If you’re in need of a real challenge and have good level of fitness and a high level of skill, then it’s worth spending most of a day riding the Vulture Trail in Skeerpoort. TREAD editor Sean Badenhorst was invited to ride the trail with a small group of riders, guided by trailbuilder and local, Erik Schipper, who is best known for his trails at Van Gaalen. Here’s the lowdown:
REGION: North West
CLOSEST TOWN/CITY: Hartebeespoort
DESCRIPTION: You can’t just go and ride the Vulture Trail. Well you can, if you know it. But if you don’t, you’ll need to ride with someone that does. Ideally. And someone needs to know that’s where you have gone to ride because it’s very isolated should you have a problem to deal with. We were fortunate to ride with Erik who actually builds and maintains the trails in the region. We set out as a group of eight at 08h00 and finished – in ones and twos – between 13h00 and 14h00. That’s a big day out, especially when you’re only covering 45km with 1000 metres of elevation.
The ride essentially three parts: Beginning, which is from Van Gaalen, along the fun and flowy river trail and onto a gravel road before turning west and heading straight for the mountain. You hit a very steep early ascent that’s about 800 metres long before you reach the start of the singletrack climb, which switchbacks you up towards the summit along a rough-surfaced, but obvious track that eventually spits you out on the top of the mountain. Once on the top, you head north along the mountain, but it’s a rocky route that tests you properly on short, sharp ascents and descents. From up there it feels like you can see tomorrow to the East and yesterday to the West.
The peak altitude is only 1700 metres (similar to Joburg), but you feel so much higher. This section tests you physically and emotionally and you wonder, as you come around another turn, just when you will start descending. And that’s the third segment – the descent. It’s not smooth and it’s not for the nervous. Sean said that he had his seatpost dropped completely and still had his chin on his saddle on early part of the descent, which his Bryton measured at a 30% gradient.
It gradually loses its steepness, but not before giving you a thrilling experience as you swoop away from the mountain and towards the finish. Depending on your level of conditioning, you’ll either love this last part or hate it, wishing it was over. You finish up along the riverside singletrack and bamboo tunnel, which doesn’t feel fun and flowy like it did in the beginning. But the feeling of accomplishment is pretty remarkable when you’re done. It’s one of the most unforgettable rides you’ll ever do.
TYRES: Definitely tubeless and preferably a little chunky in terms of width with good sidewall protection. The volume of rock that you ride over is significant and you don’t was to risk a damaged tyre.
BEST THING: The views you experience from the top of the mountain and the incredible, lengthy skills challenge of riding such a technical trail.
WORST THING: There are markings, but it’s not a comprehensively marked trail, so some options are decided by gut-feel or guessing.
BEST SEASON: Preferably in the cooler, dryer months (May–September) as the severe summer heat and any kind of mud could potentially ruin a great day on the bike.
GET THERE: GPS: S 25º 47.271’ E 27º 46.327’
COST: R40 per rider per day. (Subject to change)
SECURE PARKING: Yes.
BE CAREFUL OF: Getting lost. The trails aren’t well marked. If you’re riding with Erik or a Vulture Trail regular, you should be fine though. Ask for a GPS file to upload and follow for some peace of mind.
BE SURE TO: Not make a specific time to meet someone after the ride. You could be an hour or two longer than you expect out there. It’s part ride, part adventure!
CONTACT: www.vangaalen.co.za ; 083 226 7834/012 2071289
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*Originally published in TREAD Issue 30, 2014 – All rights reserved