Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Hell of a Ride!

On Saturday 26 January we woke to a glorious day. Word was that we’d face a heatwave today. Man, I just cannot catch a break. Undecided If it’s not floods it’s a heat wave. Maybe I should stop riding for a while and give the weather systems a chance to normalize?

Before 8am Snap Crackle Pop and Wingman met me at my house.

We met Letsgofishing, Crazy Horse and two of his buddies (KTM and 2x Dakars) at a service station close to Montagu Pass. They have never ridden this pass so we agreed to take it slowly and regather at the top at Amanda’s Grave.

Montagu Pass (1847)

In 1844 some 250 convicts started with the construction of the pass and it was opened for traffic in December 1847. Henry Fancourt White, an experienced road engineer from Australia, was in charge of the work. On your way up, you’ll pass the Old Tollhouse where once the toll of one penny per wheel and one penny per ox had to be paid. This historic building was declared a National Monument.

The pass was named after John Montagu, Colonial Secretary of the Cape in the 1840’s, whose enthusiasm for good roads resulted for the first ambitious program of construction in Southern Africa. There are several look-out points where you can stop to appreciate the flora and some spectacular views.

Crazy Horse enjoying the ride:

Eventually we al were at the top admiring the view.

While here we were lucky enough to see the train pass.

From here we travlled through Herold and on to Paardepoort. We waited to make sure everybody got the turnoff right. Already you could feel the heat… LGF was upbeat though.

Through Paardepoort…

… and into the Klein Karoo.

In Oudtshoorn we met up with White Stripes, Rooipoot, Nicky, BMWPE and Dakardriver.

We were still waiting for the PE group. We did have strict instructions from the tour organizer though and I quote: Grin

"We will all meet at Oudtshoorn, as this is a big group let's be punctual, my policy on this is if you're late you do the catching up."

We were to leave at 10:30am. At 9:15am I received a call from Beagle Boy saying they had bike trouble and would be late. We had to go ahead and they’ll catch up. BMWPE and Dakardriver decided to wait for them and a group of 10 bikes set out for Gamkaskloof (The Hell).

Next up was Swartberg Pass

Swartberg Pass (1888)

The 27km Swartberg Pass is considered one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the world: an untarred road winds to the summit 1 583 metres above sea level in steep zig-zags and sudden switchbacks, with breath-taking views at every turn.

The natural characteristics of the Pass are magnificent – as are the man-made features. This was Thomas Bain's last engineering masterpiece. His construction philosophy, which has stood the test of time was: "Good hat and good boots".

Dry-stone walls - an engineering feat

The dry stone packed retaining walls are amazing, in one place on the southern side the wall is 2,4kms long. They range in height from ½ metre to 13 metres. Laws of friction and cohesion govern the pressure on retaining walls. The bed (ledge, base or shelf) measures up to 1 metre plus up to 300mm at the top. Selected stone was used and laid with grain at right angles to the natural bedding line. The walls were battered (sloped inward) in a rise of 1:6. To illustrate the scale of the highest sections of the walls, Boegoekloof measures 13,1 metres vertically and the second hairpin on the north, 7,3 metres. Pressure on the roadway through traffic has compacted and secured the walls and roadway.

The larger stones on the ledge bedding provided good drainage but further provision was necessary. Bain’s original specifications give "rule of thumb" measurements and clear instructions as to how many culverts, side drains etc. there were to be, but it is not stated how these were arrived at. What is clear is that they appear adequate, for after over a century of rain the walls are essentially still in place and until recently, with little or no damage.

Everybody regathered at the top.


Then the final strech – the road to Hell!

Gamkaskloof can be reached from Oudtshoorn by following the Cango Caves road. It will take you approximately 2½ - three hours (100 km) From Oudtshoorn to "the Hell". The Kloof can also be reached via the picturesque town of Prince Albert, via the Swartberg Pass. to the turn-off to Gamkaskloof approximately 25km from Prince Albert. Gamkaskloof is approximately 1½ - 2 hours (65km) from Prince Albert.

Near "The Top" on the Swartberg pass, a signboard will direct you to Gamkaskloof. The turnoff is approximately 50km from Oudtshoorn and 25km from Prince Albert.

LGF and SCP enjoying the ride.

The road in was the driest I’ve seen ever and the water crossings were either low or dry.

It was HOT! Extremely hot. We all pushed on to get there and into the river. And then, after a hot ride, there it was:

From the turnoff it is a 2 hour, never to be forgotten, journey into the Gamkaskloof. Travelers will marvel at the mountain vistas, the rock formations, the clear mountain air as well as the vegetation.

After 37 kilometers the traveler will see Gamkaskloof extending into the distance with the road dropping through a series of hairpin bends to the valley floor 1000 meters below. Engage low gear and let the gearbox slow you down on the descent.

At the bottom of the Kloof the road winds through the dense riverine bush, passing charming historical houses, camping sites, caravan park and the only kiosk and restaurant, until one reaches the Gamka River crossing.

While the road in was drier than I’ve ever seen, the Kloof itself was wetter. Lots of little water crossings and the water was higher than usual. The river provided welcome relief!

Now we got on with socializing and getting to know the new faces. Grin We all got on like a house on fire. We were of all ages and occupations, most makes of bikes (no Yamaha’s Undecided) and sizes varying from 125cc to the impressive 1200GSA of BMWPE.

No-one fell that we saw, but some tell-tale signs contradicted that fact…

Apparently White Stripes rode over a black water pipe at an angle and the front wheel washed out. That’s never happened to me before. Wink

We stayed at different houses, but had our braai at the historic “Skoolmeesters Huis”.

The guys:

The Bikes:


After lots of stories and many a joke we turned in. As it turns out we had a house guest.

This beautiful specimen is a Bibron’s thick-toed Gecko. It was about as big as my hand and I tried to coax it onto my hand to go and show the other guys, but it kept evading me.

Bibrons geckos belong to the large Pachydactylus group. They are also known as thick-toed geckos. Bibrons are large aggressive geckos that will not hesitate to bite.

What!? And I tried to coax it onto my hand! Roll Eyes

Bibrons geckos are quite impressive size wise compared to the other Pachydactylus species. With a length of 100mm the male is only slightly larger than the female (90mm).

Bibrons have huge appetites and are opportunistic feeders. Basically anything that can fit in their mouths they'll eat. Smaller lizards are also eagerly consumed.

Bibrons seem to be gregarious (congregating in large colonies). Research is yet to be done on the actual interaction within these colonies.

Congregating in large colonies! Sheez Beagle Boy I’m glad it lived in your room! Grin

It was the hottest night I’ve experienced in my life. Sleeping was near impossible and few of us got a good nights sleep. We decided to get going early the next morning to miss the midday heat.

Some history of Gamkaskloof:

The earliest inhabitants of the valley were the San Bushmen. In the early 1830's the first Boer (Farmer) wandered into the valley, and finding it fertile with abundant water made it his home. Other families followed, namely Cordier, Mostert, Marais, Nel, Snyman and Joubert. They farmed and lived in comparitive isolation for about 130 years. Although isolated they maintained a good standard of living. Education in the valley consisted of a school for the local children and church services were held in the school by the school master or teacher.
In 1962 a road was built into the valley (constructed by Koos van Zyl). This facilitated communication with the outside world, and was the main reason for the exodus of the youth. The older folks had to follow.

The last remaining farmer left in 1991, leaving the valley with no permanent residents.

On the way out we stopped at the shop for some refreshments. Turns out the Energade in the shop had a “Sell by” date of 2003. Roll Eyes

At the shop you can also see the remains of the first car that came into the Hell. Can you believe some of the residents carried this car into the Kloof?

In 1958 the first car was brought into the valley through the Gamka River gorge.

On the road out we again enjoyed the water crossings Grin A ride is not a ride without one!

Crab doing his thing:


On the road out we stopped at this beautiful spot. The water is crystal clear, cold and refreshing.

Rooippot trying to escape the heat (9am).


When I got onto Swartberg Pass I got a SMS. It was a Wild Dog SOS from Moutainboy and Detourer. They were stuck in De Rust with a flat. Not many photos from here as we tried to get to them a.s.a.p.

We took the beautiful Oude Muragie road to De Rust.

On this “detour” I ran out of petrol, but SCP, LGF and White Stripes helped me out. Thanks guys!

In De Rust we happened on this sorry sight:

Fixing tyres is a lot of hard work. As you can see we really got stuck in Grin

I helped. I supplied a tube and a pump and I carried glasses of Coke Grin

We left the Hell early in order not to ride in the heat of the day (between 12 & 2pm). As it happens we left De Rust just after 1pm. Roll Eyes I dunked my WD buff and jacket in the swimming pool (a trick I saw Rooipoot & LGF do) and rode off. Man it’s nice! Very cool indeed. Grin

The road back:

I could see some cloud on the Outeniqua mountains ahead. By the time we got to the top of Montagu Pass this is what it looked like:

Not good if your in damp clothes. Undecided

We had a great trip with good friends (old and new) and got home to a family happy to see us. They even had cold drinks waiting Grin This certainly was a weekend well spent. Thank you Beagle Boy and all attendees for a great time!

Till we ride together again.

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