Bike Packing in Lesotho/Maloti

09 Sep 2018 08:40 #73945 by Richard Hunt
During the last week of September Elinda, Papa Dragon and myself will go on a bike packing trip through the Lesotho/Maloti Highlands. We will enter Lesotho at Caledonspoort and exit at Sani Pass. The A1 road which we will ride on runs inland and parallel to the Drakensberg/Maloti Escarpment. We will ride through the highest mountain pass road in Africa at 3270m. Bike packing is fairly new in SA but very popular overseas so it has been a learning curve for us to kit out the bicycles. Its basically hiking with a bicycle so most of our Drakensberg hiking gear will be packed on the bikes in bags which are attached in various places. During our Berg hiking trips I have always been fascinated by the Basotho herders on the escarpment so this trip will be a window into the Basotho culture as we will be hopefully tenting in their villages every night. Will report back after our trip with photos.
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15 Sep 2018 14:43 - 15 Sep 2018 14:52 #74006 by Papa Dragon
Here's mine with a couple of things left to pack.



Anyone with Lesotho border post experience know whether I will have a problem taking this knife through the border?

www.capeunionmart.co.za/opinel-no-8-outdoor-knife

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Last edit: 15 Sep 2018 14:52 by Papa Dragon.
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20 Sep 2018 17:03 #74018 by pandaling
Following


Look forward to hearing about it! Have an awesome trip.
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20 Sep 2018 22:15 #74019 by Papa Dragon
Thanks panda

Excitement mounts!!

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21 Sep 2018 07:38 #74020 by ghaznavid

Papa Dragon wrote: Anyone with Lesotho border post experience know whether I will have a problem taking this knife through the border?


Outside of airports, I have never had my bag checked at a border post. I don't think there's any reason that it would be a problem if they discovered it, though. I guess if it was a firearm it might be different, but I would be very surprised if carrying a knife across a border was an issue.

"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't." Douglas Adams
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28 Sep 2018 15:59 #74051 by Smurfatefrog
Papa D looking bright and trendy

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03 Oct 2018 08:13 #74086 by Richard Hunt
Hi Guys. We have done the Bikepacking trip in Lesotho and here is the link for those interested:

Lesotho Highlands Bikepacking Trip Report

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03 Oct 2018 14:00 #74088 by Riaang
Mmmhh, that pic of Roger brings back memories. Was super easy getting up the pass on my KTM, I'm sure on a bicycle there was a lot more sweat involved :-)

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05 Oct 2018 19:06 - 06 Oct 2018 07:17 #74097 by elinda
To follow on to Richards post, these are my thoughts on our adventure:

Richard and I watched a bike packing video of a trip through Lesotho way back in January 2018, and thought this could be a great experience.   I am not the most keen cyclist and really don’t ‘get on’ with my bike, nor have I ever really got to grips with the gears, the cleats, nor do I enjoy the ‘nappy pants’ or ‘alien like helmut’ that one has to wear.  However, I can never resist an adventure or a challenge and it was this that swayed me to sign up! We decided on the Highlands or Maloti Route which covers roughly 250km and starts at Caledonspoort on the border with South Africa and ends at the Sani Pass Backpackers at the foot of Sani Pass.  Our hiking friend Roger ( Papa Dragon) also signed up as he was keen for the experience.  The months went by and we trained a bit every week on the farm roads ( I might add that my training was a little on the ‘not nearly enough’ side). Richard spent weeks poring over maps and plotting a route and getting the necessary gear together.  And then, before we quite knew it, we had arrived at Camel Roc resort near Fouriesburg where we were to start our journey.

Day one - Camel Roc to Mamohase Tavern - 48.25km

We spent a sleepless night due to extremely violent lightning and thunder and storms accompanied by strong winds and rain that continued the entire night.  We had never experienced this phenomenon before! So we were up early, and after packing up the tents and then the bikes were off and headed for the SA border post. On presenting my Irish passport to the customs official she asked for my ID as well.  You guessed it, I had not brought it thinking it would not be required.  She kept shaking her head and appeared most reluctant to stamp the passport, despite our pleas to overlook this as I have never needed my ID before.  Eventually she gave the stamp of approval (literally) but we wondered afterwards whether she had in fact been waiting for a bribe.  We continued through the Lesotho side who were far more casual and with a sigh of relief started our journey officially.We bypassed Buthe Buthe and thereafter spent the remainder of the morning cycling through very built up areas, with a lot of traffic on the road.  Almost immediately the cries of ‘sweets!’ 'sweets!' came from the children who saw us and this was to become the norm for the remainder of the trip.  The locals were all excited to see us and we received many waves and ‘Dumalangs’ ( Hello).  Every one almost without exception greeted us and we were surprised by the friendliness of the Basotho people.  We had hit a few hills by now and were happy to stop for lunch at ' The Moscow Tavern’ in a small settlement called Pholane.  We sat outside and enjoyed the rest before continuing on our way.  The afternoon was hot and a lot more steep hills appeared - soon enough we were pushing our bikes up the bigger ones and my energy was beginning to dwindle. We had planned to tent at the foot of Moteng Pass and eventually pulled in to the Mamohase Lodge.  A rather dodgy looking place with lots of shacks and locals hanging around and discovered that the Lodge was not operational  but that the tavern was still going strong.  We got permission from the owner to tent on the property and soon had our tents up and were relaxing with a Maluti Beer. We were all in bed by 7.30pm as the next day was going to be the big climb up Moteng Pass.

 

Camelroc



Storm clouds looming




Through the border!




Mamohase Tavern

Day two - Mamohase Tavern to New Oxbow Lodge - 21.61 kmMoteng Pass is almost 8kms long and tops out at 2820 metres.  We   were looking at an almost 1000m ascent and knew it was not going to be easy!  Almost from the start, we found ourselves pushing our bikes as this pass is extremely steep and sustained.  I can vividly remember looking way upwards to see a vehicle starting the descent and thinking that it would be next to impossible to ever get to that point.  It seemed very far away! Richard had to exercise a lot of patience as he could have cycled most of the way up, but it was much harder for Roger and I, so we walked and pushed, with Richard helping me push my bike as well as his.  We received more than a few sympathetic looks from the vehicles that passed us. We still had another climb to get over after Moteng and Roger decided he would catch a lift. A passing motorist stopped and Rogers bike was loaded ( if there had been enough space I would have hopped in as well!) We agreed to meet up with him at the New Oxbow Lodge which was 8km further on. Richard and I continued plodding on, taking frequent rests and eventually arrived at the top.  Sweet relief!  From here it was a long downhill and it was heaven to coast along and rest our aching and tired muscles for a while.  From here we had another sustained climb and as we were nearing the top we were approached by a vehicle with the passenger waving in a most friendly fashion.  We quickly realised it was Roger! He had arrived at the lodge earlier and was chatting to the owner about our experiences.  The owner who goes by the name of Laiki Coccosulis sent Jannie and Roger out with a vehicle to see if they could assist.  They took my packs off the bike so the remainder of the ride down to the lodge was much easier for me and completed in no time. It was just on lunchtime and we had to decide whether we would call it a day or continue.  The darkening skies and looming rain  decided us and we were soon ensconced in front of a roaring fire and enjoying a beer on the house, compliments of Laiki.  We were so impressed with his hospitality and friendliness and felt that his establishment is  well run and well worth a visit. We booked in at the Backpackers and enjoyed a comfortable night .  Thank you Laiki - our experience at  New Oxbow was one of the highlights of our trip! 


Moteng Pass - looks pretty tame here!



New Oxbow Lodge

Day three - New Oxbow Lodge to Wilderness tent spot (somewhere before Tlaeng Pass) - 21.45kmI had noticed a steepish ascent leading southwards immediately after the lodge so was already dreading this climb before we set out in the morning.  Fortunately this was a day where I was feeling a bit stronger and as the kilometres went by I found myself managing the hills better than the day before. There was a very long ascent to Mahlasela Pass at 3222 metres and we were grateful to rest for a while at the top.  The wind was very strong here and we had to seek shelter behind some large boulders.  Afriski was just below us and from here a free wheeling descent down to the bottom where the resort is situated.  We could clearly see the snow field although there was no snow at the time of our visit.  I was somewhat disappointed at Afriski as it was not visually appealing - just a mish mash of various buildings scattered over the area.  Of course there are no trees at this altitude so perhaps this explained some of the bleakness.  Once we were past Afriski we enjoyed a good few kilometres of fairly level cycling and even  the wind seemed less fierce.  We followed the river on our left for a while until it veered right and it was here that we stopped for the day as it would be the last available water for some time. We were on a very desolate plateau and the wind resumed its intensity making setting up of tents rather difficult.  We spent a leisurely afternoon and were safely tucked up early on as the temperature started plunging as soon as the sun disappeared over the horizon. 




Day four - Wilderness tent spot to Tlokoeng Village - 59.82kmIt was absolutely freezing when we woke up and the temperatures must have been hovering around the zero degree mark.  The wind had not abated which made things a lot worse and we tried to pack up as quickly as possible.  I was not Miss Popular when we discovered that the straps for the pack on the back of my bike were still in the tent which by now was already strapped on Richards bike………Despite this annoying delay we progressed well - we had ground to make up as we were slightly behind schedule.  The highest road pass in Africa soon approached ( Tlaeng Pass at 3255m - ) but as we were at such a high altitude already, it did not seem too bad.  We definitely felt the affect of the thin air on our lungs though.  We reached the famous Letseng Diamond Mine mid morning, a huge sprawling complex with massive tip walls and then passed the labour accommodation on our way southwards.  This must be a very cold and bleak place to work and it is a hard life for these workers.  We had more hills to climb ( and push) until we reached a massive pass heading downwards into the river valley far below. It took us  at least over half an hour free wheeling down to the bottom, and we had to go carefully on our brakes for fear of overheating them.  It was far warmer below although the wind was still very brisk. The bleak vegetation of the morning was now replaced with green shrubs on the hillsides and willows in the river courses.  We passed several huts with the locals ploughing and herding their livestock and were greeted by everyone on our way past. We stopped for a quick bite to eat on the side of the road under the shade of some trees before continuing on.  It was becoming quite hot by now . We cycled through a largish town called Mapholaneng which was very busy and the main road was thronged with people and various little shops.  I was quite pleased to leave this behind us! We were now feeling tired and at the sight of yet another long uphill in front of us, decided to stop at a little village and see if we could find a place to spend the night.  We  were directed to the Chief’s( Morena) house and luckily had a young man who could speak Zulu and Sosotho to interpret for us. After some negotiation it was agreed that we would pay R 30.00 each and could put up our tents near the river.  At this point I picked up a puncture which was not the most pleasant way to end the day!  Richard and Roger visited the store and managed to get some baked beans, biscuits and potato chips as well as some cool drinks.  There was not much else on offer.  We had an audience of little children watching our every move with fascination and it was only when an older Basotho told them to leave that we got any privacy.  We knew we were in for a noisy night as we were pretty close to the road and the huts were all around and above us, most with lots of barking dogs, donkeys and roosters.  We were not keen on getting water from the river which was very low and were able to obtain some from the village tap.  We still added sterilising drops though to make sure! Despite the physical activity of the days I never really slept well on any of the nights we were away and this night was no exception.



Day five -Tlokoeng Village to Sehonghong Valley - 10 Riverside Homestay - 38.2kmWe perhaps timed our departure badly this morning as we were accompanied for some 5kms or more by the local school children.  They have quite a distance to walk to the nearest school and this is situated at the top of a very long steep climb out of the valley.  As I could only manage ‘granny gear’ they found it very easy to keep up and I have to admit that I was getting a bit tired of the  constant calls for ‘sweets’ ‘give me money’ and even ‘give me your bike’!  The older children were very keen to practice their English and we were greeted with ‘Good morning, how are you?’ many times!We reached the top of the climb and stopped to enjoy the view of the river valley before us only for me to discover yet again that I had picked up another puncture!  It had to happen to me - the culprit being a three sided ‘Devils Thorn’ that is prevalent in this part of the world. Puncture repaired we cycled on through some more ups and downs before arriving at the Senqu/Orange River.  This was rather low but still a grand sight to see.  From here we continued up some more hills before eventually seeing  the large town of Mokhotlong in the near distance.  The town is bypassed however as one takes the road to the right that heads now towards Sani Pass.  This is the new road that has been built by the Chinese and what a road it is!  Well designed and engineered it was a pleasure to ride on ( now if only they could have made it level….). We stopped just before lunch at a little store and tavern called the Sehonghong Tavern and bought some more Baked Beans and biscuits along with a large packet of crisps. The Sehonghong river is very prominent here and runs along side the road with beautiful indigenous willows growing alongside it.  We had seen a ‘homestay’ mentioned on the map and decided to make for this as it is just before the start of the climb up what would be our final pass, the Kotisephola Pass.  We arrived at ’10 Riverside’ mid afternoon and were warmly welcomed by the owners.  This is a homestay that is run by a family and they offer accommodation in a rondavel.  It is beautifully situated above the river and we spent the afternoon settling in, washing some clothes in the river and collecting water from the communal tap above the road. I made friends with their lovely dog, a cross between a St Bernard and sheep dog and I would have loved to take him home with me. They heated some water for us and we experienced bathing the Lesotho way - with  a large bucket of hot water and a basin. They even arranged to get the boys some Maluti beer and me some cider and we enjoyed a sundowner in front of the river. We were amused to observe that the owner had no doubt imbibed a few shots on his visit to the tavern as it was pretty noticeable on his return! Richard was also able to chat to an uncle of the family who had just returned from a long day out checking his livestock.  He had left at 3.30am that morning and ridden out far into the hills to check on the shepherds, and had only returned at 6.00pm. These people lead hard and harsh lives and I can only imagine how bitter the Winters must be for them.  



 

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Last edit: 06 Oct 2018 07:17 by elinda.

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05 Oct 2018 19:13 #74098 by elinda
Day 6 - 10 Riverside to Sani Top Lodge - 35.4kmToday we tackled our last pass - not without some trepidation.  Kotsiphola Pass ( also known as Black Mountain Pass) was a climb of some 1000 metres and neither Roger nor I were confident.  We decided to see how it went and we could always catch a lift if the going got too hard.  The beginning was not too bad and we enjoyed the beautiful mountain valley - we also noticed that there was very little traffic going to Sani…….I had decided that it would be a pity not to slog it out and finish the thing and Roger also decided the  same so onwards we went, cycling some sections and pushing our bikes on others.  I think this was almost my favourite section of the ride as its remote with only a few herders huts although we saw a lot of sheep and goats. We kept on going and were elated to find that we were almost at the top of the pass - 3240 metres!  The wind was terrible though and must have been close to 100km/h - fortunately it was behind us and it was quite noticeable at times as it gave us a welcome push!  The road down  to the Sani Flats  from here had to be negotiated carefully because of the wind, sideways gusts would sometimes catch us unawares.  We were amazed to find thick ice underneath a curve of the road higher up and were forced to walk our bikes down for a distance to save the brakes. We had planned on sleeping at the Sani Stone Lodge but discovered that it was still some 3km off the road on a dirt road.  Worried about the possibility of another puncture we decided to push on to Sani Top Backpackers - not a popular plan with me as since my last visit there I had vowed to never support them again - overpriced and the place is never maintained.  Nothing had changed - they had put up their prices and it was even worse than before!  No hot water either!  I made my views plain in their visitors book.  To my chagrin I fell off my bike in the carpark in full view of the tourists as I could not get my feet out the cleats - typical - I had ridden all this way only to fall for the first time in front of an audience!We had lunch there but declined to have a drink as their prices were exorbitant - obviously catering for the tourist. We visited the local tavern where prices were a lot more reasonable and enjoyed them before the fire in the Backpackers Lodge - but noted that they had also cut down on the amount of firewood that they had supplied in the past. We were treated to glorious skies at sunset, almost unbelievable with their vivid hues.





Day seven - Sani Top Backpackers down Sani Pass to Sani Backpackers - 26.78kmToday was our final day!  My final challenge was to cycle down Sani Pass which I was pretty nervous about.  We got through Customs and proceeded to descend in cold and windy  conditions.  The top section was very rough and loose and I elected to walk my bike down as it was just felt  too unsafe for me.  A little further down I was able to ride and we came across a motor bike rider who had slipped and fallen and was unable to lift his bike on his own.  Richard and Roger assisted and he was soon on his way - he told us that his bike weighed 350kg!  The ride down from here was enjoyable although I had to concentrate quite a bit - it was also a lot warmer!  We went through the SA border post and then had the last bit to ride through to Sani Backpackers which is just beyond the Sani Pass Hotel.  We arrived at midday and could hardly believe we had finished!  Russel and Simone Suchet who run the Backpackers welcomed us and organised a room - such a contrast to the accommodation of the night before and the whole place is superbly run and organised - I can highly recommend it.We had done it!I was left with wonderful memories of a beautiful country and warm hearted and friendly people - Lesotho, I will be back ( but can't promise it will be on a bike...)

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