Trail Daze | Drakensberg on the fly

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We head out to KZN and the greater Drakensberg area, to bring you an alternative take on ascending 1400 vertical metres, a world of off-piste trails and riding that will test the average man and his machine to their limits.

Get to the choppa! A line I've been thinking about for a while now, planning this rather unique trip up into the depths of the Drakensberg mountains. After a quick 15 minute flip in the helicopter, and a 1400 vertical metre ascend made short work of, you find yourself perched on top of a grassy plateau overlooking the rest of the world. Steep cliffs on the one side and cattle paths leading back down to the collection point, on the other. However, it's not as simple as letting go of the brakes and flowing down manicured trails without breaking a sweat... on the contrary, this is a mountain bike adventure, and its got everything from off-camber, boulder-filled gullies, to hike-a-bike sections that's only ridable for the most experienced of riders, and amazing open grassy plains stretching towards the horizon.

 

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Mark Millar's Mancave #mmm really is something special. Dirt bikes, mountain bikes, and everything else in-between required to build up more two-wheeled toys. A quick check over of all our bikes, to make sure everything is set for the challenges the Drakensberg might throw at us in the morning.

 

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But first, time to call it a day and get some sleep.

 

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4:30am and some jet fuel for those in need of some caffeine to wake up properly.

 

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Hydration packs and trail food are highly recommended, as the day could get pretty long out there.

 

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N3 en route to the berg.

 

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Pilot Greg, whipping out his toy, and commencing with the pre-flight checks.

 

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Not the most high tech approach to shipping your bike to the top of a mountain, but it works a charm. Front wheels removed and a bit of fiddling later, you got yourself six bikes ready for action.

 

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Some paperwork to make it official. Heli biking drop off is a go.

 

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Scared | Excited

 

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Hearing Tim's excitement over the headphones in the Bell Ranger may have been one of my highlights of the trip, "This is so flipping cool!" coming across the static and watching his face completely in awe of his first heli flip, like a kid at Christmas. It was an infectious excitement that carried us all the way down the mountain. Kathryn Fourie

 

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Successful drop off with a quick bike assembly to follow, before the pilot leaves you at the mercy of the mountain, some 2,000 metres above sea level.

 

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Nothing to do now but ride. It's only about 20km...

 

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A brilliant experience in a really phenomenal setting. It makes you feel like one of the pro riders you've seen being dumped at the top of a mountain in your favourite MTB film. That said you have to work for your descents and treat the day as an adventure with mates. The trails are rough, rugged and far from manicured which means having the right bike and a decent level of skill will make the trip more enjoyable. Mark Millar

 

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So many line options - or none at all - depending on your level of skill.

 

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These trails are unique in the way that they can only be accessed by helicopter or a full day hiking. Consisting of all natural cattle paths, they change a lot with the seasons, and the more we ride the more we find. Kirk Hollis | Rockslide Heli Biking

 

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Dropping into the first rocky chute, choked with boulders - I knew this wasn't going to be a flowy trail ride but a test of creativity and a willingness to engage with the rugged features on offer. I mean it's the Drakensberg, it's not called "the Barrier of Spears" for nothing, you have to work for your ride. Sometimes I came off second best, but stopping for a moment and taking in the view - it really brought home how remote and incredible the area is. At the end of the day, if you've got a big travel bike and a set of knee pads this is an incredible experience, and making the most of the rock features, gullies and ridge lines is all part of colouring in the memory you're actively making. Kathryn Fourie

 

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Rampage 2018?

 

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Tim Bentley is no stranger to going downhill on a bike, taking this washed out, eroded section in his stride. Chicken line towards the right.

 

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Proper back country riding in the middle of nowhere, with the majestic Drakensberg behind you and thunder clouds gathering in the distance. Yes.

 

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This was my first ever experience in a helicopter and no better place to have it than in the Drakensburg with my bicycle. Trails were raw and natural topped off with spectacular views. Definitely an amazing experience and fun day on the bike! Tim Bentley

 

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Back to civilization and a well deserved beer & burger to finish of an epic day.

 

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This project is made possible by:

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GPS: 29°01'06.9"S 29°26'12.7"E

For all information check out http://www.rockslidemtb.co.za/

 

All images by Ewald Sadie

www.esphotography.co.za

instagram: @ewaldsadie

 

Riders : Tim Bentley | Kathryn Fourie | Mark Millar | Kirk Hollis

 

Stay tuned to Bike Hub for more Trail Daze coming soon...

 

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23 Comments

rouxtjie, May 23 2016 07:06

bucket list

kosmonooit, May 23 2016 08:25

Nice to see some rock art, there is a treasure trove of that there.

 

The whole 'burg has immense potential for mtb trails.

KathF, May 23 2016 08:50

So rad to be part of this experience :) Thanks Ewald for including us in your adventures. How did you make the man cave look so tidy and organised? Epic pics man, thanks!

DubbelBuys, May 23 2016 09:37

Looks amazing!

 

Looks like it's between Cathedral & Monk's Cowl?

Super_mil, May 23 2016 09:50

Thanks a lot Ewald, it was a brilliant day out on the bike! 

What do you mean the man cave looks tidy and organized? I always keep it organised according to this mind map...

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KarlvN, May 23 2016 10:05

Simply stunning.

 

Trail Daze, yet again you simply take my breath away. I am now seriously waiting to be able to buy my first full trail bike and follow your lead.

 

Thanks.

iRide, May 23 2016 10:39

Yoh! What incredible imagery! Makes my heart sing to hear that people having taken the risk to offer heli-biking in SA :D

Hubbers, support these guys so their business becomes sustainable. Call up your friends, show them the photo's, start planning and get it done!

Headshot, May 23 2016 10:54

Looks like a must do!!

 

ByronH, May 24 2016 08:26

Excellent report through beautiful photography. Congrats, looks really special.

mtbride, May 24 2016 10:00

Where exactly is this, and is this on the little berg or on the escarpment proper? Looks awesome, would love to do this.

leeubok, May 24 2016 10:25

Where exactly is this, and is this on the little berg or on the escarpment proper? Looks awesome, would love to do this.

 

it's on the little berg. I have flown lots with Greg and Brett, they are the best (and probably only) high altitude chopper pilots in the country. They have a set route that they are allowed to enter the Park/world heritage site, and cycling isn't allowed in the park, yet. Would be awesome if that changes, the place is so under utilized. People just don't hike that much anymore

mtbride, May 24 2016 10:28

it's on the little berg. I have flown lots with Greg and Brett, they are the best (and probably only) high altitude chopper pilots in the country. They have a set route that they are allowed to enter the Park/world heritage site, and cycling isn't allowed in the park, yet. Would be awesome if that changes, the place is so under utilized. People just don't hike that much anymore

 

Thanks, yes I also think hiking has declined in the past couple of years, due to all the incidents in the huts and at night etc with the locals, though the serious hikers will head straight for the main berg in any case. I have often walked in the berg and thought the path I am on would be AWESOME for a mtb ride ...

leeubok, May 24 2016 10:39

Thanks, yes I also think hiking has declined in the past couple of years, due to all the incidents in the huts and at night etc with the locals, though the serious hikers will head straight for the main berg in any case. I have often walked in the berg and thought the path I am on would be AWESOME for a mtb ride ...

 

Path maintenance is probably the biggest obstacle. The park management just do not have the budget or staff to maintain the existing paths, nevermind new mtb paths. But yes, it would be awesome to ride some of those trails.. You could do a north to south trail like they do a hiking traverse. Or just bomb down (mostly down) from the top of the escarpment to one of the camps. 

Robbow, May 24 2016 12:51

Did this trip a few months back...it is well worth it.

 

The riding is proper technical and certainly not manicured, don't go on your racing hardtail..it will hurt.

 

Kirk who runs Rockslide is a great guy and really enthusiastic about taking people on these adventures.

 

As stated in the article, take your longer travel bikes, kneeguards and expect a day of wild mountainbiking.

 

Will definitely be going back for another trip.

JXV, May 24 2016 01:25

All should be aware that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manages the park and most of it is a world heritage site. Some areas are declared wilderness. All this means that international treaties are in place and govern, to some extent, the activities that may take place there. Loss of world heritage status, for example, would be detrimental to local tourism businesses.

At present very little MTB is permitted within park boundaries managed by Ezemvelo. As far as I know, only Mike's Pass and the old forestry jeeptracks are permitted. Some resorts and hotels have very tame short trails too.

There is room for some development of mtb but please lets not have the massive over-utilisation and erosion caused by skiing, hiking and mtb in some parts of the world (dare I mention Morzine and surrounds?). I would be much in support of a responsible attitude to development and for this to be done in consultation with the authorities. From contacts I have, belive me that we are a hair's breadth from an outright ban on mtb in the park because many have pushed the boundaries and not stuck to permitted trails in the past.

Please don't be the box that wrecks it for all of us. If you really must adventure in the mountains with your bike then Lesotho is far less regulated and has much more rideable terrain than the Little 'Berg region referred in this thread.

One of those pilots mentioned has already trashed at least 1 chopper in the mountains and I have witnessed his approach to flying at altitude 1st hand.

As a long time hiker, climber and mtb'er with extensive knowledge and experience of the Drakensberg I am happy to debate some of the issues mentioned here if they seem a bit controversial to you.

Yes we would all like to see mtb access improved but understand that this environment is very sensitive and critically important to the water supply of KZN. There are many forces at play and access will have to be negotiated carefully to avoid a hardening of attitude by authorities who have limited budget for developing and monitoring a new activity. It is easier for them to just say no.

Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk

leeubok, May 24 2016 02:15

All should be aware that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife manages the park and most of it is a world heritage site. Some areas are declared wilderness. All this means that international treaties are in place and govern, to some extent, the activities that may take place there. Loss of world heritage status, for example, would be detrimental to local tourism businesses.

At present very little MTB is permitted within park boundaries managed by Ezemvelo. As far as I know, only Mike's Pass and the old forestry jeeptracks are permitted. Some resorts and hotels have very tame short trails too.

There is room for some development of mtb but please lets not have the massive over-utilisation and erosion caused by skiing, hiking and mtb in some parts of the world (dare I mention Morzine and surrounds?). I would be much in support of a responsible attitude to development and for this to be done in consultation with the authorities. From contacts I have, belive me that we are a hair's breadth from an outright ban on mtb in the park because many have pushed the boundaries and not stuck to permitted trails in the past.

Please don't be the box that wrecks it for all of us. If you really must adventure in the mountains with your bike then Lesotho is far less regulated and has much more rideable terrain than the Little 'Berg region referred in this thread.

One of those pilots mentioned has already trashed at least 1 chopper in the mountains and I have witnessed his approach to flying at altitude 1st hand.

As a long time hiker, climber and mtb'er with extensive knowledge and experience of the Drakensberg I am happy to debate some of the issues mentioned here if they seem a bit controversial to you.

Yes we would all like to see mtb access improved but understand that this environment is very sensitive and critically important to the water supply of KZN. There are many forces at play and access will have to be negotiated carefully to avoid a hardening of attitude by authorities who have limited budget for developing and monitoring a new activity. It is easier for them to just say no.

Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk

 

LOL, easy there. We were just dreaming of how lekker it would be to mtb down the escarpment. We didn't say we were going to go against park rules and do it! I am well aware of the sensitivity of the area, and that it probably won't ever be opened to mtb'ers. I am however of the opinion that mtb trails can be opened in some sections of the park without causing any ecological damage. It just needs funding and manpower to maintain the trails. There isn't much tourism happening (hikers are a dying breed) at the moment and the camps are running at a loss. Opening a few mtb trails could attract more people to the park. Unfortunately conservation in Africa  = if it pays it stays. And yes, I am aware of the importance of the berg in terms of ecosystem services, but some of our fellow south africans are not very clued up on that concept.

 

I have cycled up Mike's pass a few times myself, it's a lekker ride!

 

Yes Greg made a mistake when he rolled the chopper on top the escarpment. He's lucky they all survived. But between him and Brett they are 2 of probably very few chopper pilots who regularly fly at that altitude, and I've always felt safe flying with them. 

wanderwoman, May 24 2016 02:19

yohh! That's cool. 

JXV, May 24 2016 03:14

LOL, easy there. We were just dreaming of how lekker it would be to mtb down the escarpment. We didn't say we were going to go against park rules and do it! I am well aware of the sensitivity of the area, and that it probably won't ever be opened to mtb'ers. I am however of the opinion that mtb trails can be opened in some sections of the park without causing any ecological damage. It just needs funding and manpower to maintain the trails. There isn't much tourism happening (hikers are a dying breed) at the moment and the camps are running at a loss. Opening a few mtb trails could attract more people to the park. Unfortunately conservation in Africa = if it pays it stays. And yes, I am aware of the importance of the berg in terms of ecosystem services, but some of our fellow south africans are not very clued up on that concept.

I have cycled up Mike's pass a few times myself, it's a lekker ride!

Yes Greg made a mistake when he rolled the chopper on top the escarpment. He's lucky they all survived. But between him and Brett they are 2 of probably very few chopper pilots who regularly fly at that altitude, and I've always felt safe flying with them.

With you on all points there. My post was not directed personally at you.

Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk

KM Hollis, May 24 2016 07:55

it's on the little berg. I have flown lots with Greg and Brett, they are the best (and probably only) high altitude chopper pilots in the country. They have a set route that they are allowed to enter the Park/world heritage site, and cycling isn't allowed in the park, yet. Would be awesome if that changes, the place is so under utilized. People just don't hike that much anymore

Hey Guy's

 

We land on the little berg outside the park and ride along existing cattle paths which are also outside the park.

No riding is permitted in the park , hopefully parts will be someday.

The trails are all raw and natural which makes great mountain biking and we don't have large groups of riders constantly riding down.

 

Greg and Brett both grew up in this area and are excellent pilots .

 

 Hope to see you guy's up this side for some riding soon .

 

Cheers Kirk

Hairy, May 25 2016 09:40

ROCKSTARS!

 

Thanks for the great pics ...... makes me want to go out and ride.....even makes me "feel like I am there"!

Devlin Fogg, May 25 2016 12:57

Cool show we did with Kirk. Nice work Ewald

Brawler, May 26 2016 01:34

Very nice. I'd imagine prices vary but any indication?

TAAHIRWP, May 27 2016 08:47

Awesomeness..... and the Commi.... schweeet.