It’s that time of year again, with Jacques Marais still sandy from his #DesertKnights ride up in /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The good news is that he’s discovered even more single-track up in the desert. Photographs and words by Jacques Marais.
Here’s the short version: Desert Knights is a five-day MTB Stage Tour, with an extra (not-so-much) rest-day of white-water river kayaking thrown in for good measure. This makes for mind-expanding cranking along remote back roads, and supreme wilderness camping within one of the most ancient deserts on Planet Earth.
The Richtersveld unfolds like a bizarre landscape copied from the psychedelic dreams of Tim Burton, with spiky euphorbias and gnarled kokerbooms clawing at the sky. It makes for a botanical fantasy world seeping into the surreal, like an alien realm populated by giant scorpions, trapdoor spiders, unblinking horned adders and the full gamut of weird and wonderful creatures.
The good news is that the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is open for mountain biking exploration any time of the year. You can either do it solo or book through an adventure operator like Richtersveld Tours or otherwise sign up for one of the #DesertKnights events in either April or September.
Whichever way – just go get spaced out in this brilliant place!
Last time I wrote about the Richtersveld, the focus was very much on the Donkey Trail, a gritty section of singletrack set halfway between De Hoop Camp Site and Hakkiesdoring Hiking Camp. This crooked and meandering mountain bike track has been upgraded since then, and with an additional segment of 3km added to the left of the main reserve road as you descend from Maerpoort Pass.
The new section trips through some low scrub before dog-legging into the low outcrops, then pops back over the reserve road to link up with the Donkey Trail. This remains a top-class night ride, side-winding amidst rock outcrops and contorted quiver trees ghosting upon the fuzzy edge of your light beam. The odd gnarly drop and loads of clattering descents blast via the midst of a chaotic jumble of volcanic shale and dolerite, delivering a rocking ride for adventurous souls.
Gravel road gangstas will revel in the roughshod reserve roads crisscrossing Richtersveld, with more than 300km worth of mountain biking (plus heaps more on the Namibian side of this vast Transfrontier Park). From Hakkiesdoring, make your way west to where the devilish ascent up Helskloof awaits; this is a proper 6km climb along a gritty surface with a challenging gradient.
Just before the summit, there’s a hard core footpath descent for skilled riders, or Plan B would be to bomb the sketchy switchbacks onto the Sendelingsdrif plains below along the Helskloof road itself. Loose gravel and erosion ruts are the name of the game, so you had better look sharp.
Around 2km onto the plains, a dual-track to your right leads you onto undulating alluvial flat lands, and this is where you will get to enjoy congress with the 5 Sisters. A sublime and high-speed ride awaits those who can get their mind out of the gutter, with looping curves tripping amidst the rock-splintered kopjes shrugging up from a barren landscape, dotted here and there by the occasional giant aloe dichotoma.
The final run in to Sendelingsdrif is back on corrugated gravel roads, unfortunately, but you have the option of diverting onto the Halfmens Pass road, which is a beauty of a ride.
Remember one thing: the Richtersveld is a true mountain desert, and for much of the year you are bound to suffer from extreme temperatures. Early morning, late afternoon and night riding is the solution, with the rest of the day spent chilling in camp.
From Springbok (Google it if you’re confused), head via Steinkopf to Port Nolloth (Café Vespetti is your last proper coffee for 300km). It will take at least a couple more hours to navigate the 80km gravel to Sendelingsdrift; allow 2-3hrs more to get to De Hoop (access to the park is limited to 4×4 vehicles).
Sus the Richtersveld MTB Trail
Grading: Intermediate (sand and corrugations)
Duration: 4-8hrs (dependent on fitness)
Configuration: Point-to-Point: 56km
Start Point: Hakkiesdoring Camp
Terrain: Reserve roads, jeep-track and single-track
Post-Ride Beer: BYO. It’s the desert, after all.
Must Do Event: Desert Knights MTB Tour – www.desertknights-mtb.com
Tour Operator: Richtersveld Tours www.richtersveldtours.com
Access: Only paying park visitors allowed
Cell Reception: Only Tweets are those from the Kalahari scrub robins
Accommodation: Full list of accommodation options at www.sanparks.org
Local Contact: Brent Whittington (027) 831 1506
More Info: www.sanparks.org
GPS Co-Ordinates: Hakkiesdoring Camp 28.393988 S / 17.169516 E