Up for a serious bout of big-mountain wheezing? There are dozens of day rides bombing into the Winterberg ranges near Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, but few rate as breathtaking as the crank through the Devil’s Bellows Pass.
The ride at Devil’s Bellows Pass
From Katberg Eco Golf Estate and Hotel, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. At the gate, turn left up the old Katberg gravel pass. A stiff climb awaits as you pass the turn-off to the forestry plantations (3,9 kilometres) to your left. Switchback after switchback stacks up along your ascent to the neck just shy of 10 kilometres.
Take in the view across majestic valleys to both sides, then knuckle down as the going gets rough. The gravel road is seriously eroded in places and puddles in the road were frozen solid during my winter climb. Wind chill dropped to -8° Celsius and 60-knot gusts all but blew me off my bike in places.
This wind funnel is why the pass through Post Retief Conservancy is infamously known as the Devil’s Bellows, so gear up to weather the storm. At 14 kilometres, you have the option to drop down towards Koonap River for a 96-kilometre circular ride past Mpofu Game Reserve.
If you’re feeling strong, crank a further four kilometres to a bullet-riddled Tarkastad sign (18 kilometres). Continue straight and you’ll get to Whittlesea or you can bomb down to your left, where the Thrift Dam languishes in rugged valleys carved by the Black Kei River.
This is a serious ride right off the beaten track, so don’t take it on if you aren’t a confident and self-sufficient rider.
Off the bike at Devil’s Bellows Pass
Rock-climbing, fly-fishing, golf, tennis, horse-riding trails and hiking are just some outdoor options. Hogsback with its fantastic MTB and hiking trails is less than an hour away and Mpofu, Tsolwana and Double Drift game reserves are also worth a visit.
Getting to Devil’s Bellows Pass
At Fort Beaufort, turn left onto the R67 towards Seymour and continue for 30 kilometres. Follow the signs to your left to Katberg Hotel, about 12 kilometres from the main road.
Need to know about Devil’s Bellows Pass
April to September is chilly but relatively dry, with a good chance of snow in June and July. The sub-zero temperatures and severe squalls of winter can turn a ride into an extreme outing. The summer rains kick in from November to February.
Devil’s Bellows Pass route facts
Difficult (remote with extreme terrain)
Two to 10 hours
Circular (96 km) or return (36 km)
Steep gravel and 4×4 roads
Devil’s Bellows Pass contact details
Tel 040-864- 1010, www.katleisure.co.za.
GPS co-ordinates: S32° 29’ 17.8”, E26° 40’ 52.1”
Gear needed for Devil’s Bellows Pass
A serious pack with ample space and protection against rain is a must on this ride. Osprey’s Raptor 10 Hydration Pack (R1 249, www.adventureinc.co.za) boasts a streamlined design, large main compartment, accessible side pockets as well as a three-litre bladder for liquids.
Mountain-biking trails across South Africa
For detailed information on mountain-biking trails across South Africa, go to www.mtbroutes.co.za.