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 Trans Lesotho Experience is for not so regular mountain bikers who wish to take on the challenge of riding right across the country in a leisurely manner.
|BEST TIME OF THE YEAR||September – April|
|TOUR GRADE||3/4: MODERATE TO CHALLENGING
For regular mountain bikers who have a good level of fitness. Routes with some moderate to difficult technical sections.
|ADDITIONAL OPTIONS||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.
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 for the rest day.
|BICYCLE HIRE||Detour Trails can arrange bike hire, but encourage riders who own suitable bikes to bring their own, as they will be more comfortable on them. Hire details are supplied on request.|
SUMMARY OF ITINERARY
|1||Arrival & Transfer||–||–||–||D|
|2||Afriski Trails||20 – 25km||700m||700m||BL|
|4||Motete Monster continues||44km||1900m||2000m||BLD|
|6||Thaba Tseka Trail||62km||1250m||1150m||BL|
|7||The Mast Trail||60km||1200m||1750m||BLD|
|8||Trail into the Abyss||68km||2300m||2300m||BL|
|9||Rest day at Semonkong||–||–||–||–|
|12&13||No Accident Trail||90km||2200m||2100m||BLD|
|14||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. From here the Detour Team will escourt the riders through the border, for the drive to Afriski Resort high in the Maluti Mountains. The evening is spent in the Afriski restaurant and pub enjoying great local beer and cuisine before settling in for a good night’s sleep in the cozy chalets.
Day 2: Afriski Trails – A day of acclimatisation to the rare air
Stats: 2o-25 km, ascent 700m, descent 700m (These vary and the choice is up to each rider as there are many options)
After a leisurely breakfast we’ll hit the trails (at 3000m plus) that surround Afriski and spend the morning getting comfortable on our bikes and sucking oxygen! While the trails are all man-made, they offer a variety sure to keep all riders happy. There is 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 light lunch and preparing for the real action ahead… the first day in proper rugged Lesotho mountains!
Day 3: Motete Monster – Rumble down the Motete River to the Malib Matso and Katse Dam Headwaters
Stats: 28 km, ascent 800m, descent 1500m
Riders must not be fooled by the distance as the going is slow. Initially it is pony trails littered with rocks, but gradually changes into more regularly used trails of the local people and their livestock, making the going a little quicker.
The trail is not accessible by the support vehicle, so riders need to be self-sufficient for the day’s ride. As will become the norm, riders will have to carry all weather gear, tools, basic spares, packed lunch, lots of liquid and a stash of trail snacks for the journey.
The destination is Motete Village, a remote rural Basotho settlement high in the mountains where the group will overnight at the local school.
Day 4: Motete Monster Continues
Stats: 45 km, 1900m ascent, 2000 descent
After what will be a memorable night in the Motete Village, the riders will head off on a rough dirt track to the confluence of the Motete and Maliba Matso Rivers before riding high above the Maliba Matso to meet a main road after 12km. It is an option to ride this road, while the more adventurous stick to the trail.
The trail heads through a small village after which there is a short hike-a-bike up to some exciting trail along the ridge and a rough descent to a dirt road leading to Lejone.
The destination is on the northern most headwaters of Katse Dam, in a village that housed the dam builders.
Day 5: Katse Amble – Explore the Highlands water scheme
Stats: 50 km, ascent 1300m, descent 1200m
With a lot more dirt road than trail, this is one of the easier days so we will set off (at a reasonable hour) after breakfast, but don’t be fooled as there are still a few typically steep Lesotho climbs. We’ll ride through more populated areas so interactions with local Basotho will 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 (at 185m, the highest in the Southern Hemisphere), which we are privileged to cross to get to the Katse Hotel, our destination.
There is a tar road option for the first half of the ride that takes the edge off the day making it an even more leisurely amble.
Day 6: Thaba Tseka Trail
Stats: 62 km, ascent 1250m, descent 1150m
Despite the distance, this is a relatively easy day of riding the dirt road between Katse Village and Thaba Tseka providing plenty of opportunities to stop at spaza shops, take in the Basotho culture and absorb the majestic views of the Maliba Matso River Valley while meandering on the road high above the valley.
As all riders will have learnt by now, the undulating topography of Lesotho ensures that there are a few challenging hills to keep them honest! At the end of the ride, an amble through Thaba Tseka Town will provide plenty of contact with the locals and even some shopping opportunities.
The support crew will be on hand at most times, so there is the option to catch a lift in the ‘Mother Ship’ for anyone feeling a little weary.
Day 7: The Mast Trail – Rough riding at new heights
Stats: 60km, ascent 1200m, descent 1750m
A spectacular day on the bike! By now all riders are into the swing of Lesotho riding, so it’s time to up the ante with something special. After a quick transfer up an unnecessary 15km tar road climb, the riders set off on an old disused road that slowly disintegrates into a wonderful rough and rocky trail. The ride traverses some of the most beautiful scenery and landscape that dates back to Gondwana times.
After about 30km of sublime trail, it’s onto a dirt road and signs of rural life. After a few flat kilometers, the road winds down a fast and furious descent into the Mantsonyane Valley below. The support crew will be waiting at the river, to provide refreshments and a short transfer to St James Lodge.
Day 8: Trail into the Abyss – The Senqunyane Valley beckons
Stats: 68 km, 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. It progressively deteriorates as the trail winds its way into the more remote rural farmlands 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 a little 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 incredibly steep ‘kicker’ climbs and fun descents.
Again the ‘Mother Ship’ and support will be a welcome sight for some enabling them to transfer to Semonkong while the more hardy riders take on the challenge of the final undulating 20 kilometres.
After arguably one of the most challenging and rewarding days that could be had on a bike the riders finally reach the oasis of Semonkong Lodge.
Day 9: Rest at Semonkong Lodge
Being roughly the middle of the ride, a rest day at the beautiful Semonkong Lodge is most welcome.
While many opt for a relaxing day doing pretty well noting, others will explore the village of Semonkong and the surrounding area.
The Donkey Pub Crawl and the Maletsunyane Falls abseil are favourites
Day 10: Riverside Rumble – Plummeting down into the Lowlands
Stats: 40 km, ascent 1050m, descent 1650m
The trail leaves out the back of Semonkong Lodge past the Maletsunyane Falls (site of a 200m plus 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. After a meander along the banks of the Ketane River, the riders will arrive at the humble home of Father Francis at his remote mission.
Day 11: Lowlands Trail
Stats: 46 km, ascent 1150m, descent 1250m
The first part of the ride is on dirt roads of varying quality meandering up and down along the Ketane River (through the village of Ketane itself) into an increasingly steep gorge providing dramatic scenes of sandstone cliffs. As the trail climbs out of the valley, the scenery and landscape changes even more dramatically with spectacular views and increasing sights of massive sandstone rock formations (Slick Rock Heaven is a hidden gem here). As usual, at the top of the main climb, 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 12 & 13: It’s no accident Trail – Riding out of the Lesotho Bowl
Stats: 90 km, ascent 2200m, descent 2100m
The last section of this Trans Lesotho adventure, you’ll guess, is another set of big climbs! In order to make this more manageable, the 90km is split into two sections with an overnight of camping at a remote trading post high on the rim of the Maluti Mountains. As Lesotho is like a bowl with Bethel and the Senqu at the bottom, the riders need to climb the 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.
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, it is and easy 5kms to Gateway Lodge, the 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 14: Transfer to Durban
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s time to bid farewell to the Maluti Mountains and head for Durban, the nearest city with an international airport. The transfer is a relatively long 5 hours or so gives an 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.
Expect to pay around R 30 000 (inc. VAT) per person sharing, there is a single supplement additional charge of 30% if you require a single room.
MINIMUM NUMBERS: 8