Tam­ing the Ba­boon

Le­sotho: Ba­boon’s Pass

Land Rover AFRICA Magazine - - CONTENTS - Willem van de Putte

Bat­tling ex­treme ele­ments, reader Willem van der Putte ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand why Le­sotho’s Ba­boon’s Pass is con­sid­ered one of the most pun­ish­ing 4x4 trails in Africa.

Like most Land Rover own­ers, reader Willem van de Putte is not some­one to back down from a tough chal­lenge. In fact, he rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity. How­ever, as Le­sotho’s daunt­ing Ba­boon’s Pass lay be­fore him, even Willem was left feel­ing he’d bit­ten off more than he could chew.

Ever since I put my bum be­hind the wheel of a 4x4, I have al­ways wanted to take on Le­sotho’s Ba­boon’s Pass. As with most things of this na­ture, it took a back seat to the daily grind that is life. This was un­til re­cently, when a friend e-mailed me while I was sit­ting around a braai, un­der a thorn tree, with a drink in hand.

“A group of us are do­ing Ba­boon’s, want in?” or words to that ef­fect flashed on my phone, and within 24 hours, I had can­celled all pre­vi­ous en­gage­ments and ar­ranged the nec­es­sary leave. My ex­cite­ment was pal­pa­ble.

Most of us in the group – which in­cluded a Land Rover Defender 110, Land Rover Defender 90, Land Rover Dis­cov­ery 1, an old Range Rover, a Land Rover Dis­cov­ery 3 (and a trailer!) and two Mit­subishi Tri­tons – have known each other for a while and have done sev­eral trails to­gether. None of our ve­hi­cles are stan­dard, fea­ture lots of mod­i­fi­ca­tions, such as sus­pen­sion and tyre up­grades, and ex­ten­sive pro­tec­tion, such as rock­slid­ers and diff pro­tec­tors as well as heavy duty re­cov­ery points. More­over, all of us be­long to the 4x4 Com­mu­nity Fo­rum (www.4x4­com­mu­nity. co.za).

Ba­boon’s Pass is no play­ground. One of the most re­mote, rough­est and im­pass­able passes on the African con­ti­nent, Ba­boon’s Pass is where driv­ers have to brave jumbo rock falls, dizzy­ing precipices and snow storms si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It is con­sid­ered one of the most dif­fi­cult and un­com­pro­mis­ing moun­tain passes in South Africa. Well, tech­ni­cally it’s in Le­sotho, but you get the pic­ture.

Out of a dif­fi­culty fac­tor of five, most of Ba­boon’s Pass hov­ers at about four and five – and that’s if the weather plays along. It’s revered for its tales of suf­fer­ing, bro­ken and de­stroyed ve­hi­cles and leg­endary twists and turns. Ba­si­cally, it’s 26 km of un­re­lent­ing rocks and boul­ders, which, on a good day, you can rush in un­der 10 hours, but when it gets hec­tic, you’ll be hard-pressed to com­plete it in less than two days. We knew things were go­ing to be slightly dif­fer­ent when we gath­ered at one of the petrol sta­tions along the N3 and the Dis­cov­ery 3 ar­rived tow­ing an An­gel off-road trailer with a rooftop tent. It’s a hard­core trailer, no doubt, but it would add a twist to an al­ready tough ex­pe­di­tion.

It’s 26 km of un­re­lent­ing rocks and boul­ders, which, on a good day, you can rush in un­der 10 hours, but when it gets hec­tic, you’ll be hard­pressed to com­plete it in less than two days.

Get­ting through the Le­sotho bor­der post is a breeze. Our overnight stop was at Ram­a­banta Lodge, where al­most ev­ery Ba­boon’s Pass trip and the Roof of Africa Bike Rally starts.

The camp­ing area is well main­tained and the bath­rooms clean with warm show­ers. It was nec­es­sary, be­cause from Maseru to the lodge we ex­pe­ri­enced rain­fall. Not just a slight driz­zle, but a con­tin­u­ous down­pour that set the trend for the du­ra­tion of our time on the pass.

In the grips of the Ba­boon

The path up Ba­boon’s Pass is dif­fi­cult at the best of times. Add tor­ren­tial rain to the mix and parts of the pass will give you a good kick in the teeth just to re­mind you that na­ture has its own way of let­ting you know who’s boss!

Only one of us had done the pass be­fore, so the Defender 110 drove the lead car and the Dis­cov­ery 3 with the trailer was at the back. Why the trailer, though? Those of us who didn’t sleep high and dry had a few rea­sons and sug­ges­tions – all of them un­print­able – but there’s noth­ing like an ex­tra chal­lenge on an al­ready tough route, and apart from one or two hairy sit­u­a­tions, the driver had ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol and the Dis­cov­ery be­haved im­pec­ca­bly through­out the trip. At the bot­tom of the pass a big rock greets you and painted on it are the words: “Wel­come Ba­boons. Ter­ri­ble Sh*t! No W*nkers al­lowed!”

The first few kilo­me­tres of the route have – un­for­tu­nately for us – been scraped to al­low for eas­ier ac­cess to a school and the power ca­bles. How­ever, the rain caused a sticky mud­slide that had wheels spin­ning and driv­ers strug­gling to find the right lines. At one stage I hit a rock so hard that I thought I had taken the tyre off the rim or at least smashed a wheel bear­ing. For­tu­nately, this wasn’t the case, and soon the mud gave way to a com­bi­na­tion of boul­ders, more boul­ders and thou­sands of their smaller friends, all wet and slip­pery. Be­fore we left, a fi­nal item in the e-mail list sent out said: “Bring your sense of hu­mour, no one is go­ing to help you find it on Ba­boon’s Pass.” So true. At times you’re clutch­ing at the wheel and your ve­hi­cle again slides into a rut, you’re stuck and you have to climb out in the rain and pack

more rocks to build a road. It’s your sense of hu­mour and the guys you’re with that get you through it.

There was one un­for­tu­nate mishap at an ob­sta­cle where the heav­ily mod­i­fied Dis­cov­ery 1 snapped a drive-shaft, a sick­en­ing noise at the best of times and even more so when you find your­self miles from nowhere.

Up ahead lay a twisty, rocky track with a sheer fall to the one side and the cliff face on the other. Streams were run­ning off the moun­tain and tak­ing bits of the road with it. We had to make a call and, un­for­tu­nately, the worst was still to come. We de­cided to turn back. Our weeks and weeks of plan­ning and an­tic­i­pa­tion was cut to noth­ing in a split sec­ond.

My co-driver took one look at where we were headed, turned to me and cussed with a mix­ture of ex­as­per­a­tion, ter­ror and res­ig­na­tion. And when we had to get out twice us­ing the high-lift jack to pre­vent se­ri­ous body dam­age to one of the Tri­tons and the trailer, he was, in the South African sense, gatvol verby!

By the time we found a flat spot to overnight a few kilo­me­tres fur­ther, it was buck­et­ing down and just in case it wasn’t mis­er­able enough, the wind had picked up as well. Tents were pitched on the wet bog (how we wished we were in the trailer’s tent), a fire made un­der a gazebo and the canopy at­tached to the back of my ve­hi­cle.

The orig­i­nal idea was to have a braai un­der the African sky. Be­ing true South Africans, we had our braai, ex­cept it was un­der a gazebo with no niceties. It was too cold for ice, so glasses were dis­pensed with and your pre­ferred hard tack was thrown di­rectly into the can of mix.

The roof of Le­sotho

We started day two in the very early hours of the morn­ing, courtesy of a howl­ing wind and – sur­prise, sur­prise – more rain. The gazebo, I think, landed some­where in Maseru and the colour­ful lan­guage could be heard through­out the land. When it was light, it be­came ap­par­ent why it was so cold. All around us the moun­tains were capped with snow.

It’s not only the dif­fi­culty of the pass, it’s the fact that the weather can change overnight. It’s the re­lent­less rocks and danger­ous twists and turns and, more im­por­tantly, you have to con­cen­trate all the time. One wrong move and you could end up go­ing over the edge, or at least dam­ag­ing your ve­hi­cle or slid­ing into a rut that re­quires re­cov­ery, more rock-pack­ing or winch­ing.

Halfway through day two we stopped to make cof­fee and to al­low a herds­man to

squeeze past the con­voy with his goats and sheep. It’s a dif­fi­cult enough task on gas when you’re more than 3000 m above sea level; even more dif­fi­cult when you’re pelted in the face with icy rain.

By now the fi­nal ma­jor ob­sta­cle, Go­liath’s Rock, was all we could think of, but not with­out a few more hair-rais­ing sto­ries to add to the saga. With about a kilo­me­tre to go there was one par­tic­u­larly tight bend to the left. At times like th­ese, you have to com­pletely rely on the per­son guid­ing you. He guided my right front wheel to the edge of the cliff with a sheer drop on my side, and very lit­tle space on the pas­sen­ger side.

“That’s it,” said my co-driver and squeezed out of the pas­sen­ger seat hor­ri­fied at the thought of tum­bling down the moun­tain with my un­shaven face be­ing the last thing he sees be­fore the an­gels take him away.

A hard left on the steer­ing wheel and some belch­ing diesel smoke and all that was left was a wet and slip­pery Go­liath’s Rock.

That’s it, said my co-driver and squeezed out of the pas­sen­ger seat hor­ri­fied at the thought of tum­bling down the moun­tain with my un­shaven face be­ing the last thing he sees be­fore the an­gels take him away.

It’s a huge rock that the road curves into, which means fail­ure isn’t an op­tion be­cause los­ing con­trol go­ing up, there is a strong like­li­hood of fin­ish­ing your trip up­side down at the bot­tom of the moun­tain.

As the con­voy was inch­ing its way up the face one by one, Madam Earth threw us one last curve ball – more snow! Hav­ing grown up in Eng­land, my co-driver reck­oned that three hours of that would have seen about a foot of snow, so just as well that we had wrapped up an epic trip and were head­ing down the muddy tracks back to Ram­a­banta.

The first sug­ges­tion over the ra­dio was to see whether there were enough chalets and, quite frankly, even if they had only two, 13 of us would have crammed in there with a smile. Warmth, a hot shower and clean linen when you’ve spent 48 hours bat­tling the ele­ments is a price­less com­mod­ity. For­tu­nately, there were enough chalets, and that night, sit­ting around the braai fire (with ice and a glass!), we were al­ready plan­ning the next ex­cur­sion to an­other mys­ti­cal pass.

Adri­aan and Rachel in the red Range Rover test­ing the rollover point.

The Defender 90 needed some man­power to en­sure that it didn’t end up at the bot­tom of the val­ley.

Si­mon Ger­ber in his Defender, bat­tling up a river that was once a road.

Mud, glo­ri­ous mud. The Disco ploughs through the sticky stuff with the off-road trailer.

The Disco 3 driv­ing over boul­ders, which later be­came a large moun­tain stream.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Egypt

© PressReader. All rights reserved.