Road to Hell

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The Road to Hell The Road to Hell - Photo: Roxenz

Here is a mountain pass at the outer edge of the scale. Most people would take one look at the state of the road surface and back off completely, but for the few hardy souls with a sense of adventure percolating in their veins, this is one of those extreme passes that need to be ticked off the list.

This is a brutally tough dead-end road, packed with large rocks and very steep gradients and provides access to a sandy bend in the Orange River about 36 km ESE (as the crow flies) from Vioolsdrif. You need to be experienced for this one and preferably drive in a group with full recovery equipment on hand.

Expect soft sand, sharp rocks and corrugations and don't be in a hurry. The road is a dead end and you have to retrace your route back to the start, when youre done enjoying the solitude of the river and the desert. This one is beyond a road less travelled.

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....


[Video footage and cover photo: Fraser Mackintosh]

FULL SCREEN MODE: Click PLAY, then pass your mouse cursor of the bottom right hand corner of your video screen. The outline of a rectangle will appear. Clicking on it will toggle full screen mode. Press the ESC key to return to the original format.

Note: Google earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The vertical profile animation can generate a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide as what to expect in terms of gradients, distances and elevation. The graph may produce some improbable and impossibly sharp spikes, which should be ignored.

Digging into the details

Getting there: Starting from the nearest town (Vioolsdrif), head south on the N7 for 33 km via Fyfmylpoort and turn left (east) at GPS S28.923374 E17.740416 onto a gravel track. It is crucial not to miss this turn-off. Now follow the track into the east for 19 km to arrive at a 4 way intersection at GPS S28.873972 E17.887009. Turn right here (east) and follow the track for 12,4 km as it first heads into the SE, then swings into NE later and follows a narrow gorge via a dry river bed to arrive at the western start of the pass. As this is a dead-end there is only one access description. There is nothing like good planning when venturing into these remote areas, where getting completely lost is a piece of cake.

Choosing a driving lineChoose your driving lines carefully / Photo: Roxenz











Here are a number of waypoints to ensure you remain on the right route starting from the 4 way intersection at
GPS S28.873972 E17.887009
GPS S28.874377 E17.891082
GPS S28.875895 E17.898265
GPS S28.876901 E17.904325
GPS S28.878821 E17.912600
GPS S28.882006 E17.919287
GPS S28.883511 E17.925033
GPS S28.885215 E17.930994
GPS S28.888704 E17.935292
GPS S28.889625 E17.938029
GPS S28.889843 E17.940809
GPS S28.891682 E17.948997
GPS S28.883742 E17.955618
GPS S28.870173 E17.964024

Ominous signThis is the Road to Hell

This string of waypoints varies between 500m and 900m apart and will ensure you don't get lost, especially if its windy and sand has obliterated the track. The pass starts 2,3 km after the last waypoint above, at the point where the road leaves the riverbed and starts ascending up the side of the mountain.

Getting to the start is something of an adventure in itself, but now the serious stuff begins. Any experienced offroad driver will have deflated tyres a long while back. Hard tyres are almost a guarantee of getting stuck in the sandy riverbeds. The hotter the temperatures, the softer the sand. Remember to regularly check tyre pressures as they increase in pressure as they heat up from driving. This increase can be as much a one bar!

If you find you are struggling in 1st gear high range, change to low range and try 3rd or 4th gears as a better option. As the track leaves the river bed you are faced with a very steep climb up to the first neck. It's only 470m long, but the road climbs 52 vertical metres producing sweaty gradients as steep as 1:5.

Big loose rocks form the bulk of the road surface. Get out of your vehicle and take a walk up the ascent, carefully noting which line you intend driving over each section, making careful notes to avoid any rocks which might connect with the undercarriage of your vehicle. 

End of the Road to HellAn oasis after the Road to Hell / Photo: Roxenz

Select low range (1st or 2nd gear - whichever rock crawling mode suits your vehicle best) and carefully begin the climb, making sure that your foot doesn't slip off the accellerator pedal, which will cause a wheel spin and a stall. Move your seat position forward a few notches and straighten your back rest. This will give you better control over the steering wheel and better vision over the bonnet. Don't hook your thumbs around the steering spokes as a sudden wheel impact with a big rock can send the steering wheel spinning and your thumb might break. (There's no Medi-Clinic out here!)


[Video footage and cover photo: Fraser Mackintosh]

If possible get a passenger or another driver to guide you up the ascent and exercise patience and maintain your sense of humour. If your vehicle is fitted with a diff-lock, engage it. Once you've reached the summit, you will get a bird's eye view of the little canyon ahead of you with the track snaking its way down the middel of it. This descent is much easier than the ascent and lasts for 1,5 km, losing 37m of altitude to the point where the two river beds join each other.

Once the road rejoins the sandy river bed, driving conditions are much the same as the road leading up to the pass. The direction, although extremely convoluted, is generally into the ENE as the road follows the river bed all the way to the confluence with the Orange river at the 4,9 km mark.

Gariep RiverGariep River / Photo: Learjetboyz


If you enjoy some spirited offroad adventure and fancy spending a night stargazing as the turbid waters of the Gariep cruise by, then earmark this pass. You'll remember it for the rest of your life.


[Video footage and cover photo: Fraser Mackintosh]


1. It's easy to get lost. Prepare your GPS carefully with all waypoints ahead of time

2. Take two spare wheels and a puncture repair kit. Learn how to use it (at home)

3. Take sufficient potable water with you - this is a mountain desert

4. Watch out for scorpions (especially at night)

5. Go in a group

6. Take sun protection

7. Carry a satphone with emergency numbers pre-programmed.

8. Dont try this road with suspect tyres

9. Carry full recovery gear as well as a compressor

[Video footage supplied by Fraser Mackintosh/ Edited and narrated by MPSA]

Fact File:


S28.850658 E17.972904


S28.847107 E17.975419


S28.832823 E18.006936














4,9 km




90 minutes 










Vioolsdrif (40 km)

Route Map:

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  • Detailed written and printable directions.
  • Drag the 'little orange man' icon onto the pass for a complete 360° tiltable "street view".

From Address:

Route files:

||Click to download: Road to Hell (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)


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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.

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