This month, Trygve Roberts from Mountain Passes South Africa continues his journey on the famous Gamkaskloof pass, approximately 100 km from Oudtshoorn.
Following the gorgeous rock pool shortly after the Paarde Vley section, the road rises from the 11th km mark over a small neck and then begins descending once again down a narrower section of the gorge (just over 1 km wide). Immediately to your left (south), you will get a good view of the towering Kariegasberg with a summit of 2 053 m.
If you look a little further ahead, you can see Kangoberg. This peak is slightly lower in height at 1 853 m and holds sentinel over this section of the road. Most of the following nine kilometres are in descending mode, and 440 m of latitude will be lost as you progress into the west. This section of the road traverses the two original farms of Kliphuis Vley 197 and Groot Vley 198. The road remains on the southern side of the valley floor and makes for relatively easy driving, but note the large number of big rocks that have rolled down from the mountainside. Some of these are as big as motor vehicles.
The valley widens substantially at the 12 km mark and soon enters a 90-degree right-hand initiated S-bend at the 13 km mark. At the 14.7 km point, a short tight S-bend takes the road through a small side ravine, then very quickly enters a second side ravine via a sharp right-hand bend. As the road exits this ravine, at the apex of the left-hand exit curve, there is a very large rock right next to the road. This is signposted as Oom Koos se Klip.
During the construction of the road, this chunk of rock proved too formidable an obstacle for the big bulldozer, controlled by the larger-than-life character of Koos van Zyl, the foreman in charge of the road construction at the time. Not one to give up on a challenge, the rock proved to be the bulldozer’s nemesis and refused to budge. The road had to be slightly modified from the engineer’s lines by skirting the rock on its southern side.
The road dips through another side stream at the 15.4 km mark, then continues westward, remaining fairly straight for another 1 km. At the 16.5 km point, the road swings through a wide left-hand curve into a big side ravine, which signals the start of the second small pass, which we have labelled as the Kangoberg Pass. The gorge narrows again at this point as the road swings away into the south. One gets a perfect view of the Kangoberg from this vantage point, as the road bends consistently to the left until heading southeast.
With some built up retaining walls that prop the road up as it heads towards the stream forming the ravine from the south, this little pass is beautiful. The final bend is a very sharp right-hand hairpin of 160 degrees, and you cross a small concrete single-width bridge. If you need to fill water bottles or take a breather, this is a great spot with some parking on the far side of the bridge. This stream has potable water in it at most times of the year.
The road bends back into the west as the side ravine is exited via a gentle S curve and continues descending to a second stream crossing at the 19.6 km point. Due to the high levels of concentration required on this road, it is common for drivers to become fatigued. In the case of motorcyclists, even more so. We would recommend taking several short breaks along this road, stopping at least every 30 minutes. There are thousands of photo opportunities, and if you only intend to visit here once in your lifetime, relax and soak in the sublime grandeur of the Swartberg.
The following 5 km section, starting at the 20 km mark, features the third small pass named Waterkloofrivier Pass. All of this section falls within the boundaries of the original farm called Doorn Kloof 199. The section is quite undulating and includes three reasonably steep climbs, but none are longer than a few hundred metres. The final climb out of the Waterkloofrivier Pass is very steep and reaches 1:5. Things get very slippery on this climb in wet weather, so be aware that if you’re not in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, that you might experience traction issues here. From the neck, the road changes direction into the WSW and commences a steep descent of 700 m. There’s another left-hand bend at the 23 km point, which leads into a river crossing, where there is often water during the rainy season. This crossing is unlikely to present any problems (even to non-four-wheel-drive vehicles) as it has a firm, stony bed and is only about 6 m wide.
Slow and steady
This marks the start of the fourth and probably trickiest mini-pass on this road. Beware of this corner as it gets ever sharper, rotating through almost 160 degrees, as the ravine is cleared and heads north for a short distance. At the 23.4 km mark, there is an extremely sharp hairpin bend, which also climbs very steeply. It’s best to change to first gear before you get to the hairpin and remain in first gear until you reach the summit of this tricky little pass.
Once through the left-hand hairpin, the direction reverses itself by 180 degrees and the road you have just been on can be seen directly below on your left. Up ahead, there are great views of the descent into the ravine, but it’s both awkward and dangerous to stop here for a photograph. The road climbs steadily for 200 m, where the next hairpin is encountered. Be very careful of this corner (and more so on your return journey when you will be descending) as the turning rate is exceptionally tight. This is the reason why you should remain in first gear from the previous hairpin – keep a bit of momentum going, and the engine revs above 2 000 rpm as you enter this corner.
Should you be in a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and the front wheels start spinning, stop immediately. Under no circumstances should you accelerate harder, as it will only make the spinning worse. Instead, reverse back down carefully to a more level area and start again, using a different line and engine power/speed combination. If you still experience traction issues, deflate your tyres some more. You can safely go down as low as one bar, which will improve traction as the tyre footprint increases with deflation and, more often than not, gets one out of trouble. A short climb out into the northwest follows, where you will reach yet another neck, offering those classic Gamkaskloof vistas of a solitary gravel road carved out of the mountainside, stretching away in countless switchbacks as far as the eye can see. A fairly steep descent follows, which lasts for 1 km.
*Next month, we will start at the next small pass, Doornkloof, which contains the deepest and longest water crossing and has proven to be the undoing of many non-four-wheel drive vehicles over the years.
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)