Hell bent for leisure.

After organising and riding Karoobaix a grueling gravel race through the Karoo, Stan Engelbrecht decided he wanted to take some time off and go bike camping with a few friends. What better place to take them than to hell? 

Stan planned five day bicycle adventure from Matjiesfontein to Oudtshoorn via Die Hel. Die Hel is one of the most hidden away valleys in South Africa and not many people go there. For many years the only access to Die Hel was a steep donkey trail called "Die Leer" (The Ladder), folk who lived in this fertile valley lived largely in isolation until 1962 when a long and zig-zaggy 4x4 road was built into the valley. Today there are still only two ways in or out of Die Hell and neither of them is an easy way - all the better for a memorable bicycle adventure.

Here are some pics from what turned out to be a great little adventure to see what lay in Die Hel. 

Stan's seven cyclists set to go from The Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein (picture by John Watson The Radavist)

Stan's seven cyclists set to go from The Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein (picture by John Watson The Radavist)

We set off to Laingsburg to have lunch and pick up supplies. After a short bit of tar we hit dirt roads and a tailwind, it made for a great start. 

We set off to Laingsburg to have lunch and pick up supplies. After a short bit of tar we hit dirt roads and a tailwind, it made for a great start. 

Shopping in Laingsburg.

Shopping in Laingsburg.

Leaving Laingsburg with supplies packed we headed out to find a place to settle for the night. 

Leaving Laingsburg with supplies packed we headed out to find a place to settle for the night. 

We snuck off the road and found a dried river bed to set up camp for the night. 

We snuck off the road and found a dried river bed to set up camp for the night. 

Master chef Cameron getting supper on the go.

Master chef Cameron getting supper on the go.

Enjoying some good stories & bad jokes :)

Enjoying some good stories & bad jokes :)

Captain Stan almost ready to ride another day. 

Captain Stan almost ready to ride another day. 

Clayton doing his morning yoga routine.

Clayton doing his morning yoga routine.

Heading into the Swartberg mountain range. 

Heading into the Swartberg mountain range. 

Back onto gravel roads :)

Back onto gravel roads :)

We would often stop on the top of a climb to wait for everyone to catch up and to see what lay ahead.

We would often stop on the top of a climb to wait for everyone to catch up and to see what lay ahead.

After stopping at a farm school for some water, the teacher told us about a Restaurant a few kilometers down the road called Porcupine rest camp.  What a wonderful oasis it turned out to be! I would reccomend spending the night there if you're ever touring in the area. 

After stopping at a farm school for some water, the teacher told us about a Restaurant a few kilometers down the road called Porcupine rest camp.  What a wonderful oasis it turned out to be! I would reccomend spending the night there if you're ever touring in the area. 

After a big lunch and a few beers the afternoon ride to the towards the ladder felt steep and fairly slow. 

After a big lunch and a few beers the afternoon ride to the towards the ladder felt steep and fairly slow. 

The turn-off to Hell (this is in a private nature reserve that you need permission to enter).

The turn-off to Hell (this is in a private nature reserve that you need permission to enter).

Tired legs and steep, rough roads meant we had to push our bikes to the top of the hill.

Tired legs and steep, rough roads meant we had to push our bikes to the top of the hill.

What a magnificent place to set up for the night.

What a magnificent place to set up for the night.

Hanging out and getting supper on the go.

Hanging out and getting supper on the go.

My pumpkin orange Wolverine loving the orange sunset.

My pumpkin orange Wolverine loving the orange sunset.

Bregan getting ready to roll.

Bregan getting ready to roll.

Me posing with my bike before the descent towards The Ladder. 

Me posing with my bike before the descent towards The Ladder. 

It turned out to be a fairly long, fun ride to get to the start of The Ladder.

It turned out to be a fairly long, fun ride to get to the start of The Ladder.

First sight of Die Hell in the distance, The Ladder must be just over that next rise?

First sight of Die Hell in the distance, The Ladder must be just over that next rise?

Clayton at the start of The Ladder.

Clayton at the start of The Ladder.

Unfortunately these pictures just don't seem to capture how steep and difficult it was to get our loaded bikes down The Ladder. 

Unfortunately these pictures just don't seem to capture how steep and difficult it was to get our loaded bikes down The Ladder. 

Two and a half hours later, almost there but the path just seemed to get worse and worse...

Two and a half hours later, almost there but the path just seemed to get worse and worse...

and worse.

and worse.

What a wonderful reward at the foot of the ladder - a skinny-dip in a cool mountain stream. 

What a wonderful reward at the foot of the ladder - a skinny-dip in a cool mountain stream. 

The valley of De Hell is really beautiful and has many rocky river crossings as you pass through it.

The valley of De Hell is really beautiful and has many rocky river crossings as you pass through it.

Roughly 15km into the valley is Oma Sannie se Winkel the only shop/restaurant in the Die Hel.

Roughly 15km into the valley is Oma Sannie se Winkel the only shop/restaurant in the Die Hel.

After a lekker lunch and a few beers, it was time for an afternoon nap.

After a lekker lunch and a few beers, it was time for an afternoon nap.

We were told that 17km up the road was a good spot to wild camp, but it was getting late and looking at the climb that lay ahead we all agreed to turn around and sleep in the valley for the night.

We were told that 17km up the road was a good spot to wild camp, but it was getting late and looking at the climb that lay ahead we all agreed to turn around and sleep in the valley for the night.

We ended up at a Cape Nature campsite in the valley. Bregan promptly started cooking up a special dish for us with some fancy sausage he had brought along. 

We ended up at a Cape Nature campsite in the valley. Bregan promptly started cooking up a special dish for us with some fancy sausage he had brought along. 

Sven and Craig doing some late night bicycle maintinence.

Sven and Craig doing some late night bicycle maintinence.

We decided to get an early start as we knew it was going to be an epic day on the bike.

We decided to get an early start as we knew it was going to be an epic day on the bike.

Quick mandatory shot of local De Hell Witblitz to get us going.

Quick mandatory shot of local De Hell Witblitz to get us going.

Climbing in the early morning shade.

Climbing in the early morning shade.

Looking back down at the valley of Die Hel after the first climb.

Looking back down at the valley of Die Hel after the first climb.

Bregan and Stan leading the way.

Bregan and Stan leading the way.

Craig and Bregan on the top of what seemed to be an endless string of hills we had to climb to get out of Hell.

Craig and Bregan on the top of what seemed to be an endless string of hills we had to climb to get out of Hell.

There's a place in South africa called "Valley of a Thousand Hills" could this be it?

There's a place in South africa called "Valley of a Thousand Hills" could this be it?

Sven taking a breather between climbs. 

Sven taking a breather between climbs. 

Posing for a group photo at "Oom Koos se Klip".

Posing for a group photo at "Oom Koos se Klip".

A welcome stream to fill our bottles and have a swim.

A welcome stream to fill our bottles and have a swim.

Resting, applying sunblock and stretching under a beautiful cork tree near the top of the road.

Resting, applying sunblock and stretching under a beautiful cork tree near the top of the road.

Taking some snaps of the sign telling us that we'd just been on a Dangerous Road.

Taking some snaps of the sign telling us that we'd just been on a Dangerous Road.

One last big climb for the day over the Swartberg Pass.

One last big climb for the day over the Swartberg Pass.

Finally we reached "Die Top", it's all downhill from here :)

Finally we reached "Die Top", it's all downhill from here :)

This was going to be long and fast!

This was going to be long and fast!

We camped in a campsite near the Cango caves.

We camped in a campsite near the Cango caves.

Coffee in bed. 

Coffee in bed. 

We then enjoyed a fast smooth descent into Oudtshoorn for breakfast.

We then enjoyed a fast smooth descent into Oudtshoorn for breakfast.

Buying ostrich eggs in Oudtshoorn to take home.

Buying ostrich eggs in Oudtshoorn to take home.

After escaping the jaws of hell we posed for our last group photo at the entrance to a zoo in Oudtshoorn. Thanks Stan for organising what turned out to be wonderful journey to hell and back. 

After escaping the jaws of hell we posed for our last group photo at the entrance to a zoo in Oudtshoorn. Thanks Stan for organising what turned out to be wonderful journey to hell and back.