Shoot! Lesotho Sky’s the Limit!

Words & Photos: Jacques Marais


Join you on a recce of the Lesotho Sky MTB Challenge route? Let me check my diary … uhm, okay, that is a "Hell yeah"!



Adventuring in Lesotho makes for a lifetime of memories. Somehow though, I had to take this amazing time I spent with Christian Schmidt and Darol Howes, the Lesotho Sky MTB Challenge crew, and condense it into an article that allows you a quick peek into their incredible backyard.


I thought the best way of doing this was to focus on a single instant from every day we spent out on the trail, and capture this in both words and an image. Even though our overall focus was a recce ride of sections of the Lesotho Sky MTB Challenge, Africa’s ‘Mountain Kingdom’ offered up a host of adventures and landscapes.


Looking back on my journey through Lesotho, I realise one thing for certain; I need to go back. And this time I won’t only take my cameras and bike, but the whole family as well, as this country and its people must rate as one of the friendliest destinations I have been to in my life. “Khotso, ntate” … may peace be with you!


DAY 1:

My first day with Christian and Darol was relatively laid-back, with us exploring the ripping time trail route looping through and about Maseru. The riding is kick-ass to say the least, with two to three hours of cattle-track tripping, donga dashing, and pavement cruising eventually taking us to Scoopie's Shebeen. A welcoming fire warmed the sub-zero night and I was happily initiated into the pleasures of Africa's leading brew, Maluti Lager.


DAY 2:

Our ride from Malealea Lodge banged us all the way back up to the top of 'Gates of Paradise' Pass, from where we would scout a new route circumscribing the mountain. We headed in an anti-clockwise direction - good move, although we got waylaid in the first village by some pretty strong umqomboti (home-brewed, sour mash beer) rather early on the mission. The old car batteries lying around the huts were not here for acid harvesting, we hoped, but rather to power the satellite dish atop one of the stone rondawels. A few sunset hoicks on the SLIDER 275 took us well into the dark zone, but fortunately we made it back onto the main track to Malealea Lodge before the light shut down completely.



DAY 3:

Welcome to Lesotho's Wild West, china. If you trip into the Mountain Kingdom's interior, beyond Ha Ramashabe to where the Ramabanta Trading Post languishes within the rough-hewn mountains, you had better be ready for 100% proof African landscapes, thin air, and gritty trails. If you have a donkey, saddle up. And if you can dress in a slit-eyed balaclava and Basotho blanket even better because it gets damn cold. Or best you get on your bike and ride, making sure you don't see your ass (and I don't mean 'donkey') as you bomb down passes, blast across rivers, and grind your granny up tortuous passes. Sounds hard core? Not so much. Sounds like fun? You bet your ass (or donkey, if you want).


DAY 4:

Semonkong rates - in my humble opinion - as Africa’s ‘Tongariro Northern Circuit’. The high ridges can just as easily be landscapes shot for ‘Lord of The Rings’ in New Zealand, but you’ll find them right here in the Mountain Kingdom. Bald ibis and bearded vulture contrail high above, the mountain biking is so edgy your butt will clench shut for large sections along the cliffs, and the trail running is of mythical proportions. Head towards the ‘Place of Smoke’, where the Maletsunyane Falls plunge a gut-thumping 204 m into a pool … I am sure the mythical seven-headed Nkanyamba serpent lurks down there. But whichever way, you will feel the adrenaline uncoiling within the pit of your stomach as you rappel this Guinness Book of World Records abseil.


DAY 5:

Our final day of exploration focused on a short section of rocking sandstone riding near Roma, probably an hour from Maseru. The landscape here is arguably as 'Moabish' as you'll get in southern Africa, with ancient footpaths carved into the soft rock over the aeons through countless feet. Water chutes add exhilarating drop-offs to the mix, and for about an hour time stood still as the bikes came out to play.


For more information, visit these websites:

Lesotho Sky MTB Race:
Malealea Lodge:
Trading Post:
Place of Smoke:
Jacques Marais Media: