Jacques Marais Photo Story

If you’ve been to HELL & BACK – that iconic and long-running 2-day MTB Stage Race presented by EcoBound Mountain Events – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about … it’s no wonder all the old hands refer to it as #TheOriginal.

This is all about gritty and old-skool cranking, with a unique and down-home honesty, stemming from it’s family-run roots and values. Yup, TO HELL & BACK is one of the few events that does not fall into the trap of only caterign for that 10% Elite Rider bracket.

Instead, it is all about the weekend warriors, the quiet guys on their dusty 26Rs, plenty okes with boeps, and no-nonsense Plattelanders who come here not to show off their R180k bike, but instead to praat kak, drink a few dops, and klap that dirt road into Gamkaskloof, hard.

Plus, there’s just enough of a sprinkling of hipsters, hooligans and hotties to make this mix dynamic, and never boring. ANd if you want characters – this has got to be the best event ever.

“This is our annual MTB year-end function”, jokes Jakkals Jacques Herselman and his good mate Sitbok Kevin Eltigre Taljaard. This year, they set up a private wine bar in Eugene Roux‘s Bike Mechanics Tent … well, if I’m honest, it was more a circle of plastic chairs, shared glasses and a constant supply of bottles which magically appeared whenever a glass seemed empty.

The other quote I heard from Zane Schmahl was that this is a ‘tour with medals”. And damn good T-shirts, I might add. In the end, it is all about a real-life MTB Adventure, without gimmicks or bells or whistles. “For real mountain bikers, you know” … That’s the typical comment you get from #HellAndBackers once they bang into the under-belly of Gamkaskloof.

They’re usually saying this with a big-ass #DarlingBrew beer clutched in their paws, and with dust and sweat smeared across their smiling faces. Sometimes they’re too moeg or dors to say anything much, and just stand there, slightly dazed, but you’ll get the same shpiel from them once they’ve dipped into the inflatable pool, or hauled their asses into the shaded bar area.

Bottom line, the EcoBound Mountain Events #ToHellAndBack will always be one of those old-skool classics. No wonder it boasts the distinction of being SA’s first ever MTB Stage Race, notching up its 23rd running last week. What riders can expect is two days of bike adventuring into the remote Gamkaskloof (and of course an op-skop of note)!.

But then, what else would you expect from an event that has become widely known as the ‘Unofficial #MOVEMBER World MTB Champs’  Starting from De Hoek Resort near Oudtshoorn, competitors face one moer-of-a-trap into Gamkaskloof. This valley is colloquially known as Die Hel, for a number of reasons: heat and extreme temperatures, for sure, but also for the dangerously steep gravel strip you need to navigate into this back-of-beyond valley.

Even today, you can get there only via a dead-end pass with vertiginous drop-offs and erosion ruts of legendary proportions. The historic switchback – constructed by none other than master road builder, Thomas Bain – winds through the rugged and inhospitable Swartberg ranges, and it takes guts to get in there on a bike.

Once you’ve survived those deep and dark moments that comes with suffering up the never-ending Heartbreak Hill, or have jettisoned into the very heart of Die Hel, ‘The Warm Place’ turns out to be a rugged little corner of natural heaven … without the flashy brashness of most of your contemporary MTB events, of course.

A rudimentary tent village, crackling braai fires, loads of #DarlingBrew craft beer, red wine and the classy delicacies of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ … dancing with the devil does not seem to be such a bad gig. Until you realise there’s a shiteload of ‘up’, and it lurks just a few metres beyond the startline in the form of Elands Pass.

It takes serious guts to crank these 26 switchbacks on morning-after legs, but you have no choice, bru. Ask me: I’ve done it on a few occasions, and there’s bound to be some serious suffering involved in the calf department.

Beyond Elands it gets easier, but not by much, until you eventually bleed onto Die Top. Wrestle your way through high winds, dense fog and wintry temperatures, and you will be home and dry as you zigg the more than 20km of downhill back down to De Hoek.

There will always be blood, sweat and tears, but with it comes huge dollops of satisfaction, and war stories which are sure to last you for a life-time. These are some of my images from Day 1, and I will be loading lots more during the rest of the week – enjoy, and shot for the laughs, guys.

I once again shot on my kickass PENTAX SOUTH AFRICADSLR system, and I put the #K1, #K3 and #K70 to the test in non-stop dust, rocky river crossings with lashings of spray, hectic roads and constantly changing light … the cameras did not falter even once. Over the past couple of years, the #Pentax system has proved to be unbreakable. Shot Brett Skolmen – I am one happy shooter!

More info at www.ecobound.co.za

To download Jacques Marais’s photos free of charge, mahala for Nada please follow this link: Dropbox Folder

To Hell and Back 2017 – Thank You – Newsletter

Mountain bikers take part in the HELL & BACK 2016 MTB Challenge from Oudtshoorn to Gamkaskloof or Die Hel, near Oudtshoorn in the Swartberg Karoo, Western Cape, RSA

To Hell and Back 2017 Huge Success!

Baie dankie aan al ons deelnemers van die jaar se To Hell and Back MTB wedren. Ons vertrou julle almal het dit baie geniet.

Make sure to check out the following on the race:
Facebook, with the latest pics and banter on the race
Ride Report on the race! Read about the fires and the snow leading up to the 2017 edition of the event.
Photos, download all the pics shot by Jacques Marais for free!
Results, you can view it on our website

Send us your stories of the event, we have heard a few interesting ones already some of which may include shoes and baboons…

Special Thanks:
We would like to extend a special thank you to our sponsors and partners, please support them as they support you!

Darling Brew
Spur Steak Ranches
Safari Braai
Squirt Lube
Momsen Bikes
Ormonde Wines
Two Wheels Trading
Ride Farr
Cape Nature

Entries will open 1 June 2018
Race Dates will be 17 & 18 November 2018

We wish you all a happy festive season and hope to see you back in #DieHell come 2018.

Team Ecobound

Fire & Ice…To Hell and Back 2017

Days before the 23rd original Mountain Bike Stage race of South Africa it was still unclear if the event will take place. Uncontrolled fires have been raging in the area for the last 13 days, blocking the route of the riders wishing to make their annual journey to ‘The Hell’.

From raging fires to snow cap peaks, for this years’ To Hell and Back MTB

With a bit of luck and lots of rain, event organisers, EcoBound Mountain Events, received the go-ahead on Wednesday that the rain has saved the day and extinguish the fires for good! The highway to hell was no longer on fire (no pun intended) but flash floods have caused the water crossings to become dangerously deep, making the Gamkaskloof inaccessible for cars. The snow covered peaks of the Swartberg Mountains on Friday, made it hard to imagine the severity of the fires hardly a few days back.

Race registration at De Hoek Mountain Resort, about 6kms from the Cango Caves ,  felt more like a reunion with riders catching up and sharing a cold one from Darling Brew. The mood very relaxed with no worries about the challenge tomorrow will bring. The distance of 60kms into the hell might sound easy, but it includes the longest mountain pass in South Africa and the total accumulated climbs clock in at 1750m for the first day.

On Saturday riders eagerly lined up for the start of Stage 1 in anticipation of the next 20kms of climbing over the Swartberg pass.  Jacques Malherbe established an early lead, breaking away in the first few kilometers on the gravel road snaking through the farms in the Cango valley. Close on his heels Wynand Baard and Derek Devine were battling it out for 2nd place, chasing up the Swartberg pass and the rest of the way into the Kloof.

Jacques Malherbe winner of the To Hell and Back 2017 Race, on his early breakaway on Swartberg Pass.

During the first day some riders experienced the obligatory blood, sweat and tears that come with riding to Hell. Nothing can cheer you up better than a Spur Burger just over the halfway mark. Known as the most remote location to have a Spur burger, riders will also agree that it is the BEST burger you will have!

Some treats along the way at the Darling Brew Stand in the middle of nowhere

An unofficial watering hole sponsored by Darling Brew, surprised the riders with an ice cold beer, trying to provide more courage for the last climb of the day.   Many stared the 4km climb called Heartbreak hill with good spirits. Still, many tears were spilled on this almost mocking, winding climb that creates the illusion of the being on top, at almost every turn.  All was soon forgotten with the start of the decent on Elandspass, with the view of the finish down in Gamkaskloof.

Riders pushing on, on the infamous Heart Break Hill

Some amusing signs on Heartbreak Hill

Jacques Malherbe won stage 1 in a time of 02:47:36. Second and third place went to Wynand Baard 02:47:58 and Derek Devine 02:51:53. The first lady to cross the line was Ischen Stopforth in 03:07:51 with Louise Ferreira in second 03:10:07 and Marleen Lourens in third 03:19:29.

The customary returners of the event (also known as Old Nicks) claims it was one of the most favorable weather conditions the event has seen.

Team Safari with some encouragement at the last water point

After a cool down in the pool or river, riders settled down to be entertainment by Tony Cook, which included the crowning of the unofficial Movemeber Champ.   The race is also known as The unofficial Movember championships and is seen by many riders as the Mountain Bike Year-end function, signaling that another year has come to an end.  Dinner was enjoyed under the magnificent view of Elandspass, a few riders nervously glancing up at what lies ahead for tomorrow.

The infamous Elands Pass

The second day the Old Nicks were seeded (out of respect for doing more than 10 events) to line up first to start the grueling 4km climb up Elandspad. Riders followed the same route back to De Hoek, turning each awesome downhill from the previous day into climbs, changing the character of the route completely. The second day’s accumulated climbs is 1900m.

John Sharples with his blue number board (this means he has completed more than 10 races) is also the man that came up with this crazy idea along with Wikus vd Walt back in 1995

Wynand Baard took first place on Stage 2 in a time of 02:57:12 followed closely by Jacques Malherbe in 02:57:18 and Derek Devine in third 03:06:58. The first lady to cross in the line on day 2 was Louise Ferreira in 03:20:13 followed by Marleen Lourens in 03:25:51 and Ischen Stopforth in third 03:29:04.

Overall Results:

Jacques Malherbe 05:44:54
Wynand Malherbe 05:45:10
Derek Devine 05:58:51

Louise Ferreira 06:30:20
Ischen Stopforth 06:36:55
Marleen Lourens 06:45:20

This is an original real word race experience. No wonder it is a favourite amongst the mountain bike fraternity.

Due to visitor restrictions in this Cape Nature Reserve, there is a limit on entries. Entries will open on 01 June 2018.

Website: www.tohellandback.co.za




Words: Marelize Rhodes

Photos: Jacques Marais