Right. Having some time on my hands for once, I'll get around to writing my trip report. It's brief - nothing particularly amazing or anything.
As people know, my father purchased a Patrol 4.5 GRX in January after being absolutely astounded by mine over the December holidays. We've done a couple of trails together, and one of his bucket-list items was to drive the Sani Pass.
So, back in April this year, we planned it all, and booked accommodation.
Two Patrols: My wife, children and I in my Patrol. My folks and two good friends of theirs (Chandre and Reinette) in their Patrol.
Overnight at the Sani Backpackers in Himeville (http://www.sanilodge.co.za/
) on the evening of 29th July.
Drive Sani pass and overnight at Sani Top (http://www.sanimountain.co.za/
) on the evening of the 30th July.
Drive through Lesotho and exit at Caledonspoort on 31st July.
My folks decided to book accommodation in Clarens for 31st, but I planned to push back through to Brits that Sunday.Friday 29th
The route highlighted is not the most direct trip, but since my parents were coming through from Potchedstroom, we'd arranged to catch up with them in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, we got away than originally planned, and only caught up with them at the Nottingham Road exit in KZN.
Got to Himeville after dark. Checked in, had a few beers and braaied.
The facilities at the back packers are actually fantastic - considering the price you pay.Saturday 30th
The route posted above is the original route we planned to use through Lesotho. However, once we got up to the top, we found that the roads further into Lesotho were still closed as a result of the snow. In other words, our plans changed. We would have to overnight at Sani Top, head back down Sani Pass and drive back around Lesotho to get to Clarens. No worries - we were excited about the snow.
At about 10am, we headed out to the pass. We bumped into another Patrol (a tour guide vehicle) on the way to the ZA border control.
The border post was very busy - with hundreds of tour operators taking people up to the pass to see the snow. It took about 20 minutes to get our passports stamped.
And then we were through - heading towards the pass proper.
As I've learnt, the worst bit of the pass is the last +/-3 3km. This is where most of the climbing occurs, and also (in Winter) where you have the most snow and ice on the dirt road. The biggest issue comes in with ice forming on the road. Also, since three of the bends are pretty much permanently in the shade during Winter, these bends are notorious for being very slippery.
I had my tyres deflated around to 1.4 bar (this was from what I had read - one does not want them too soft, or they do not break the ice). I also had spanking new Bridgestone muddies on. And I think if this was not the case, I'd also have battled as my father did. On the first dark corner (ie: iced bend), I felt that my vehicle was sliding a little, but I had enough traction and I managed to get through the dark bit. My father, however, got stuck. The wheels were only spinning. He could not go forward, and the only option was to reverse back around the bend and try it again with more momentum...
Second time lucky, and we continued on up the pass. At the second dark bend (it is steeper than the first one, but not as long), I almost got stuck. I radioed my father in order to inform him that he must keep his revs up, but he got stuck again. And this time, we learnt the reason for this - purely by accident. As he was about to start ascending the pass again (after reversing back around the corner), one of the tour operators noticed that he was in low range, 1st gear. And said this does not work. On icy roads, low range, first gear provides too much torque. And then the vehicle only spins.
Once the trick to use 2nd gear low range was learned, we decided to take a quick coffee break on one of the bends before the last icy corner. And let the nerves settle a little... :)
After learning this trick, the ascent of the pass went by without further incident.
We reached the top, cleared customs, checked in and relaxed a little at Sani Top. Sadly, there was no Maluti beer (the ice roads meant that the lodge was battling to get stock), so we had Windhoek instead. The kids enjoyed the snow.Lessons Learnt for Driving Up Snowy Passes
1: My tyre pressure worked for me. I'll keep it on 1.4 if I do this again in icy conditions.
2: Use Low range, but do not use 1st as your wheels just spin. Use 2nd.
3: Do not stop in the shade. Not only will you be stopping on ice where your vehicle may slide around even with hand brake on, but you will battle to pull off again. Drive through it and stop in the sunny bits where the ice has melted.
Right. That is quite a long post. I'll write about the descent (scary stuff that) later.