Sceleret experiencing The Hel and Back 2 day stage MTB bike event.

Words by: Max Menzies | Images by REBLEX PHOTOGRAPHY

“Die Hel (The Hell) is the colloquial name for a remote green valley in the Swartberg mountains. Twenty-five kilometres long and half-a-kilometre wide, the valley was once home to a thriving community of self-sustaining farmers whose only access to the outside world was a sketchy bridle path on the western end of the Gamkaskloof and the rugged Gamkapoort itself. It was only in 1962 that the first “real” road, and the one used currently, was built into the valley. It remains the only road, and its twisty hairpins form the route for the infamous there-and-back two-day sojourn that is the To Hell & Back Extreme MTB Tour”. Background info/insert taken from organisers website - https://www.tohellandback.co.za/

I have always known about this event, but just never managed to get up to Oudtshoorn as the dates clashed with W2W. And in an attempt to try get my ride mojo back after closing my chapter with that other bike event in March, I made a call to do some different type of mountain bike ride experiences in 2023.

When up in that neck of the woods a few weeks ago doing Dryland’s Prince George 100 miler, I had an opportunity to chat to someone who previously had done “Die Hel” several times and he convinced me to take a crack at it – the gnarly factor was definitely a draw card. I jumped on the interweb but could not really find to many ride reviews on it – it sort of gave me the impression that was how this event liked it, which I found rather appealing.

Packing for the trip consisted of the normal pack thing, which is mostly about getting my bike ready. Although there is not too much to my bike, I am meticulous with the bike prep. I kissed Isabelle, the dogs, horses & Boris the adopted pony goodbye, and then hit the road. Settled on a 33/21 ratio for my beloved Dave Mercer bike called Scelerat. Out of interest I would normally do Epic on a 32/23 split and Prince George gravel event I went with 35/19 – the chain rings are made from some special Swedish steel that was tooled for me on a CNC machine by an engineer friend in Tokai, CT.

A quick stop in Barrydale at Diezel and Crème for the traditional cortado and pancake hit, before heading on to Die Hoek Resort for the registration, located about 20km’s outside Oudsthoorn. I camped at the resort which made the admin super easy…..nice clean facilities and exceptionally affordable. The bakkie would remain at the resort as this event requires of you to come back the 2’nd day, an exact reverse of day one.

Was surprised at only 87 riders having entered, for such an iconic event! In chatting to the legendary Wikus from EcoBound Mountain Events that afternoon, he mentioned they previously had in the region of nearly 500 riders! A combination of factors contributing to this reduction – stage mountain biking events are changing in SA - been happening since pre-covid days already - cluttered calender, difficult financial times, etc. Also, this event is a little under the radar and you must go and look for it – Die Hel has not got a huge social media presence like most other rides do. For me, I like that and it appeals to me more so…..a little like Lesotho Sky or Swazi Frontier.

The organisers had to bolt on an extra 15 odd km’s to each day due to a different camp location been chosen in the valley at the end of your days ride, now situated at the Boplaas Guest Farm, further in the valley than previously.