Bike Touring Lesotho (part 3): Magic Carpet Ride

The final days of our Lesotho dirt road odyssey concluded with a magic carpet ride across the highlands and a descent down the legendary Sani Pass.

We left our new friends in Ha Pone and spent the morning traversing a spectacular and difficult track that crested and flowed over ridges and rolled us through countless villages. Later that afternoon as we were closing in on evidence of more established civilization (ironically, that means fast food wrappers and broken glass), in effort to dodge a massive thunderstorm, we ducked under a tin roof lean-to trash incinerator. Within moments a small band of shy children quietly approached and gave odd but direct orders to report to the principal’s office in the cinder-block ruin of a school next door. Gin instinctively felt that she had gotten herself into some sort of trouble. As we chatted with the lively principal of the local school that served 200 children from the surrounding villages, the rain became torrential and the ‘road’ became a mudslide. We realized that we weren’t going to make it much further. As this thought crossed our skulls, she was already showing us where to sleep in a small office building for the night. There was no electricity, running water or en-suite bathroom for that matter, but it would do. After everyone else left, we proceeded to make a dinner of pasta with a mysterious ‘mince’ sauce. For “desert” Gin whipped up a very imaginative pasta custard which we shared with the night watchman who really seemed to enjoy it.

The following sunny morning uniformed children showed up two by two and peered around corners to catch a glimpse of the odd travellers staying in their school. After a frenzied photo shoot, the children gave us the most heart wrenching goodbye that turned into to giggles and laughs as we rolled out in the thick mud only to get stuck about 20 meters away.

Our Lesotho dirt road odyssey concluded with two more days of wonderful riding broken up by the usual small talk with villagers that always started by explaining where we were from and where we were going. It is pretty amazing to be in a place where you find a few people who have never even heard of the USA or America. The final ~40km was the spectacular Sani Pass, a legendary narrow and rocky descent through countless switchbacks that provide a viewing platform for the many waterfalls, bizarre vegetation and the unique, lush, and breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains.

Bike Touring Lesotho - Village Camping
Waking up with the sun the next morning… Ha Pone is quiet at this hour. The morning was complete with a house tour, exchange of addresses and heartfelt goodbyes.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Mountain Biking
And we head straight up… plenty of animal tracks to choose from. P.S. This is still the ‘road’.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Routes
The road turns into some nice up and down riding…
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Routes
… with a few doubletrack areas…
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Routes
… and some very nice technical sections; here’s Gin breaking bad.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Routes Villages
With the occasional village.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sawyer Water Filter

Filtering water with the Sawyer Squeeze at a stream crossing.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Village
The rain from the night prior hit some areas harder tun others.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Roads
Long sweeping tracks that wind around mountains.
Surly ECR - Bike Touring Lesotho
Finally hit a portion that resembles a road.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Roads
It looks like this for all of 2 kms.
BikeTouring Snack
Getting back to accessible village with tiny stores. A snack of DIY cheetos and a warm Coke.
Camping at a school - Lesotho
That afternoon we hit rain… a lot of it. We ducked under a tin shelter that we lucked upon next to a school. Minutes later some children tell us that the principal wants to see us. This is her.
Camping at a school - Bike Touring Lesotho

After much conversation, she invited us to stay in the small Principal’s office. We gladly accepted and the rain kept pouring until late that night.
Camping at a school - Bike Touring Lesotho
The next morning we were greeted by some of the students. Upon leaving they gave the warmest and biggest goodbye I have ever heard.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Dirt Roads
And we hit the muddy road.
Surly ECR - Muddy
This was probably the stickiest mud I have ever experienced. We had to clear them mud about 10 times in order to keep going.
Surly Knard in the Mud
The mud that accumulated must have weighed more than the bike itself.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Climbing Dirt Roads
Finally it started drying out and the road went between dirt track and semi smooth doubletrack.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Hotel
That evening in Mokhotlong we got another rainbow.
Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass road
The next morning we started the 4,500 foot climb to the Kotisephola Pass at 3,250 m (10.662’)
BikeTouring Lesotho - Sani Pass water

Getting some fresh spring water on the way up.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass
Into the bowl after Kotisephola Pass.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass
The last Lesotho village we would pass.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass - Surly ECR
Sani Pass. Shortly after this Sani Top, the Highest pub in Africa. Two beers then a 5,000 foot descent… safety first.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass
Looking down Sani Pass.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass
Gin starts the rough and rocky descent.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass
Many switchbacks to go.
Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road
The beautiful Drakensbergs.
Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road
It just keeps going and going.
Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road
The Twelve Apostles range.
Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road
Looking back up.
Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road Bicycle Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road Twelve Apostles - Sani Pass Bike Touring Lesotho - Sani Pass dirt road
I usually hate it when this happens, but after a burly sixty-some-odd KMs of rock and dirt, I was more than happy for smooth.
Surly ECR
The ECR gets stripped and bathed.

Travel Tips for Bike Touring in Lesotho

  • Lodging: There are a couple of backpacker lodges scattered throughout the country. Try the Trading Post in Roma, or the Semonkong Lodge. Also, you can camp anywhere… as long as you ask the local chief.
  • Terrain: Prepare from some significant climbing, there are countless passes.
  • Roads and Tracks: A lot of the main roads are undergoing construction and even, unfortunately for us, paving. The A3 which crosses cross the middle section of the Kingdom, used to be gravel/dirt. It is now all paved except for the last bit from Thaba Teska to the intersection with Sani road. However, there are tons of village to village routes and even the superb route we did from Thaba Tseka North to then move East across a great dirt track. Get the latest version of Tracks4Africa for suggestions, or look at the Lesotho Sky routes for some ideas (or these guys also offer mountain bike tours).
  • Food: There are usually small (by small I mean a couple of chairs and a counter) eateries in little towns, just ask. Most of the time you can get a heaping plate of chicken, greens and pap for a dollar. Also, there are a lot of little stores that are in villages, but be prepared to eat canned meat (as well as DIY cheese puffs) and other basics.
  • Interwebs: There is not really much here. You can either get a USP modem that can be used in several of the main towns, or the Trading Post has wifi if you ask.

For more information on this route, including GPS and logistics, click here. Also, check out our growing list of bikepacking and dirt road touring routes.



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