Approximately 100 km from Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape lies the incredibly beautiful and equally challenging Gamkaskloof Mountain Pass. Trygve Roberts from Mountain Passes South Africa continues his journey, this time travelling from one of the arduous mini passes, Doornkloof, to the beautiful Elands Pass.
The Doornkloof mini pass contains the deepest and longest water crossing, which has been the undoing of many non-4WD vehicles attempting this pass over the years. This section of the road traverses the farms Doornkloof and Waterkloof, and includes Botesnek, another small pass.
From the 25 km point, the road swings through a big left-hand bend into the south as it drops down into a side ravine. After 100 metres at the 25.1 km mark, the road enters an extremely sharp right-hand hairpin. The views to the left over the valley are stunning and you will be able to trace the road disappearing up and over the next hill from this vantage point.
Make a note of the position of this river crossing, which occurs at 25.6 km. This is easily the most difficult river crossing on the entire route and we advise drivers to check the depth before proceeding – especially if you are not in a 4WD vehicle. This stream drains a large section of the southern Swartberg and can carry plenty of water after rain.
This crossing is troublesome for two reasons. Firstly, the bottom consists of thousands of loose, fist-sized stones which will definitely reduce traction, and secondly, the depth can vary from 100 to 600 mm. Many vehicles have got stuck here over the years, so before you plunge into the stream at speed, first do the walk test.
Take a stick and walk along both proposed tracks checking for obstacles and holes. This will give you a clear understanding of whether your vehicle will make it through this crossing or not. You should also look up your vehicle’s wading depth in the owner’s manual, and if the water level is deeper than the wading depth you stand a very good chance of getting stuck with a flooded engine or waterlogged electronics. Rather wait until a 4×4 shows up and ask them to tow you across.
Once through the stream, the road climbs out of the ravine into the north-east towards the next small neck. At the 26.5 km point, you will get a wonderful view to your right of the spectacular Waterkloof canyon. If you get to this point early enough in the morning, you will have the sun backlighting the gorge, producing a marvellous photographic composition. This massive gorge has been carved out by the Huis River and forms a confluence with the Gamka River a few kilometres further north. The canyon has no access either by road or footpath. It is at this point that klipspringer are often spotted, sometimes remaining completely stationary in the middle of the road as if posing for photographs. These petite animals are well adapted to life on these steep mountain slopes and appear to have no fear of motor vehicles or humans.
The road now begins undulating via a series of easy bends towards the next side ravine at the 27 km point. This marks the start of the fourth pass, the Upper Huis River Pass, which should not be confused with the tarred Huis River Pass on the R62. Whilst it’s not as technically difficult as the previous one, it has some steep, unguarded drop-offs and a single, sharp right-hand bend of 170 degrees. The scenery is exceptionally beautiful along this section. Once through this side ravine, the road begins climbing again towards the next neck, which is reached at the 28.5 km point. There is ample parking space at this neck, and you will have photo opportunities both to the west and to the east from this point. This section of the Gamkaskloof, despite being only 3.5 km in length, is exceptionally scenic and a delight to the adventure traveller Take itslowly through here and savour every moment.
There now remains a long and winding climb of 5 km up to the summit of the Elands Pass. The big climb up to the start of the Elands Pass is 4 km long and 333 vertical metres, making this section easily the biggest ascent along the entire road when driven east to west. This is also the final section ahead of the highlight of the trip, which is the descent down the Elands Pass into the lush valley known as Die Hel.
Immediately after the stream crossing the road swings sharp right through 160 degrees briefly heading north-east as the road climbs for a solid 4 km without a break. It soon kinks to the left, assuming a more northerly heading for 800m, then reaches a very sharp lefthand bend of 150 degrees.
At the apex of this bend is a small level area, big enough for a few vehicles. This is a wonderful spot to take photographs, and you might be overwhelmed by the size and scope of the scenery on offer. To the east are perfect views of the road zig-zagging its way down into the ravine that you have just driven, and to the west the road can be seen winding its way over neck after neck to the summit which can’t be seen from this viewpoint. Another reason to take a good break here is that within 3 km you will be arriving at the summit of the Elands Pass and you will need to be focused for the big descent down to Die Hel.
The road heads briefly south-west, then begins a long climb to the next neck, via a wide and gentle right-hand curve. This climb lasts for one km, where a double hairpin bend is reached at the 29.6 km mark. If you still have an appetite for photography, this neck also makes an excellent vantage point, or you can just take another leg-stretch and marvel at the sheer grandeur of the Swartberg, which towers up on both sides of the road, displaying many shades of natural colour from soft greys near the top, past much darker, almost black sections in the middle, then dropping down into the bush-covered slopes closer to the road. The largest canyon to the north-east is the Waterkloof, which dominates the northern view for many kilometres.
At the 29.8 km point, the road swings to the left through a small side ravine, maintaining its climb rate, and then resumes a westerly heading. Once through this side ravine, most of the bends are fairly easy, but the poor condition of the road surface forces a slow speed. The gradient along most of this ascent ranges between 1:5 and 1:7, and most of the driving will by necessity be done in second gear (depending on the vehicle you drive).
Small antelope like grey rhebuck and klipspringer are frequently seen along this section, so keep a sharp eye out for them, as they seem to favour sleeping or resting in the middle of the road. The final 500 m sees the road arrow-straight into the west as the summit gradually makes an appearance. The views here are not as dramatic as one would expect after such a long and steep climb, but the real drama and stunning scenery lies just 2 km further down the long straight descent ahead of your view.
GPS START S33.339753 E22.038251
GPS SUMMIT S33.344532 E21.990721
GPS END S33.352865 E21.743457
AVE GRADIENT 1:42
MAX GRADIENT 1:5
ELEVATION START 1 374 m
ELEVATION SUMMIT 1 442 m
ELEVATION END 570 m
HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS 872 m
DISTANCE 37 km
DIRECTION – TRAVEL West
TIME REQUIRED 120 minutes
SPEED LIMIT 40 km/h
SURFACE Gravel (P1722)