To Hell and Back

To Hell and Back

Described in 1999 as the Bone Breaker, Bike Shaker, Sweat Maker and Nerve Taker, the To Hell and Back Mountain Bike Race is one of the most challenging cycle tours on the African continent. In order to fully appreciate this race you need to understand where the race takes place. This race is not a case of distance but destination that makes it pure torture, the valley known as De Hell. In the 1830s, a tiny group of settlers from the Great Trek, discovered this remote, 16 kilometre long canyon deep in the Swartberg mountains, completely sealed off from civilisation. The closest sign of civilisation was in the little town of Prince Albert, an incredible 60 kilometre journey over the towering mountains. The gravel access track was only constructed in the mid 1960s. The largest portion of the valley is currently under the management of Cape Nature. They, with the help of the SA Nature Foundation, Simon van der Stel Foundation and the National Monuments Council, are in the process of restoring the buildings in the valley. Onderplaas is being managed as a traditional farm to uphold and maintain the farming methods and traditions of the valley's historic past. This protected haven is now the turnaround point for the To Hell and Back mountain bike tour. Every year a brave group of mountain bikers clash on the uphill hairpins of the Swartberg Pass and the harrowing descent to Gamkaskloof in the Klein Karoo. We said brave, but it is only the very brave and venturesome, that can claim the unique distinction of having been to hell and back.

Race day starts at De Hoek holiday resort at 07:00 with the cry of the baboon, when over 200 riders set off to conquer the Swartberg Pass. After a deceiving couple of kilometres of pleasant farm land, the route attacks, winding up the phenomenal gravel pass for approximately 10km. An intense uphill battle ensues as riders strain to reach the pass as the temperatures soar to an average temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The riders reach the summit and plunge down the incredible downhill twists to the halfway camp in Gamkaskloof. After two and a half hours of gruelling pedalling the first riders cross the halfway line, the conclusion of day one. The next mornings return has more up, up, up and up in store. The first section includes a tough 3km climb to the top of the Swartberg Pass again and then down the other side in the flying stones and choking dust. Another two-and-three-quarter hours and the leading riders hit the finish line at De Hoek with the others completing the challenge much later. The race which takes place on the longest mountain pass in South Africa and on the first day covers a distance of 60 kilometres with total accumulated climbs of 1750 metres and the return on day two has accumulated climbs of 1900 metres.

The 2011 To Hell and Back Mountain Bike race takes place from 10 to 13 November 2011.

For more information and future dates please contact:
The Ecobound team:
Tel: +27-44-8714455
Or email:

From Cape Town:
Enter Oudtshoorn from Calitzdorp
Continue to Baron Von Rheede Street
Turn left and continue along Baron Von Rheede Street
Follow route descriptions from Oudtshoorn

From Johannesburg:
Enter Oudtshoorn from De Rust
Continue to Baron Von Rheede Street
Turn right and continue along Baron Von Rheede Street
Follow route descriptions from Oudtshoorn

From George:
Enter Oudtshoorn from George
Continue straight through Oudtshoorn along Baron Von Rheede Street
Follow route descriptions from Oudtshoorn

From Oudtshoorn:
You will exit Oudtshoorn along the R328 heading towards the Cango Caves
Continue for approx 30 kms
Just after Wilgewandel take the Prince Albert turnoff to the left
Continue for another approx 6kms on this road
At the De Hoek sign post turn right
After approx 2kms you have the De Hoek Holiday Resort - The Start of The 2 Hell and Back.
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To Hell and Back Information