ToHellAndBack #Day2: Like a Bat Outta Hell

“I like that it is a real-life MTB Adventure, without gimmicks and bells and whistles. For real mountain bikers, you know” … That’s the typical comment you get from #HellAndBackers once they bang into the under-belly of Gamkaskloof.

They’re usually saying this with a big-ass #DarlingBrew beer clutched in their paws, and with dust and sweat smeared across their smiling faces. Sometimes they’re too moeg or dors to say anything much, and just stand there, slightly dazed, but you’ll get the same shpiel from them once I’ve dipped into the inflatable pool, or hauled their asses into the shaded bar area.

Bottom line, the EcoBound Mountain Events #ToHellAndBack will always be one of those old-skool classics. No wonder it boasts the distinction of being SA’s first ever MTB Stage Race, notching up its 22nd running last week. What riders can expect is two days of bike adventuring into the remote Gamkaskloof (and of course a skop of note)!.

But then, what else would you expect from an event that has become widely known as the ‘Unofficial #MOVEMBER World MTB Champs’. Starting from De Hoek Resort near Oudtshoorn, competitors face one moer-of-a-trap into Gamkaskloof. This valley is colloquially known as Die Hel, for a number of reasons: heat and extreme temperatures, for sure, but also for the dangerously steep gravel strip you need to navigate into this back-of-beyond valley.

Even today, you can get there only via a dead-end pass with vertiginous drop-offs and erosion ruts of legendary proportions. The historic switchback – constructed by none other than master road builder, Thomas Bain – winds through the rugged and inhospitable Swartberg ranges, and it takes guts to get in there on a bike.

Once you’ve survived those deep and dark moments that comes with suffering up the never-ending Heartbreak Hill, or have jettisoned into the very heart of Die Hel, ‘The Warm Place’ turns out to be a rugged little corner of natural heaven … without the flashy brashness of most of your contemporary MTB events, of course.

A rudimentary tent village, crackling braai fires, loads of #DarlingBrew craft beer, red wine and the classy delicacies of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ … dancing with the devil does not seem to be such a bad gig. Until you realise there’s a shiteload of ‘up’, and it lurks just a few metres beyond the startline in the form of Elands Pass.

It takes serious guts to crank these 26 switchbacks on morning-after legs, but you have no choice, bru. Ask me: I’ve done it on a few occasions, and there’s bound to be some serious suffering involved in the calf department.

Beyond Elands it gets easier, but not by much, until you eventually bleed onto Die Top. Wrestle your way through high winds, dense fog and wintry temperatures, and you will be home and dry as you zigg the more than 20km of downhill back down to De Hoek.

There will always be blood, sweat and tears, but with it comes huge dollops of satisfaction, and war stories which are sure to last you for a life-time. These are some of my images from Day 1, and I will be loading lots more during the rest of the week – enjoy, and shot for the laughs, guys.

This was also the first event where I shot exclusively on my new PENTAX SOUTH AFRICA DSLR system, and I seriously put the #K1, #K3 and #K70 to the test. Non-stop dust, rocky river crossings with lashings of spray, hectic roads and constantly changing light … the cameras did not falter even once. Usually a cross-over to a new brand means one helluva learning curve, but the #Pentax systems proves to be utterly intuitive. There’s more to learn for this old dog, of course, but that means the photos can only get even better. Shot Brett Skolmen and @newteltron – I am one happy shooter!

More info at www.ecoboundmtb.co.za

Click here to view the pics

ToHellAndBack 2016 DAY #1: An Old-School MTB Adventure

“I like that it is a real-life MTB Adventure, without gimmicks and bells and whistles. For real mountain bikers, you know” … That’s the typical comment you get from #HellAndBackers once they bang into the under-belly of Gamkaskloof.

They’re usually saying this with a big-ass #DarlingBrew beer clutched in their paws, and with dust and sweat smeared across their smiling faces. Sometimes they’re too moeg or dors to say anything much, and just stand there, slightly dazed, but you’ll get the same shpiel from them once I’ve dipped into the inflatable pool, or hauled their asses into the shaded bar area.

Bottom line, the EcoBound Mountain Events #ToHellAndBack will always be one of those old-skool classics. No wonder it boasts the distinction of being SA’s first ever MTB Stage Race, notching up its 22nd running last week. What riders can expect is two days of bike adventuring into the remote Gamkaskloof (and of course a skop of note)!.

But then, what else would you expect from an event that has become widely known as the ‘Unofficial #MOVEMBER World MTB Champs’ 🙂 Starting from De Hoek Resort near Oudtshoorn, competitors face one moer-of-a-trap into Gamkaskloof. This valley is colloquially known as Die Hel, for a number of reasons: heat and extreme temperatures, for sure, but also for the dangerously steep gravel strip you need to navigate into this back-of-beyond valley.

Even today, you can get there only via a dead-end pass with vertiginous drop-offs and erosion ruts of legendary proportions. The historic switchback – constructed by none other than master road builder, Thomas Bain – winds through the rugged and inhospitable Swartberg ranges, and it takes guts to get in there on a bike.

Once you’ve survived those deep and dark moments that comes with suffering up the never-ending Heartbreak Hill, or have jettisoned into the very heart of Die Hel, ‘The Warm Place’ turns out to be a rugged little corner of natural heaven … without the flashy brashness of most of your contemporary MTB events, of course.

A rudimentary tent village, crackling braai fires, loads of #DarlingBrew craft beer, red wine and the classy delicacies of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ … dancing with the devil does not seem to be such a bad gig. Until you realise there’s a shiteload of ‘up’, and it lurks just a few metres beyond the startline in the form of Elands Pass.

It takes serious guts to crank these 26 switchbacks on morning-after legs, but you have no choice, bru. Ask me: I’ve done it on a few occasions, and there’s bound to be some serious suffering involved in the calf department.

Beyond Elands it gets easier, but not by much, until you eventually bleed onto Die Top. Wrestle your way through high winds, dense fog and wintry temperatures, and you will be home and dry as you zigg the more than 20km of downhill back down to De Hoek.

There will always be blood, sweat and tears, but with it comes huge dollops of satisfaction, and war stories which are sure to last you for a life-time. These are some of my images from Day 1, and I will be loading lots more during the rest of the week – enjoy, and shot for the laughs, guys.

This was also the first event where I shot exclusively on my new PENTAX SOUTH AFRICA DSLR system, and I seriously put the #K1, #K3 and #K70 to the test. Non-stop dust, rocky river crossings with lashings of spray, hectic roads and constantly changing light … the cameras did not falter even once. Usually a cross-over to a new brand means one helluva learning curve, but the #Pentax systems proves to be utterly intuitive. There’s more to learn for this old dog, of course, but that means the photos can only get even better. Shot Brett Skolmen and @newteltron – I am one happy shooter!

More info at www.ecoboundmtb.co.za

Click here to view the pics

Mankele MTB Park 2016

No #mtb mission into #Mpumalanga can be complete without a few serious hoicks and climbs into the mountains rucking up around Mankele Mountain Biking Park. This is free-rider country with serious trail attitude, but there are more than enough Intermediate and Beginner options to keep the whole family happy.

This time, there was no #DeadMonkeyRide for me and Matthew Drew, as we arrived in the eye of the proverbial storm, with searing lightning bolts making a proper mountain ride impossible, and instead we had to make do with quick incursions along the River Trail and DH Course. This sucks, as Mark Meyer has apparently created loads of new trail.

It is most definitely the kind of taster that makes you want to go back and spend a week at this incredibly special mountain biking paradise.

Click here to view the pics

Tranquilitas Trails 2016

There’s way more to #Boven than just exhilarating rock #climbing along the crags at ‘The Restaurant (at the End of the Universe)’. Think trout fishing, trail running, hiking, birding, and of course, mountain biking.

In fact, these days MTBrs may outnumber rock climbers on any given weekend, and this is in a large part thanks to local trail maestro, Glenn Harrison. He’s the man who instigated the #mtb revolution here in the #Mpumalanga Highlands more than a decade back, and since then, the sport has boomed.

He’s far from done, though, and his on-going partnership with #Sappi has seen a proliferation of new #trails. Top of the list for visiting riders will be his brand new outback routes, where you can now ride for days on end here at #Tranquilitas Adventure Farm …

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Elands River Ecstasy

Some experiences in life cannot be bought, no matter what the credit limit on your Master Card. Last week, Karyn Marais and I were fortunate enough to make one of these memories of a lifetime up in gorgeous Emgwenya (formerly #WatervalBoven).Said adventure came courtesy of my long-time mate, Gustav Janse van Rensburg, the original #RocnRope Gecko here at the ‘Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ Crags. This guy has single-handedly executed thousands of abseils along the gushing Elands River Falls, and there are few other people I would entrust with the safety of my 4-yr old Grace.

She barely batted an eyelid during the quick abseil training session and harnessing up, and I think Mum and I showed way more nerves as we negotiated the crevasse down onto the narrow ledge overlooking the roiling waterfall rush.

Harnessed onto mum, she stepped off the edge with a smile, and waved for the camera as we made our way down the dliff. As I’ve said before, this was an absolute standout moment in my life, and I say thank you for that, my friend. (And also for the Reunion Rhum, the weak jokes around the fire, and the many beers).

Kathryn Fourie clocked a Grade 23 waterfall route, and Thea Romandy Quin, Thorsten Gopp and Sarah Colvin Drew rocked the huge abseil, too. All in all, just another cracker day on the #SappiTrails #InspiredByLife road trip with Matthew Drew and the crew.

And shot for the family pix, Gus – as usual, the #Sony#XperiaZA delivered.

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Howick & Karkloof Region 2016

Nothing quite beats a day out in the KZN Midlands, especially if that day happens within the gorgeous #Karkloof Conservancy. Extensive #sappiforests patchwork this verdant corner of the Last Outpost, and everyone from dog lovers and birders, to off-road explorers, trail runners and mountain bikers have claimed the great outdoors here as part of their little piece of paradise.

Yesterday, I even bumped into a 94-year old gran doing the #zipline at Karkloof Canopy Tours, and this is but the tip of the proverbial eco-tourism iceberg. Matthew Drew and I racked up an epic day of outdoor play, with a massive primal forest hikescramble/run up to the spectacular Grey Mares Falls.

This was topped with superb #singletrack cranking on the flowy #SappiTrails along the Falls Loop, before we tripped gravel roads in the Chevrolet #Trailblazer in order to hook into some feisty trout in #MbonaNature Reserve. The #KZN #Midlands sure is a special place , and the trails tripping along the #3Cranes Route must rate as one of the most breathtaking #trailruns ever.

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Howick MTB Trails 2016

Nothing quite beats a day out in the extensive #sappi forests blanketing the scenic #kzn #midlands#Karkloof may well be the immaculately groomed ‘Fat-Track Fairy Princess’ of the Midlands #MTB World, but for many local mountain bikers, the real deal is the #Howick Trails network.

This is the hard-core #DH sista, and on iconic sections like ‘The Face’, you’d be trail kill if you don’t bring your long-travel game. These ungroomed trails are unapologetically in your face, with gnarly rock gardens, edgy runs and endless pine forest side-winder play time.

The extensive trail system are inclusive enough for mere #MTB mortals, though, with easier options if you need to dodge some of those near-death experiences. #SappiTrails#SappiMTB #InspiredByLife

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Karkloof Trails Shoot 2016

I’ve been raving about the #Karkloof MTB Trails – mostly within the extensive #SAPPI Plantations surrounding #Howick – ever since I first rode there 3 years ago.

My most recent visit to this #singletrack paradise has re-affirmed my love affair with these gorgeous trails, and the good news is that there is a whole bunch of brand new routes to go and play on … Too little time and too many deadlines meant I only had a couple of quick rides on the Giant Bicycles South Africa #XTCAdvanced, but hell, it was fun!

Here are a few images of Hylton Bonazan TurveyMatthew Drew, Keira Duncan and young Jay pinning some loamy channels. All I can say: ‘The Batchelor’ will become an icon, with lots of legendary tales to tell. Go check out www.karkloofmtbtrails.co.za for more info. #SappiTrails#InspiredByLife

Click here to view the pics