Mafika Lisiu Pass Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

Mafika Lisiu Pass


Top climb in South Africa and Lesotho

Page Contributor(s): Louis le Grange, Pretoria, South Africa

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Climb Summary

Climb Summary

Contributed by Louis le Grange, Pretoria, South Africa: 

Before I start with Lesotho, there's quite a few beautiful climbs in South Africa as well that you might consider should you have some extra space/time available.  Long Tom Pass etc. close to Sabie, and Graskop area all being in the Mpumalanga Province in South Africa have some good mountains and is used often by Chris Froome and Darryl Impey for off season training.  I have raced there but haven't been there for training so I don't have too much photos of that but can get hold of some if needed.


Then, Sani Pass, on the border going into Lesotho from South Africa on the western side, from a little town called Himeville, is also magnificent.  It's been used for trade between the two countries for years and is a big tourist attraction for 4x4 enthusiasts and mountain bikers as the pub right on the top at Lesotho's border post claims to be the highest pub in Africa.  Perhaps you can get in touch with them for some photos of the pass itself.  Over the last few years the conditions of the road improved a lot and the authorities want to tar the road (It has been tarred in Lesotho up to the border post), but local adventure clubs claim they will then lose the "adventure" of it which is the main tourist attraction of the area.  Fight's has been going on for a number of years now but I think the tarring is inevitable.  I did I trail run marathon event (Sani Stagger) there last year and and I've been up there twice with my bicycle so I have some photos should you be interested.  I believe you'll also be able to find a lot of information on that pass online but please shout should you need any assistance from my side.  You need a 4x4 to travel up this pass.


Getting to Mafika Lisiu Pass, it tops any climb that I've ever ridden, and it's really a gem hidden away in the mountains of Lesotho.  To give you some background, the pass was tarred to help with the construction of the Katse Dam, which is an enormous dam and also feeds South Africa with water through the Lesotho highlands water project.  

 Lesotho is really still very undeveloped even compared to South Africa.  Travelling on the pass you will find donkey cars, pedestrians carrying wood on donkeys, the odd taxi (minibus going extremely slow), some environmental department vehicles of people working at the dam, but mostly South African tourists on their motorcycles and SUV vehicles.  


I went to Katse dam for 3 or 4 days as part of the holidays and to explore the area.  I took the road bike as well as the mountain bike but unfortunately the place where I stayed had a few kilometers of dirt road so I couldn't use my roadbike there.  To be honest with the semi compact crank on the road bike and standard 11-23 at the back I would've struggled to get up those passes.  I had a 1-by-10 Shimano XTR setup on my mountain bike with the 30t at the front and 40 at the back and I was glad I went for the panzy 30t in the front.  From my Strava you can see that I've crawled uphill but it is rewarded when going downhill and you don't have to pedal at all for like 15km etc.  I've maxed 108 kmph on the one day, all using my mountain bike which has disk brakes fitted.  I didn't want to risk it too much as I went there totally unsupported and should something go wrong I had no backup close by.  (I carried a little bag with extra food and spares for quick fixes).