Lesotho is a tiny landlocked country high up in the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains (altitude 1800m – 3400m). What it lacks in overall size, it makes up for in sheer vastness and ruggedness. Rough dirt roads and natural trails makes this little country ideal for mountain biking. The Mighty Trans Lesotho is for regular mountain bikers who wish to take on the challenge of riding right across the country in only a few days.
|START/FINISH||Afriski to Ongeluksnek|
|TOUR GRADE||5: DEMANDING
This ride is for keen mountain bikers, who have a good level of fitness and technical ability.
SUMMARY OF ITINERARY
|1||Arrival & transfer||–||–||–||–|
|2||Afriski Trails||25 – 30km||1200m||1500m||BL|
|5||Thaba Tseka Summit Trail||62km||1250m||1150m||BL|
|6||The Mast Trail||60km||1200m||1750m||BLD|
|7||Trail into the Abyss||68km||2300m||2300m||BL|
|10||Transfer to Durban||–||–||–||B|
Day 1: Arrival and transfer to Lesotho
Meet at a central location in greater Johannesburg, usually ORT International for a bus ride down to Ficksburg on the SA/Lesotho border where the Detour Team will take the riders through the border into Lesotho and drive into the mountains to Afriski Resort. The riders settle in for a relaxed evening and a casual dinner at the Afriski restaurant with the team before an early night ready for the next day!
Day 2: Afriski Trails – A day of acclimatisation to the rare air
Stats: 25 -30km, ascent 1200m, descent 1500m
After a leisurely breakfast we’ll hit the trails that surround Afriski and spend the morning getting comfortable on our bikes and sucking oxygen! While the trails are all manmade, they offer a variety sure to keep all riders happy. There’s even the ski lift to drag lazy riders up the slope! This enables each rider to decide how much riding they wish to do.
After a morning on these trails, it’s back to the chalets for a casual lunch and preparing for the real action of the first day in proper rugged Lesotho mountains, be that chilling with a beer, tinkering with your bike or taking a nap.
The evening is spent in the Afriski restaurant and pub where each rider treats themselves to great local beer and cuisine before settling in for a good night’s sleep in the cozy chalets.
Day 3: Motete Monster – Rumble down the Motete River to the Malibamatso
Stats: 73km, ascent 1950m, descent 1950m
Don’t let the distance fool you as this trail is littered with rocky pony trails, which at first are challenging and slow to navigate. So it’s off after an early breakfast heading south into the Motete Valley. Initially, it’s just pony trails which gradually change into regularly used trails of the local people and their livestock making the going a little quicker.
The trail is not easily accessible by the support vehicle, so riders need to be self-sufficient for most of the day’s ride. As will become the norm, riders must take tools, basic spares and remember your packed lunch; plus lots of liquid and a stash of trail snacks for the journey.
Depending on the rider’s fitness, there will be an option to bail after 40kms where the Mothership will be waiting to take riders to the overnight stop, while strong riders have the option of riding the full distance.
The destination is on the northern most tip of Katse Dam, in an old village built for the workers who built the dam many years ago.
Day 4: Katse Amble – Explore the Highlands water system
Stats: 50km, ascent 1300m, descent 1200m
We’ll set off after breakfast at a reasonable hour as this is one of the easier days, with a lot more dirt road than trail, but there are still a few typically steep Lesotho climbs. We’ll ride through more populated areas so interactions with local Basotho are more than likely and always add some colour to the day. The route follows the Katse Dam providing spectacular views of the Lesotho Highlands water Scheme, heading towards the mighty dam wall, which we are privileged to cross and on to the Katse Hotel, our destination. The group will congregate for sundowners overlooking the dam in the evening before dinner in the hotel.
Day 5: Thaba Tseka Summit Trail – Alone on top of the world
Stats: 62km, ascent 1250m, descent 1150m
After a few kilometres of dirt road, the riders turn off into a small village and onto a rough pony track which meanders its way along the valley of the small Khohlo-Ntso River getting progressively steeper as it heads up towards the river’s source. There’s a steep climb (partly hike-a-bike) up onto the Thaba Tseka Plateau (or Top-of-the-World) where the riders will feel totally alone, unlikely to even meet one shepherd or horseman. There’s an exciting gnarly descent off the plateau into the next valley before a climb over a ridge and meeting the dirt road which leads to Thaba Tseka village and the overnight stop.
Day 6: The Mast Trail – Rough riding at new heights
Stats: 60km, ascent 1200m, descent 1750m
A spectacular day on the bike! By now the riders are into the swing of Lesotho riding, so it’s time to up the ante with something special. A quick transfer gets the riders up an unnecessary 15km tar road climb and to the start of the Mast Trail. The riders set off on an old disused road that slowly disintegrates into a wonderful rough and rocky trail. The ride takes you across some of the most beautiful scenery and landscape that date back to Gondwana times. After about 30kms, of sublime trail, we’ll reach a dirt road and the first signs of life as we set our sights on Mantsonyane, our destination.
After a few flat kilometers the road winds down a fast and furious descent into the valley below, where the Mothership will be waiting. After some welcome refreshments we’ll load the bikes onto the trailer and head to St James Lodge.
Day 7: Trail into the Abyss – The Senqunyane Valley beckons
Stats: 68km, ascent 2300m, descent 2300m
Many riders will find this hard to believe, but if they enjoyed the previous day, they’re in for a real treat as this trail is ‘adventure personified’! The trail runs along the ridge of mountains between the Mantsonyane and Sengunyane Rivers on a dirt road from the relative civilisation of the Mantsonyane village progressively deteriorating as the trail winds its way into the more remote rural farm lands before a spectacular helter-skelter plummet into the majestic Senqunyane Valley sure to excite any technical rider.
The ascent out of the Valley is a mix of tough riding, scrambling and hike-a-bike, but is well worth the reward of the exhilarating ride into the valley. Once out of the valley, the trail meanders through wheat fields to a rough dirt road leading to Semonkong. Surprises for the day aren’t over as the road serves up a few surprises of incredibly steep ‘kicker’ climbs and fun descents. After arguably one of the most challenging and rewarding days that could be had on a bike the riders will finally reach the oasis of Semonkong Lodge.
Day 8: Riverside Rumble – Plummeting down into the Lowlands
Stats: 86km, ascent 2100m, descent 2600m
Again, this day is a BIG one! The trail leaves out the back of Semonkong Lodge past the Malutsenyane Falls (site of a 204m abseil) on pony trails heading south to the next big ridge. The first part of the ride is characterised by pony and goat trails interspersed with riding on old rough roads connecting small villages and rural farms having enough variety to ensure great fun.
Much to many people’s surprise there is a rocky, scramble, hike-a-bike section off the mountain ridge into the Lesotho lowlands. Each rider’s skill level will determine the amount of fun had here. Half way down there’s an exciting rideable descent on a steep very old road/track to Riverside on the Ketane River where we usually break for a drink at the local spaza.
The rest of the day is spent on dirt roads of varying quality meandering up and down along the Ketane River. The scenery and landscape change dramatically to spectacular views and increasing sights of massive sandstone rock formations (Slick Rock Heaven is a hidden gem here). As usual it’s not flat and there’s an honest climb out of the river valley over the ridge before a beautiful flowing drop down to the Senqu River and the hamlet of Bethel. There is an incredibly technical alternative for the skilled and crazy!
Bethel is the home of our eccentric Canadian Ukrainian friend, Ivan Yaholnitski who has a passion for permaculture and all things sustainable. He has set up a community centre here in Bethel and is passing on his knowledge to the youngsters of the local communities. A walk around the grounds is a treat for anyone interested in sustainable solutions.
Day 9: It’s no accident Trail – Riding out of the Lesotho Bowl
Stats: 90km, ascent 2200m, descent 2100m
The last day of the Trans Lesotho adventure, and you guessed it, it’s another big day! By now all riders will be in the swing of expedition riding in Lesotho. As Lesotho is like a bowl with Bethel and the Senqu at the bottom, the riders need to climb a few mountain passes on rough and sometimes rocky dirt roads to get to the rim of the bowl, the escarpment and border with SA and the descent of Ongeluksnek (Accident Pass) into SA.
On the way to Ongeluksnek, the trail passes Lake Letsi, probably the highest dam in southern Africa which has been a tempting swim for some for many years.
The pass itself is quite a rough track that even the best 4×4 motorists are hesitant to drive! Being unused, it has fallen into disrepair and has become another mountain bike playground. Once safely down and through the border post, you’ll ride another 5kms before reaching Gateway Lodge, our final destination of the tour.
There’s always a little celebration dinner accompanied by beers bought from a local shebeen where the riders can reminisce about this amazing journey through a little known part of Southern Africa and enjoy the last night around the fire.
Day 10: Travel to Durban
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s time to bid farewell to the Maluti Mountains and head for Durban, the nearest city which has an International airport. The transfer is a relatively long 5 hours or so, giving the opportunity to see a little of the east coast of SA. It is advisable to overnight in Durban and fly out the next day to avoid any time pressure due to delays. The Detour Team can advise and assist with places to stay and arrange airport transfers.
R 25 000 (inc. VAT) per person sharing, there is a single supplement additional charge of 30% if you require a single room.
MINIMUM NUMBER OF RIDERS: 8
Donkey Pub Crawl: Take a ride on a donkey from Semonkong Lodge into the village and ride from shebeen to shebeen tasting the local brew at each. This can be done provided the group arrives before 15h00.
Abseil Maletsunyane Falls: This is the highest commercial abseil in the world requiring training before attempting the 200m plus descent next to the falls into the Maletsunyane Valley. This can be arranged provided the entire group are happy to extend the tour by a day which isn’t a bad idea as a rest day is always good.