Pictured above is the Sani pass into Lesotho, but the climbs listed below are all confined around my home town in the winelands around Stellenbosch and Paarl, Western Cape, South Africa.
While considering which mountain passes, steep roads, or sections thereof, to consider for the upcoming #7summiting attempt for team #NIKAMunga2022, I created the following shortlist. And came to a few conclusions…
From the flattest to the steepest (m/km)
Below is a short description plus a Strava or RWGPS link on each. And they are sorted from the friendliest to the gnarliest gradient, including both MTB or gravel and road bike or tarmac climbs. In ascending gradients, with the number of vertical meters gained for every horizontal 1km travelled shown in brackets (ie m/km). Oh, and the stats are for the segments that I have chosen as in the links, and may differ from the ones on a place like Mountain Passes South Africa, because I shortened the ‘unnecessary flatter’ bits to extrude the most climbing on each one. Fit for Everesting, or 7summiting.
Which of these have you ascended on a bicycle?
Bainskloof pass (46.11)
The short side, from Wellington to the top. This one has been resurfaced and if you haven’t tried the new tarmac yet, it is ready and waiting for you. Gaining 415m of elevation in 9km it gives a moderate 46.11 meters climbed for every 1km forward. The views are spectacular and who will ever forget the Tour de Boland water point at the summit or the baboons fleeing from a leopard during a night ride.
Du Toitskloof pass (49.12)
From Paarl towards Worcester. The longest pass on this list and somewhat busy with all the traffic that decide not to go through the tunnel and rather opt to go over the mountain. And who can blame them? — I certainly always pick the pass over the tunnel (unless the kids have their say). It carries on for 12.5km from the pedestrian bridge over the N1 to the summit at the turn. Oh, and on you way down you have a teeny tiny tunnel of your own, albeit not nearly as spectacular as the 3900m Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 through the mountain below. Gain 614m in 12.5km.
Ou Helshoogte (50)
This is a gem of a climb, all on tar, and deserve to be on your shortlist. It is very quiet, especially compared to the rather busy double-lane-each-way new main road that runs alongside it. But this one is secluded and under the trees and almost forgotten. A with any road, be vigilant and maybe rather ride in a group. This is South Africa, after all. At least cars shouldn’t be your worry on this old Helshoogte pass, as it doesn’t connect to the main road so it is mainly used by outdoor enthusiasts. Gain 170m in 3.4km.
Bainskloof long side (52)
From the 2de Tol campsite/bridge to the turn near the top. I excluded the start from the Calabash bush pub to the 2de Tol as it is a long and very gradual ascent; and also removed the false climb on the last section to the banner at the top because by then you are already sprinting away in big blade again. I will never forget one of my 1st ascents up here, hearing the ‘Sending-Vietname’-like noise of a military helicopter and looking down on it in the valley below and to my left. Also, try it under the full moon, it’s bliss. Gain 312m in 6km.
Franschhoekpass dam (54.17)
Theewaterskloof dam side to the summit, starting at the bridge at the bottom. This is the 2nd longest climb on this list and for good reason, as there is so much beauty to cover. However, this is a busier road and there are many twists and turns so make sure you can be seen on the bike and be alert for section where 2 vehicle might have to pass each other. That being said, this is our gateway to/and from many Audax rides, and on to Boontjieskraal towards Struisbaai. Also featured in the infamous 2022 ABSA Cape Epic. Gain 390m in 7.2km.
Du Toitskloof CW side (57.57)
From the weigh bridge on the R101, through the original short Du Toitskloof tunnel and up to the long drag from Worcester’s side all the way to the top where you can see Paarl below. There are fewer turn from this side, but the climb is more than 5km shorter them from the other side. However the view at the top is just as beautiful, and leads onto a magical descent towards Paarl. Gain 403m in 7km.
Our first gravel climb on this list and it is all the way passed Malmesbury — all that lies in between this climb and Riebeek Valley and Riebeek West is the mountain and the Kasteelberg Nature reserve. At just 2km it is also the shortest (so far, but wait, there’s more) and I can attest to it being a stunner of a climb at night. In fact, I have only done it at night, twice. But I’ll certainly be back. What better excuse do you have to visit the PSDT rugby legends at Kloovenburg? Gain 118m in 2km.
Bothamaskloof is the tarmac neighbour to our Riebeeksrivier climb above. It is a busier road as it connects the larger town of Malmesbury from the WEST through this corridor to the Riebeeks and Hermon down the R46 on the EAST. But it is an extremely wide road with a massive yellow lane and there is ample opportunity to pass on the double lanes so even with trucks around I have never felt uneasy about cycling here. Do yourself a favour and experience the valley that unfolds below as you look back during sunrise.
Franschhoek pass (66.06)
The gold standard. Whenever we pass through here on our way to the coast I immediately get that relaxed holiday (or at least weekend) feeling. Starting just about the Hugenote museum in town the climb continues all the way up for just over 6½kms to a stunning lookout point of the valley below. And from here you will see even more cycling routes. Better yet, on your way up you also pass on of nature’s tap and can fill up your bottles with clean bergwater. H2O to go. Gain 436m in 6.6km.
Gordons Rock (74.67)
Now we start gaining some serious elevation and have to think of ditching the road bikes for the time being, as the vast majority of the remainder of the list is either gravel or at least prefers MTB gearing. This Gordons Rock climb is in Paarl, above the Taalmonument, up Jan Phillips drive, towards Krismiskamp. It is in a gated reserve so you will have to stick to the hours allowed, but it is worth your while. The chosen section gets technical towards the top and I have selected only the very last section of the climb. So in order to get there you would already have gained some great elevation. Go go go. Gain 112m in 1.5km.
Versfeld pass (81.15)
Piketberg! I never realized this gem was right here under my nose. We sampled it during a recent camping trip in the vicinity, and oh boy was I glad we came. It’s a glorious ribbon of tarmac with hairpin turn layered on top of each other and ascends a large amount of vertical meters very quickly. John confessed to using just a little bit of e-bike power-up on the way up (but he is duly excused because he bought himself a regular bike just afterwards) and Dewald sailed up there with the knowledge that he won’t experience any worse on his first Karoo2coast the following weekend. Gain 422m in 5.2km, starting at the farm houses below.
Jan Phillips South (85)
From Paarl main road, up towards the Taalmonument but on gravel, winding right to the dam at the top. At 800m, this is the only climbing segment on this list that is shorter than 1km. And that is because I only took it from the rocks at the hairpin to the top, thereby eliminating the ‘flatter’ start from the main road. It’s great, you should try it. Gain 68m over 0.8km
Jan Phillips Short (85.71)
Paarl-North and also on gravel. This road kicks up very quickly from the last set of buildings on the left and I have ended the section where the reserve starts (a clear burn strip on Google maps). Short and steep and a great value for money climb, while the gravel surface is in good condition (at least it still was last weekend). Next time you want to go and play on top of the Paarl Rock, take this side up. Gain 120m in 1.4km. Coincidentally this gives you almost exactly the same as from the abovementioned Southern side. Go figure. A lovely view from the town with the longest main road in the country if you carry on further up.
Du Toitskloof, gravel (86.67)
This one gives the same m/km gain as the two counterparts above, but it is on the other side of Paarl and almost 5x as long. Starting at Brookdale Estate off Sonstraal road, it winds up above olive farms and beyond to join the R101 right at the top above the Du Toitskloof Pass View Point. You;dd be glad to reach the top, and most certainly on a MTB. It looks like a 9% average gradient. Gain 572m in 6.6km.
Ride with GPS says this is a 9.5% average gradient, starting from the Courtrai school at the bottom to the 1st parking area which is conveniently located on the 1st hairpin bend. We’ve done a High Rouleur (10,000m climb) on here and while the lack of turns is not my preference (I’d rather not see the top in the distance!), the gravel bike gearing was the right selection for this climb. Gain 146m in 1.6km. Fancy doing it 70x consecutively? Maybe, maybe not, but at least once — it’s a quick up from the main road to the Taalmonument gate.
Wild(est) Peacock (129!)
This climb is slightly mad. And the descent even more so. Think climbing at a pace where you barely fall over, to turn around and descent at speeds that makes your eyes tear up. It is on a private road, so you need to ask permission from the owners. It starts from the security gate at the Quoin Rock Wine Lounge entrance and ascends rather quickly, for just 1000m, the the top.
I spent almost 2 days here going up and down (and waiting out the cold and rain at night, while playing games to keep awake down at the guards house) going up and down here many many many times. But it was worth it, for the shortest/steepest Everesting in SA. Gain 129m in 1km. RWGPS says the average gradient is plenty (>14%).
Here we have them all, this time from the WILDEST to the MILDEST:
Come and cycle with us. Or spread the word. It’s for a good cause 🙂