I am convinced that our creator was having a really good day when he gave the designers and builders of the Katse road in Lesotho the skill and foresight to create what has to be one of the most incredible biking roads on this continent by far!
And this past weekend, we had the pleasure of once again leading a group of awesome guests along this route for a weekend at Africa's highest dam - the Katse. After months of planning, we all got together at the Blockhouse outside Vereeniging for a relaxed breakfast and get-to-know-you session, before heading South towards Clarens and our first stop.
Although the sky had threatened to rain on our parade early on Friday, it held-out until we reached Sasolburg before opening-up and sending the group into a frenzy of activity as they grabbed their rainsuits and jackets for the next thirty kilometers of rain. We all changed out of our 'Michelin Man' suits at the first stop in Petrus Steyn, before riding in perfect weather for the remainder of the journey to Clarens for lunch. So determined were some of our guests to ride this road that we were joined at lunch by two couples after their 500km trip from Lydenburg, and after the usual ribbing during our lunch at the cafe in Clarens, our journey to Katse really started.
There is general consensus among bikers that the road between Clarens and Fouriesburg rates highly on the list of 'must-ride' routes, and our trip on this short section was over far too quickly, but onward we went to the Caledonspoort border gate and prescribed officialdom. We were through in no-time and after a briefing about travel in Lesotho by our intrepid leader, the group headed into the Mountain Kingdom. While best intentions were to bypass the confusion they call Buthe Butha, said leader once again fell for the assurances of TomTom and managed to give everyone a taste of the Sani Pass as he led them through the back streets of the town in a perfect loop! Eventually, they re-entered the main road and proceeded to to turning to Katse without any loss of riders this time around.
The ride to the top of the pass seems to provide an endless array of jaw-dropping scenery around every corner and soon the group was climbing to the 3090 metre high crest and observation point where the superlatives seemed to exhaust as soon as the last bike arrived. This is one of the most incredible paved rides in Africa without doubt, and getting to the pass with its 12 degree temperature drop is something most riders never forget. After a short photo-op, we hit the road again for the sixty kilometers of twisties to Katse and everyone agreed that the road was everything they had every been told - and more. In spite of the rains these past few months, the road is in excellent condition and but for some sand-filled potholes, the community really make sure the rocks are cleared from the road and riding 'Katse' is a pleasure.
We choose to stay at Orion Katse Lodge because of the friendly staff and really clean rooms and our expectations were fully met this time 'round again. Previously the construction village for the dam-builders, the Katse Lodge offers a range of comfortable rooms and two-or three-bedroom houses that offer the same standard. Our host - Mike, has returned after a short break from the Lodge and after much catching-up, we settled-in quickly before assailing the pub for pre-dinner drinks and endless chatter about the ride and the sights. Friday night was a great chance to get to know our fellow riders better and some say that the last guests hit their beds at some time after 1 am on Saturday.
Saturday morning brought rain to Katse and some re-arranging of plans was needed to avoid the alternate Monopoly and Scrabble games that seemed determined to attract the less adventurous riders in the group. We did the dam tour - something every first-timer to Katse must do, where guests get background into the full project and the stats about the dam, before going on a guided tour into the wall itself. After this, the rain seemed to have pulled back and after a short return to the Lodge, the group went on an out-ride back along the road to really see the sights and experience the road with less pressure than on the ride the night before. We made it to the main intake and bridge over the dam about 40 km's from the lodge before a vote was taken to beat the rain back. We got back slightly ahead of the rain and enjoyed a great lunch at the Lodge before our sunset cruise on the dam itself.
Leaving Katse is always difficult, but thankfully we had an incredible sunrise and clear skies to set a really great pace back up- and over the pass towards our border. Sunday drivers - or probably the normal rural Lesotho drivers, kept our attention at a peak for the trip, and but for a suicidal driver and a close eyeball experience with our leader, we reached the border in good time. Once through the formalities, there was a chance for each rider to set his own pace back down the pass to Clarens where we regrouped for lunch at the Brewery which went without a hitch this time. We said our farewells and rode back towards the rain in Johannesburg with heavy hearts.
If you haven't ridden the 'Katse' or experienced the majesty that this route provides, you need to add it to your 'bucket-list' now. It is truly one of the world's great rides and it needs to be experienced to really appreciate what this region has for bikers. Either ride it yourself or join Southern Cross on their next Katse ride to truly understand the meaning of WOW! Thanks to everyone that joined us this time. You were great and an absolute pleasure to ride with. Next time?