As we neared the top of the climb to Lunden’s Nek Pass at 2 162 metres above sea level, each rider had that look of determination etched across their face. They could see the summit; the steepest sections were behind them and there was no way any of them were going to be defeated by a 10km climb into one of the most beautiful and remote parts of South Africa. Just over the top, one would be rewarded with breathtaking, panoramic views across the mountains of Lesotho.
I received a call while busy working on an upcoming tour to Croatia. Would I mind taking a group of girls from Hillcrest on a morning ride through the forest in Hilton? Not having done any day tours, I had to determine the going rate. But the thought of paying hadn’t been a consideration for this group of passionate mountain bikers, so we cut a deal. They would e-mail all their friends about the fantastic ride they were about to experience. – Stephen Forster
Michelle is married to a doctor, and it crossed my mind that perhaps I could make a similar deal later in life if ever I needed a triple bypass. Three weeks later they also signed up for the Wartrail MTB Xplorer, a five-day tour in the North Eastern Cape.
In a remote part of the North Eastern Cape, 45km from Barkly East, on a dust road flanked by mountains and sheep or cattle farms with names such as Glen Lyon, Funnystone, Pitlochrie and Burnbrae, lies the Wartrail District. This is an area steeped in the history of the San Bushmen, the 1820 settler farmers, Moshesh’s raids and the wool boom of the 1950’s. Rock paintings are found in many of the caves hidden in deep canyons against the backdrop of the Witteberge.
After a hearty farm breakfast and having recovered from the late afternoon ride into the amphitheatre behind Balloch Farm the previous day, we cycled off through the valley along the river surrounded by strange rock formations and towering mountains.
The riding is a mixture of rough farm roads or jeep track, and after the first climb of the day the banter began as we descended towards the historical farm of Wartrail. Down a rutted track, is Moshesh’s Cave, which was used as a resting place after conducting his cattle raids. The steep descent into Eagles Crag is nothing short of spectacular and after a couple of river crossings we stopped under some willow trees for lunch.
A waterfall pounded down from the rocks as we neared Balloch Farm four hours later and a couple of us took advantage of the natural bike wash, as well as a welcome water massage. As the sun set, the red wine began to flow and the inaugural fines meeting provided much laughter. I had been a little nervous about leading a group of women aged 40 to 60 on a multi day mountain bike trip, however those fears were soon dispelled. This group knew how to have fun even after a hard day’s riding.
Day three would be a tough day in the saddle but of all the riding I have done, it has been the most spectacular. It is a testing climb up Lundean’s Nek Pass, but the rewards are undeniable. The 10km descent into Upper Telle should be on any mountain biker’s bucket list. There are two ways to tackle it and both have their merits. Wind your way slowly down, chat to the donkeys, stop for photos, and listen for the sound of sheep bells, which seem to drift up from the valley floors; or descend this beautiful mountain pass at speed. It takes good bike skills, a cool head and focused concentration, riding within your limitations to experience one of the most unbelievable mountain biking descents South Africa has to offer. No one was disappointed, but everyone wanted to know whether they would have to ride back up again.
Basotho men draped in colourful blankets greeted us from the saddle of their horses as we pedalled our way into a hidden valley called Dangershoek. The few groups of mountain bikers who have joined me and had the privilege of riding here, have commented on the sheer magnitude of the mountains, the hauntingly beautiful landscapes and open skies. This is as remote as it gets, and as we peered out from our tents towards Lesotho, we looked forward to another couple of days of exploring this magical valley.
Testimonials from the Women’s Wartrail Tour:
“Thank you Steve, it was awesome. Hard riding, but breathtaking.” – Deirdre Boast
What an awesome MTB tour in Wartrail with a fantastic group of mates – great trails, magnificent scenery and true farmer hospitality! Highly recommended experience. I am still smiling! We all had such fun! So many laughs my stomach muscles ached for days! Lots of special memories. – Michelle Blankenberg
Highly recommend the Wartrail’s ride! Unbelievable scenery and landscape! Thanks Steve-o for the most amazing five days of riding and laughing! It was fantastic! – Andrea Long van Greunen
Thank you Steve for the most amazing tour, what a way to see Africa! Beautiful scenery, fantastic riding and a wonderful guide! Can’t wait to ride again! – Michele du Toit
Steve, many thanks for putting together a superb five days of riding! The scenery was mind blowing and great to share with a bunch of funny and goofy friends! Highly recommended! – Frances Marsburg
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Originally published in TREAD Issue 23, 2013 – All rights reserved