4x4 trail

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

The Sani Pass de­bate

If you’re a reg­u­lar reader of Leisure Wheels, you’ll know that we’ve been to Sani many, many times. More re­cently, we’ve re­ceived a few mails con­cern­ing the le­gal­ity of head­ing up, as well as the safety as­pect. To ad­dress this is­sue, we de­cided to ded­i­cate th­ese pages to a sea­sonal re­view of the fa­mous pass.

In case you missed out on pre­vi­ous is­sues, we were sent some mail re­gard­ing a few old kom­bis and whether they should have been al­lowed to go up Sani Pass, since the South African Govern­ment al­lows only 4×4s to give it a go.

For the record, the club in­volved in that par­tic­u­lar mission re­ceived permission, as do we when­ever we take some­thing less qual­i­fied up the pass.

Over the years, we’ve driven a fair amount of proper 4×4s up Sani Pass: a Suzuki Jimny, Subaru Out­back, Toy­ota Prado and a host of bakkies. There was also a Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle Dune, a Lexus RX450h, two front-wheel-drive Kia Souls, a front-wheel-drive Kia Sorento and a Suzuki VanVan RV125 mo­tor­cy­cle.

That’s a wide va­ri­ety of ve­hi­cles with one thing in com­mon: they all made it.

Yes, folks, be­lieve it or not,

Sani Pass can be rel­a­tively easy to com­plete but it can also be a daunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It all de­pends on when you go...

Dur­ing the spring and sum­mer, it’s not that tricky. You just have to know the car’s lim­i­ta­tions, com­pen­sate for them, and you’re home free.

A good guide is the first part of the gravel road lead­ing up to South African pass­port con­trol. If your car is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing trou­ble, it would be best to turn around. Later, there are a few low water cross­ings and some loose sur­faces but noth­ing that can’t be over­come by pro­gress­ing slowly, fol­low­ing the rules and se­lect­ing the right line.

It’s the fi­nal few climbs that re­ally test your courage. It’s as much a psy­cho­log­i­cal test as a me­chan­i­cal one and you need a level-head to com­plete it.

As we’ve seen in the fron­twheel-drive cars we’ve driven up, com­plet­ing those turns re­quires some mo­men­tum. Not speed, mind you, just enough for­ward mo­tion to get the car through the turn and on to firmer gravel.

At this point, we have to ad­mit that this re­quires at least some skill so we un­der­stand why some peo­ple feel so strongly about the 4×4 only rule.

Now for the ar­gu­ment against. We have some ex­pe­ri­ence driv­ing the pass in snowy con­di­tions (and be­fore the wall block­ing the ice from the road was built). In those days, if you took any­thing but a proper 4×4 up, the re­sult was death.

This rule still counts in the win­ter. Snow is a tricky sub­stance and it doesn’t suf­fer fools. Melted snow re­sults in lots of mud, which is equally un­sym­pa­thetic.

Only re­cently, an Audi Q5 had to be re­cov­ered af­ter it went over the edge in snowy con­di­tions. We rate the Q5 as a de­cent enough off-roader but we’re not so sure we would have at­tempted that.

The ba­sic les­son here, as with all off-road­ing, is to not do any­thing that might harm you or your pride and joy. At cer­tain times the Sani Pass is rel­a­tively easy, but most of the time it’s a ter­ror of a thing.

Check the weather re­ports, give it a go and if it seems like it’s not go­ing to work, turn back. The top is a great place to be but there’s a host of beau­ti­ful, quiet and af­ford­able ac­com­mo­da­tion at the bot­tom, from where those moun­tains are per­haps best en­joyed.

As a fi­nal thought, we’d like to share our most re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence of the pass: we had a se­lec­tion of 4×4 bakkies and ed­u­cated driv­ers. The pass was in a good con­di­tion but still we asked ev­ery driver to en­gage low range. Rather be safe than sorry.

This page: Sani Pass – much eas­ier when the sun is shin­ing and there’s no mud or ice to deal with.

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