detourtrails.co.za