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

Stories:
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

2018:
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:

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

Women:
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

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Words: Marelize Rhodes

Photos: Jacques Marais

To Hell and Back MTB Stage Race Entries Open 2017

ffbecf30-3027-4921-ae11-6a1f9faaca0f

8347f711-d2d1-4589-86e1-c2a746f66099

Entries Open 1 June 2017 08:00am

The To Hell and Back 2017, that is scheduled to take place on 18 and 19 November 2017 will open for entries this Thursday 1 June 2017 at 08:00am.

The To Hell and Back is the oldest stage race in South Africa with its first event taking place in 1995. This year will mark the 23rd edition of mountain bikers taking on the 60km (not to be taken lightly) route also known as the longest pass in SA, into “Die Hell”, spend the night there and share the war stories of the day. Sunday morning they will take on the 60km route back out of “Die Hell” with Elandspass as a rude awakening!

Event Details:

  • 18 & 19 November 2017
  • Hell Race Camp – R2250pp (Only 250 spots)
  • Own Accommodation – R1850pp
  • Entries open 1 June 2017 08:00am
  • Website for more info

Own Accommodation:
This means that you will need to book accommodation for Saturday night either with Cape Nature or Die Fontein Gasteplaas. You won’t be able to book any other accommodation outside of “Die Hell”.

We are excited to welcome you into #DieHel come November this year!

Team Ecobound

The Hell Run 2016 – Cancellation

It is with great regret that we had to cancel the much anticipated The Hell Run 2016.

This event has been in the making for nearly 4 years, born out of passion for running in the mountains and we have spend many hours exploring, planning and finalising this event, which makes this decision even harder.

There has been much consideration, deliberation and alternative options explored but unfortunately we have no choice but to cancel the event for 2016. 

We will continue to pursue the possibilities to resolve the matter and to bring this event back to you in the near future.

We would like to thank our entrants and enthusiasts to the event for their understanding and kind words of encouragement and support.

From a very disappointed and heartbroken Ecobound Team.

Trail run To Hell and Back in 2016

Trail run To Hell and Back in 2016.

Ecobound has a strong connection with the Hell as it was the birthplace for essentially what Ecobound has become today. In 1995 we launched the first and long standing MTB stage race; The To Hell and Back, the original and the oldest stage race in the country. Since then Ecobound has taken on very different shapes and sizes of events and have established a retupa for organising extra ordinary events.

Naturally with multiple explorations into the Hell, more and more knowledge was gained about the area. There was long discussions within the family on multi discipline events with all the trails and routes the area had to offer and negotiations with land owners over the years. But we could not come up with a concrete plan or idea of what to do with all of these available trails and the raw adventure the area had to offer.

Then it happened Trail Running hit the scene of South Africa and it reminded us of the early mountain biking days, it had the same “free spirited” connection. We fell in love with the sport and it opened our eyes to a whole set of new possibilities.

The Hell Run has taken us just about 4 years to put together, there has been allot of negotiations and the structure of the event has taken on different shapes in those 4 years. We now believe we have something special that will leave an awe inspiring sensation, of the area and trail running in the mountains, with each runner lucky enough to conquer The Hell Run.

This trail run will take you along routes long forgotten by the modern world. Many years ago these paths were only known by tradesmen, using donkeys to carry their produce to the inhabitants of the valley called ‘the hell’. The remote single track up and down the tenacious Swartberg Mountains, etched with the prints of donkey hooves, was the only connection to the outside world for many years. These abandoned trails will be ‘unlocked’ for the first time for a Trail Running experience never seen before. Only once a year and as part of this event, has the use of these routes been approved by The Donkey Trail and Cape Nature. All will be privileged to start the first of the 2 day stage trail run on the majestic Donkey Trails. Overnight in the Hell campsite and enjoy the time around the fires! The Elandspass will sure be in your dreams or nightmares that night as the next morning runners will head out with this steady climb out of the Hell and turn back onto the mountain trails, with the Gamkaskloof fading in the distance as you cross back over the mountains to the world renowned Port valley of Calitzdorp. This race is guaranteed to leave you coming back for more.

Entries open the 1st January 2016, go to www.tohellandback.co.za for more info.

Invitational run

An Invitational run is planned for the 19th and 20th December more detail on how the run went to follow.

2015 To Hell and Back MTB stage race – Press Release

This year South Africa’s first MTB Stage Race turned 21 years old!

14 / 15 November 2015 – Not much has changes since the first event, back in 1995, when it was created out of a deep passion for remote places and touring-style riding. The mountainous route, magnificent views, well-stocked waterpoints, relaxed atmosphere and sleep-over in The Hell makes this event so popular!

It’s an original, a classic, enjoyed by the true mountain bikers of SA.

Day 1 stared with the riders making their way over the winding Swartberg pass enjoying the scenic surroundings in the crisp early morning air. Dylan Rabello, Team Jeep, was the first to cross the summit making the 21km climb seem like a mere bump in the road. Riders enjoyed the rest of the route going up and down the valleys towards Gamkaskloof or ‘The Hell’ in ideal riding conditions. The top of Elandspass ended the hard work for Day 1, as it was downhill from there into the kloof, the finish for the first day and where warm showers, food and cold beer awaited.

No electricity, no cell reception, no TV, not even radio reception! Luckily afternoon entertainment was proved by Tony Cook , who also hosted the Movemeber Champs. The evening riders enjoyed great live music while supper was served, or rather ‘braaid’. The atmosphere amongst riders can only be understood if you’ve actually been to The Hell and understand the remoteness.

Day 2 started with the riders setting off to conquer Elandspass, with the weather warming up and promising a nice day. Riders cycled the same route back ‘out of the Hell’ returning to the De Hoek Nature Resort, finishing their 120km’s with a total of 3650m accent over 2 days. It’s not South Africa’s longest Mountain Pass for nothing.

The youngster, Dylan Rabello won the overall mens category in a time of 05.05.59. In the Ladies race, local Ischen Stopforth won in a time of 06.20.42. This was also Ischen’s 10th To Hell and Back. Having done 10 years she now joins the Old Nicks Club.

Dylan Rabello won the overall mens category in a time of 05.05.59

Dylan Rabello won the overall mens category in a time of 05.05.59

Thank you to our sponsors! Riders are always happy to find Spur at the midway mark, with waiters handing out burgers and chips with a smile (come rain or sunshine), Squirt making sure every chain gets lube, not missing one bicycle, Safari keeping the fires burning, Momsen Bikes making sure we have quality prizes and Clover, for handing out their goodies to each finisher.

Riders are always happy to find Spur at the midway mark, with waiters handing out burgers and chips with a smile (come rain or sunshine)

Riders are always happy to find Spur at the midway mark, with waiters handing out burgers and chips with a smile (come rain or sunshine)

Due to limited accommodation and facilities in The Hell, CapeNature placed a limit on the number of participants allowed. When the event reaches that capacity – entries are closed. Make sure not to miss this experience next year and ensure you enter this event when entries open on 01 June!

The To Hell and Back MTB Stage Race is a Mountain Bike Event organized by Mountain Bikers for Mountain bikers!

For more info, check out www.tohellandback.co.za/tohellandback-mtb/ or follow us on Facebook to get the latest news https://www.facebook.com/hellandbackmountainbiking/

2015 RESULTS now available

CLICK HERE TO VIEW 2015 RESULTS