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Naudesnek – a monumental pass and potentially a place of broken dreams

Naudesnek is the roadway over the Drakensberg on the Freedom Trail, it has to be traversed for riders wanting to reach Rhodes and it is passed by both riders taking the hike-a-bike over the Lehana’s footpath or by riders taking the alternative longer option known as the Mcamabalala route. Sadly, yesterday saw the withdrawal of the Wards at Naudesnek and they join countless other riders who have summited the pass but haven’t made the largely 31km downhill to Rhodes. This should tell you that its no easy ride down to Rhodes from there, after all who would quit when they just have to get down the mountain to Rhodes? It is worth finding out why this is one serious challenge and why quitting here is an indication that a rider is in serious trouble.

Naudesnek is at an altitude of 2500m above sea level, riders climb from approximately 1700m above sea level to get to the top and whether they hike/ ride the 15km via Lehana’s Pass or ride/ push the 28km via Mcamabalala route, they will work very hard to get there, it will take a fast person about 5 hours.

Let’s put that in perspective, the highest climb in this year’s Tour de France is the Col de la Loze at 2304m and that it summited in the height of summer mid-afternoon. Riders summit Naudesnek in the height of winter.

Often riders arrive at the summit in the late afternoon or even the evening, so the sun has set or is setting. There is no shelter up there, no trees grow there and there are only grasses and scrub, most of the streams will be frozen solid and the gravel road can have treacherous ice across it.

To give you an idea of the conditions in the mountains surrounding Naudesnek yesterday, the freezing level was down to 2300m and the wind was gusting around 65km/h, with the perceived temperature to be about -10.

Now that we have a sense of the conditions, its worth considering that the riders, especially those who hiked will have created a decent body temperature and perhaps even a sweat, that combined with the icy wind means that riders don’t want to pause for any longer than is necessary to get the photo, there is just no shelter from the wind. Often they don’t get dressed in every bit of clothing they have for the long descent, they just want to get going. This immediately leads to a sudden drop in temperature and in some cases uncontrollable shivering. But instead of stopping to remedy the situation, they push on and it only gets worse.

To dispel any notion that the longer route via Mcamabalala is any easier, it is not, few riders will be able to rider the whole way, it is just too steep, especially near the top, so you will in any event be pushing your bike and it usually into a near gale force wind.

Quite a few riders over the years have for fear of their health, opted to head to the Tenahead luxury lodge in the area where regardless of the eyewatering rates, they have checked themselves in for a night to find refuge rather than try and make it to Rhodes. While this is not encouraged, the only other options are to push on to Rhodes or to push the ‘help’ button on their tracker as some have done.

Whatever the case it is almost certain that this will be the longest, highest, coldest, most unhospitable place in South Africa that a rider gets to take a bike.

It is not all doom and gloom at Naudesnek and while it is quite rare – sometimes riders do summit at around midday no wind and have the ride of their lives sweeping down to Rhodes.

As safe strategy, riders are well advised to take every precaution to afford Naudesnek and the descent into Rhodes the respect it deserves, getting to Rhodes is the goal, letting your guard down near the top can be a race ending mistake.

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