The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy - http://mg.co.za/multimedia/2010-02-04-extreme-endurance-the-freedom-challenge

Race Route Overview (Source: www.freedomchallenge.org.za)



Sisonke Section

Pietermaritzburg - Byrne - Hella Hella - Centacow - Ntsikeni - Swartberg – Little Umzimvubu

From Pietermaritzburg, the Freedom Trail is dominated by the climbs into and out of the valleys of the large rivers that run from the Maloti Drakensberg mountains down to the sea.  The trail heads out on a dirt road through the Bisley Nature Reserve.  This is followed by a short section of tar down to Baynesfield Estate and then dirt road and forestry tracks that run up to the Minerva Nature Reserve on the watershed between the Umgeni and Umkomaas Rivers.  A double track descent into the village of Byrne is followed by forestry roads through plantations and then the dirt road descent to the Hella Hella crossing over the Umkomaas River.

From the Hella Hella crossing of the Umkomaas the gravel road climbs tortuously out of the valley before heading across towards Mc Kenzie club and the watershed between the Umkomaas and Umzimkulu catchments.  The main route of the trail follows gravel roads and forestry tracks up to the village of Donnybrook and then through the indigenous forests and plantations of Nqumeni and Nkonzo before dropping down to the Centocow Mission on the banks of the Umzimkulu River.

Leaving Centocow a forestry track runs over the watershed and down to cross the Ngwangwane River at Riverside siding.  The main trail then runs along gravel roads up alongside the Gungununu River before climbing steeply up to enter the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve.  From there single tracks run out of the reserve and down behind the Swartberg before linking up with gravel roads that run down to the Little Umzimvubu River.


Maluti Section

Little Umzimvubu - Matatiele - Ongeluksnek – Tinana – Vuvu - Naude's Nek - Rhodes

Entering the communal lands of the Eastern Cape at the Little Umzimvubu River a gravel road climbs up to Taylerville before the trail follows cattle tracks through to the Masakala village outside the town of Matatiele. From Matatiele the trail passes through villages and bypasses mission stations as it follows cattle tracks and rutted dirt roads across the floodplains of the Knira River towards the Mariazell mission station at the foot of the Ongeluksnek Pass.

From Ongeluksnek the trail then continues in the shadow of the escarpment as it runs through to Tinana Mission, allowing for an optional but impressive detour to Black Fountain.  Cattle tracks carry the trail through to the Tina River where it then climbs up to the village of Vuvu. From Vuvu it's then a major climb up to the top of the Drakensberg escarpment in the Naudes Nek area from where the trail descends on the dirt road into the small town of Rhodes.


Stormberg Section

Rhodes - Bottlenek - Vaalhoek - Dordrecht - Pronskraal - Brosterlea - Hofmeyr

Heading out from Rhodes the trail runs through the red grasslands and yellow sandstone cliffs of the Southern Drakensberg as it follows a dirt road that winds upwards before turning off and heading down into the valley of the Bokspruit River. Emerging from the valley the trail then continues up alongside the Sterkspruit River to Johnson's Leap before descending down through the Bottlenekspruit.

This is followed by a gradual climb up the picturesque Rytjiesvlakte before a single track crossing of the Southern Drakensberg below the Kopshorn to the Vaalhoek valley. The farm roads then join up with the gravel road that descends down the Vaalhoek to Clifford. From there its a wicked rollercoaster of sharp climbs and steep descents through Swartnek and down to Rossouw before swinging off towards Moordenaarspoort and the small town of Dordrecht.

From Dordrecht the trail follows gravel roads of varying quality as it runs up the valley of the Holspruit and then along a good but quiet dirt road to Brosterlea before heading off through farms to Stormberg siding and then continuing on into Molteno. Beyond Molteno  a dramatic single track crossing over the Bamboesberge is followed by a steep dirt road to finally drop off the Drakensberg escarpment into the Great Karoo where a good straight dirt road runs into the town of  Hofmeyr.


Karoo Section

Hofmeyr - Elandsberg - Fish River - Swaershoek - Pearston - Karoopoort - Darlington Dam - Kleinpoort - Groot Rivier

From Hofmeyr the route follows disused public roads towards Cradock, and the Great Fish River from where double track routes and gravel roads run through to the Garslandskloof.  After climbing up the valley on jeep tracks to the Schurfteberg and exhilarating farm track descent down into the Swaershoek.  The trail then follows the gravel road that runs down alongside the Little Fish River before swinging westwards to then descend down the Buffelshoek to Pearston (although the more adventure may elect to take on the very rough Struishoek descent instead).

From Pearston the trail follows the gravel road down to Hoop van Afrika before swinging past Karoopoort and continuing down alongside the Voelrivier to the Darlington Dam section of the Addo Elephant National Park.

Leaving the dam a rough double track then takes one through the Gwaas valley to Perdepoort before picking up dirt roads that run through Kleinpoort and across the Springboklaktes that form part of the Steyterlville flats before reaching Bucklands which is located at the point where the Groot River meets the Baviaanskloof mountains. From Bucklands a choice of dirt road or farm track runs through Hottentotspoort to the foothills of the Baviaanskloof Mountains.


Baviaanskloof Section

Groot Rivier - Cambria - Studtis - Willowmore

Reaching the foothills of the Baviaanskloof Mountains the trail doubles back around the Perdeberg. The road then descends to the Grootrivierpoort and then climbs steeply out the other side before reaching the Osseberg jeep track. The Osseberg jeep track takes one back down into the Baviaanskloof itself, with its abundant game and lush valleys and on to Cambria. Those wanting to avoid the technical riding and ten river crossings on this section can stay on the road and take the longer route round to Patensie.

Turning west at the settlement of Cambria it is a series of climbs and descents interspersed with flat sections through the Baviaanskloof Wilderness before reaching Studtis.  From there the trail follows the gravel road up the valley bottom, before one finally climbing out of the Baviaanskloof at the Nuwekloof Pass and heading back across the Karoo to the town of  Willowmore.


Swartberg Section

Willowmore - Prince Albert - Vleiland - Anysberg

From Willowmore a good dirt road runs out in the direction of Klaarstroom before passing through the Strydomspoort to the northern side of the Droeberge. 

On the northern side of the mountains the trail follows the old public road that runs past Soetendalsvlei and past Rondawel, Zwartskraal and Klein Sleutelfontein to the town of Prince Albert, flat and, in places, sandy riding.

From Prince Albert the route runs up the Swartberg pass, through Gamkaskloof support station and then up The Ladder and a push through to the Bosluiskoof road where it continues westwards alongside the Swartberg to Vleiland settlement.

From Vleiland the trail continues on the back road through Rouxpos before picking up the Ladismith road and then heading into Anysberg Nature Reserve through the disused road that runs past Spreeufontein.


Breede River Section

Anysberg - Montagu - MacGregor - Hammanshof - Rawsonville - Paarl

Continuing westwards through the Anysberg Nature Reserve and then southwards to Hoek-van-die-Berg, a long gradual downhill dirt road  from the top of the Ouberg Pass carries one into the town of Montagu.

Continuing through the Coegmanskloof to Ashton, a combination of tar roads, farm tracks and dirt roads takes one through to Mc Gregor. Continuing through Mc Gregor the route then picks up the old ox wagon route that runs on the northern side of the Riviersonderend Mountains to the farm Kasra.

Dropping down and around the Brandvlei Dam it then runs into Rawsonville. From Rawsonville the trail for tourers heads up the Slanghoek Valley and then over the Bainskloof Pass to Wellington and Paarl. For participants in the annual Race Across South Africa a secondary trail it heads up to the  Stettynskloof Dam.  This is followed by the most testing part of the entire race.  From the Dam there is a ten kilometre (and 8-10 hour) portage up the Stettyns Valley to emerge on the Elandspad jeep track in the Du Toits kloof mountains.  The track then emerges at the foot of the Du Toits Kloof Pass.  Its then up the Pass and down single track to Paarl.


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