Extreme Lesotho: Bikepacking the Kingdom in the Sky

2016-07-17 07:22 - Carina Greeff
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(Simon Lewis - #LesothoRoadTrip)

When life in the concrete jungle becomes too tedious for us adventure seekers to bear and wanderlust seems to lurk around every corner, a weekend away to a posh resort or a trip to the most popular tourist-loaded hotspots just doesn’t cut it…

Unspoiled, mountainous and hut-speckled Lesotho beckons and we’ll jump at the opportunity to visit the Mountain Kingdom.

Lesotho is an adventure junkie’s mecca with numerous out-of-the-box ways to explore the beautiful country.

Some prefer trekking the vast selection of mountain passes by 4x4, others have traversed the highlands by pony. Many a motorcyclist has uncovered the jewels of Lesotho and some even take on Lesotho by bicycle. Loaded with whatever that bike can carry. Consider it mountain biking meets camping. Or a backpacking journey by bike. Or...bikepacking. 

Whatever you want to call it, bikepacking is the perfect method of travel for those seeking freedom and adventure. This is for you if you're prepared to rough it, in any terrain with minimal luggage. 

A photo posted by grosvelo (@grosvelo) on

One such no-fuss traveller, eager to create routes when there’s no route in sight is Bikepacking.com's Logan Watts.

Watts has traversed across Lesotho, among countless other cross-country journeys.

“I started Mountain biking in the mid-2000s and quickly fell head over heels (sometimes literally) for the sport. But I wanted more... 

Watts understood that in order to fulfill his passion, he'd have to go to extreme lengths, including giving up a conventional, nine-to-five lifestyle.

"The more I got into cycling the more I uncovered the smorgasbord of adventures that can be tackled on a bicycle. My innate wanderlust was amplified the moment I discovered the wonderfully epic mode of travel that is long distance bike touring."

"However, I knew I would have to make some major life changes in order to make a big trip possible. International cycle trips require a lot of time. In 2012 I was able to hand over the keys to my company, change direction and set out on my first bike tour... which led me to create Pedaling Nowhere. The rest is history...” 

We are absolutely fascinated by the idea of seeing the world on two wheels and our bucket list just became another thrilling adventure longer! 

But first, the Bikepacking basics:

1.Visa? Make sure whether you need a Visa to enter your destination country. Travelling with a South African passport, you don’t need a Visa to enter Lesotho. Depending on the duration of your stay and the passport you carry, you may need to apply for a Visa. Click here to see if you've got some admin to sort out before hitting the road. 

2. Bike: Before you get carried away, try the old faithful bike in your garage. No better way to embrace a new hobby than to learn from experience. The experts recommend trying any mountain bike first, whatever you ride comfortably with. No bike? A second-hand mountain bike should also do the trick.

3. Gear: A large selection of different soft bags is available in South Africa. Recommended bags are framebags, handlebar bags, a seat pack and peripheral bags. These modern bags are designed to assist with equal weight distribution - carrying all the essentials without carrying too heavy. It’s crucial to always have perfect control over your bike, and not to let the luggage alter the way your bike handles.

We have tracked down a selection of bags for beginners to consider. Take a look at what Thule
Cycle Touring and bicycle touring pro recommends.  

4. Let the packing begin: 
Bikepacking.com suggests the following hints for efficient packing. Check out their website for absolutely everything you need to know about bike-packing and where to bike pack.

-Store your light and bulky items (clothes and sleeping bag) in a handlebar roll bag.

-Consider using a framebag as it contributes to equal weight distribution.  This space is perfect for the heavy items like tools and food.

-Before your trip, pack your soft bags and take the bike for a spin. You will see the bags changing shape as you go and you will discover what works for you.

-A ‘gas tank’ bag is a handy one that sits on the front of your bike (on the headtube and downtube) providing quick access to snacks.

-A ‘jerrycan’ sits on the corner of the seatpost and top tube (basically between your legs).

-A bartender bag, a drink holder that lashes to your handlebars can handle your camera or waterbottle.

-Do not load your bike unnecessarily, less luggage, more control. You will reach ‘unrideable’ areas and single track that will go down tricky if your bike is overloaded.

5. Sleeping under the stars: There are many lodges and hostels that you can book accommodation for, but synonymous to a bikepacking adventure is roughing it. Pitch your tent or set up your tarp along the way. 

If you have any camping experience, you will know that old gear tends to be big and heavy. If you want to invest somewhere, this would be it. Get a modern, lightweight option. Depending on your destination, a tarp may be sufficient. 

6. Snuggling up: Consider a lightweight sleeping bag that rolls up as small as possible. Roll up a thin foam mattress and you’re set.

Now that you have the basics covered, it's time to hit the road. For this particular adventure Watts suggests starting in Maseru, easily accessed from the Free State in SA, passing through Roma, Semonkong, Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong and ending on the Sani Pass. 

Here are Bikepacking.com's 10 in-trip tips to surviving Lesotho.

1. Weather: The winter is cold and dry. Although winter days are sunny, it becomes icy as soon as the sun has set. Heavy snowfall occurs especially in the Lesotho highlands. Summers on the other hand are hot and humid, making the uphills a calorie burning challenge. Short thunder showers occur in summer so you would want to be finished for the day before they hit.

2. Time of year
: It's best to plan your trip in the early summer between October and December. You don't want to get caught in the intense summer heat, but the icy winter nights make minimalist camping a bit of a struggle. 

3. Terrain: The name Mountain Kingdom says it all. There will be steep climbs and beautiful descents, but you will have to be fairly fit to tackle Lesotho's uphills. First aid is essential, for you and your bike.  Rocky mountain terrain can lead to technical trouble, so you cannot go without a repair kit.

You will enjoy a selection of tarred roads, dirt roads and foot paths covering plateaus and mountains. Beautiful animal tracks double as amazing and convenient single track between villages. To make up for the tough times, you can expect a few lifts on Basotho ponies from friendly locals.

A photo posted by Sally Chait (@sallychait) on

4. Locals:
A unique element to any visit to Lesotho is the local Basotho. These Sotho speaking locals might not be able to help you in English, so we suggest learning a few key phrases beforehand. 

A few suggestions are:

Hello - 'Dumela'.

I am pleased to meet you - 'Ke thabela ho o bona'.

What do you do for a living? - 'O etsa eng ho iphedisa?'

My name is - 'Lebitso la ka ke'.

You will know the Basotho by their wool blankets worn as a cloaks. Pay careful attention to the different designs as different colours and patterns are chosen by the wearer. Also be on the lookout for the iconic Basotho hats.

5. Lodging: Locals are generally friendly and inviting, and with permission of the village chief you can pitch your tent anywhere. Bikepacking.com, however, suggests the following lodging spots: Try the Trading Post in Roma, Semonkong Lodge and Sani Lodge Backpackers (enjoy a well-deserved beer at the highest pub in Africa, Sani Mountain Lodge on your way down the pass).

6. Connectivity: 
Get in touch with nature with a disconnected trek. Bikepacking.com advises that USM modems can be used, and Wi-Fi is available at some lodging. Connectivity of your SA mobile network may work in places, but roaming is advised. Some SA mobile networks offer discounted roaming in selected African countries. Check with your mobile network if this will apply to you. Other option? Buying a sim card in Lesotho.

7. Food: You will find enough food stops in major towns and some small stores and eateries in villages. Be advised to pack meals for a few days especially trekking from Thaba-Tseka to Mokhotlong. A gas canister for quick meals beside the road comes recommended.

8. Currency: Lesotho's currency, the Loti, is used, but rands are also accepted. Good idea to carry enough for when you reach those small villages. Don't bargain on credit card facilities or ATMs in tiny rural villages.

A photo posted by Sian (@sianawilliams78) on

9. Mountain Passes:
On your trek, it is advised to tackle at least one of our favourite Lesotho mountain passes for beautiful panoramic views of the mountainous Lesotho. If you cross Lesotho from the west to the east, you will cruise down the winding Sani Pass into South Africa.

10. Stay safe and enjoy the scenery: As a group, stay alert, be open-minded but as cautious as you would in any country across the globe when attempting rugged, deserted stretches. You will see your fair share of rugged mountains, glimmering waterfalls, serene rivers, quaint villages with uniquely decorated huts, shepherds with flocks of sheep, ponies gracing the dirt roads and passes.

Do not miss the Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong. 

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