11-car ex­pe­di­tion on the ‘Roof of Africa’

Land Rover AFRICA Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - Bruce Jenk­in­son

Most 4x4 en­thu­si­asts will tell you that Ba­boon’s Pass is not for the faint of heart, and if you’re look­ing for a tough 4x4 chal­lenge, Ba­boon’s Pass is most cer­tainly one for the bucket list. No one will ar­gue that Ba­boon’s Pass is the tough­est public road in South­ern Africa. Due to the high al­ti­tude, ve­hi­cles and pas­sen­gers take se­ri­ous strain, as they are up to 30 per cent down on power and run out of breath easily. In sev­eral off-road­ing cir­cles, Ba­boon’s Pass has of­ten been com­pared to ‘The Road to Hell’ in the North­ern Cape , but frankly there’s no real com­par­i­son. Sure, both routes are tough, but noth­ing pre­pares you for the Ba­boon’s 26km of ar­du­ous ter­rain and hec­tic ob­sta­cles.

The Ba­boon’s hind (story)

Ac­cord­ing to Le­sotho leg­end and motorsport acer, Ash­ley Thorn, Ba­boon’s Pass, like many routes in Le­sotho, started out as a vi­tal link and sin­gle track bridal path that was plied by don­keys and mules car­ry­ing sup­plies be­tween Se­monkong to Ram­a­banta. This path starts at 1 700m above sea level and sum­mits at 2 700m. Se­monkong is con­sid­ered a fron­tier vil­lage that was es­tab­lished un­der re­mote and try­ing con­di­tions in the 1800s. In the early 1970s, the Ro­man Catholic church com­mis­sioned a priest, Fa­ther Cassino, to widen the track for ve­hi­cle ac­cess. Amongst the early users to tra­verse the pass were Jeeps and Land Rovers. In its hey­day the track was im­proved to such an ex­tent that a 4x4 Mercedes Benz 1617 truck fer­ried sup­plies to Se­monkong daily, leav­ing Ram­a­banta in the morn­ing and re­turn­ing back in the late af­ter­noon or early evening. Ap­par­ently the wreck­age of this 170 HP, 8-ton truck lies buried some­where be­low Ba­boon’s Pass af­ter its driver had con­sumed too much of the good stuff that kept him warm dur­ing the ex­treme cold and snowy con­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with this pass. A new dirt road was built some years ago to Se­monkong. This same road was tarred in the last three years, thanks to the Chi­nese. This new road is a more in­di­rect route and in­cor­po­rates many hair­pin bends. It’s a con­sid­er­ably longer route to Se­monkong. Over the last 15 years Ba­boon’s Pass has been left to the el­e­ments and ad­ven­ture junkies. Most of the pass is well above the snow line and the well-used track has eroded and de­te­ri­o­rated to what it is to­day.

How did we do it?

Our goal was to reach the sum­mit with our ve­hi­cles in one piece. There are many sto­ries of failed at­tempts to reach the sum­mit due to dam­aged and bro­ken-down ve­hi­cles. Most of these were mainly due to drive train and sus­pen­sion com­po­nent fail­ure.) We de­cided not to rush, and tack­led the pass in two days. But we needed to ap­proach the route with re­spect, care and cau­tion. The thought of spend­ing the night on the trail and fac­ing the harsh el­e­ments seemed to add an ex­cit­ing el­e­ment of ad­ven­ture and ca­ma­raderie. More than half of the ve­hi­cles in our con­voy were over­land-spe­cific ve­hi­cles. This in­cluded three De­fender 130s (2.8 pow­er­stroke,Td5 and 2.2L Puma), Dis­cov­ery 2 Td5, De­fender 90 Tdi, two Hilux D4D’s, Landcruiser 100 V8 petrol auto, Jeep Ru­bi­con 3.8 Petrol SWB, 3.6 LWB Auto and a Nissan Hard­body 3L petrol. None of the ve­hi­cles were stock stan­dard and each was mod­i­fied in some way. Mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­cluded sus­pen­sion up­grades, big­ger wheels, bash plates, ad­di­tional diff locks, stronger steer­ing bars and two of the ve­hi­cles had mod­i­fied trans­fer cases, which gave them lower low-range gear­ing. As with any off-road route, tyre pres­sure se­lec­tion is crit­i­cal, and even more so at Ba­boon’s Pass. Firm tyres will place a huge strain on the sus­pen­sion, link­ages and pas­sen­gers, and re­sult in less trac­tion and a pos­si­ble slip off the rocks. Too soft tyres

will place huge strain on the drive train es­pe­cially CV joints, dif­fer­en­tials and side shafts. Af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, we se­lected a pres­sure of 1.1 bar for the front and 1.5 bar at the rear to com­pen­sate for our loaded ve­hi­cle. We were con­fi­dent that this set up would pro­vide a good com­pro­mise be­tween slip and grip.

The trail starts

Af­ter climb­ing the Makhaleng River, the track starts a steep climb to the right with a tight hair­pin bend. As the track flat­tens out, you’re greeted with your first rock and boul­der ob­sta­cle. The track is lined with about 15m of rocks and boul­ders and there is no es­cape route. The gra­di­ent and boul­ders on the side leaves you with lit­tle choice but to tackle the rock field up ahead. We won­dered if this was the en­trance exam or whether there was worse to come? Hardly 100m out of the river, our fleet came to a stand­still… One of the big boul­ders took its toll on one of the De­fend­ers. The rear diff has be­come hung-up on our ‘en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion’. Anx­i­ety set in and the light­hearted ban­ter over the ra­dio didn’t do much for any­one’s con­fi­dence. With the front diff-lock en­gaged, we re­versed back, stopped, got out of the ve­hi­cle and de­cided on a new line adding some loose rocks to the mix – and re­peated the process! Care­fully, we pro­ceeded over this boul­der strewn ob­sta­cle again, tak­ing a new line whilst the car bounced re­peat­edly from side to side and up and down. But nev­er­the­less, we made it through rel­a­tively un­scathed. We con­tin­ued on the track that started with a gen­tle climb up an un­friendly rut­ted and boul­der-strewn track. Big boul­ders and rocks lined our route as we inched our way for­ward, try­ing not to add any scratches and dents (char­ac­ter) to our ve­hi­cles. We of­ten found it bet­ter to drive over a boul­der than inch­ing past it. Our rock slid­ers worked well and fended the huge boul­ders from the body­work. Up ahead we saw an ex­tended boul­der field. This one looked re­ally hairy and worse than what we’ve been through. For more than 100m ahead, the track con­tin­ues to climb steadily, and the eroded slopes be­low meant there was no room for er­ror. We passed the sec­ond vil­lage where lo­cals were on hand with huge ham­mers. Ash­ley told us they are part of a lo­cal up­lift­ment pro­gramme to help main­tain the route. This road ser­vices these vil­lages and is their only point of ac­cess. Ba­boon’s Pass is a public road. Yes, it’s hardly con­ceiv­able, but true. It surely must be the most dif­fi­cult and high­est public road ever. There are five lit­tle vil­lages of Ba­sotho huts along the route. The set­ting is pretty and peace­ful and the huts are dwarfed by the tow­er­ing moun­tain to our right. The vil­lages have beau­ti­fully man­i­cured lawns around the huts, of which the goats do a good job of keep­ing trim.

We came across a huge boul­der in the track that had rolled down the moun­tain. It must have been at least one me­tre in di­am­e­ter or even larger. Slowly, we inched our way up the moun­tain side, de­tour­ing with lit­tle Go­liath on our left. Care­fully, we went around it try­ing not to slide down the side slope or slip off the boul­ders. Our wheels were placed pre­car­i­ously on and into lit­tle Go­liath. Our de­flated tyres and lock­ers kept us on track as we eased our way past . By now we were get­ting used to the ter­rain and how to over­come its un­for­giv­ing ob­sta­cles. Eroded gul­lies, rock ledges, in­ter­spersed with side slopes, gra­di­ents, boul­ders and rocks con­tin­ued to plague the way ahead. We needed to pick up the pace, but couldn’t. Some­how the easy sec­tions seemed to be the ex­cep­tion and not the rule. Fi­nally, we ar­rived at our camp­site, si­t­u­ated at the foot of Yee-hah hill, for the night. Our guide, Thabo, had a brief chat with the lo­cal herds­men and they cleared an area for us to pitch tents and make our­selves com­fort­able. The night fires were roar­ing as tem­per­a­tures dropped down to well be­low 10 de­grees.

Bri­dle Pass

This next four-kilo­me­tre sec­tion of Ba­boon’s Pass is re­ferred to as the Bri­dle Pass. It’s so nar­row that you can’t pass another ve­hi­cle at all. Should the lead ve­hi­cle break down, it would have to be towed in re­verse all the way back to the Yee-hah sum­mit, which re­quires some very skill­ful driv­ing. Once we reached the sum­mit above Yee-hah Hill, the track de­scended in a southerly di­rec­tion through a tricky lit­tle ‘poort’ where our track snaked east to the south­ern side of the moun­tain. Here, the track narrows again. At a push, it’s in many places only wide enough to al­low our long 130 De­fend­ers with their big spaced out wheels through. How that Mercedes 1617 got through here re­mains a mys­tery… Typ­i­cally, an ob­sta­cle has a start and an end point. As long as you choose your line care­fully you can get through. So how do you eat an ele­phant? Well, one bite at a time… And this is the case with the Bri­dle Pass where we pushed on and per­se­vered. Co-driv­ers nav­i­gated the ve­hi­cles through with the odd rock dis­placed and the line re­built for the next ve­hi­cle. Slow and steady mo­men­tum was the only way through this minefield of boul­ders.

The end in sight

For most, Go­liath’s Steps sig­nals the end of Ba­boon’s Pass, but it could also be seen as the sting in the tail or should we rather say, the ‘Ba­boon’s bite’. It’s un­doubt­edly the most hec­tic climb of Ba­boon’s Pass. The steps are a com­bi­na­tion of a tight hair­pin bend while climb­ing up a huge gran­ite boul­der with a hair-rais­ing in­cline and slightly ar­tic­u­lated run-up of poor trac­tion. It is on ob­sta­cles like these where the side shaft and cv-joints of a ve­hi­cle are un­der enor­mous strain. Some would ar­gue Ba­boon’s Pass is tech­ni­cally a grade-4 trail, how­ever, the grad­ing sys­tem is writ­ten for stan­dard-pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cles. The only stan­dard ve­hi­cle I know that could han­dle Ba­boon’s Pass is prob­a­bly a De­fender or a Dis­cov­ery 4. The pass has been con­quered in a Dis­cov­ery 4 with stan­dard tyres, but not with­out body or un­der­car­riage rash. Thus, to stay true to the trail grad­ing sys­tem, Ba­boon’s Pass is be­yond a grade-5. So here is a chal­lenge: If you know of any driver with a stock stan­dard pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cle that has com­pleted Ba­boon’s Pass and not sus­tained any body or un­der­car­riage rash, please let me know about it so I can send this per­son a box of some­thing or other and put the ve­hi­cle on a pedestal. Con­tact Bruce Jenk­in­son on 082 493 3377.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Egypt

© PressReader. All rights reserved.