Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

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iandvl
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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by iandvl » 04 Aug 2016 09:08

ricster wrote: ...snip...
Well done bud !!
.../snip...
Thanks Cedric. That was probably the most stressful drive I've done. But we're still here. I must get around to writing up the trip report, but I'm battling trying to get all my work done before tomorrow and also getting ready for the river trip... :)

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by Clem » 04 Aug 2016 10:43

Peter Connan wrote:Having myself never driven on ice, I wonder: what will the effect of tar be on ice formation?
Pulling on the A pillar with the driver's window open, a single person can easily rotate the car 180 degrees exactly where it is standing. I've done it.

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by iandvl » 18 Aug 2016 10:11

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.

The plan:

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
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Planned trip down
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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
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Planned trip through Lesotho
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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.
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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.
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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.
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And then we were through - heading towards the pass proper.
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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...
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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... :)
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After learning this trick, the ascent of the pass went by without further incident.
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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.
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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.
Last edited by iandvl on 18 Aug 2016 11:24, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by ricster » 18 Aug 2016 10:46

Ian, its a pity you didn't get to see Sani Border like this..... and this was at the bottom !!

Pleased you had a ball and a great learning driving experience. What is interesting to read is the 1st gear/2nd gear info. It makes sense to me now having thought about it. If I recall, I did those ice bends in first gear low range. The difference I believe is the diesel vs petrol. The diesel will hold the idle ( +/- 800-900 rpm ) easier, in other words, give you a more gentle or even delivery of power/torque than what the petrol does. With the petrol motor one "feathers" the throttle. If the foot pushes just a fraction too hard the power is almost immediate causing the tyres to slip. Once the tyres loose traction it is very tricky to get then back "on track" so to speak. The second gear option levels the power delivery better for a petrol motor, but the speed that you travel will be a little faster. I apologies for not telling you this when we chatted on the phone the other night before you left.... must have been those damn diesel fumes again.... :rolling: :rolling: :rolling:
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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by iandvl » 18 Aug 2016 10:49

ricster wrote:Ian, its a pity you didn't get to see Sani Border like this..... and this was at the bottom !!

Pleased you had a ball and a great learning driving experience. What is interesting to read is the 1st gear/2nd gear info. It makes sense to me now having thought about it. If I recall, I did those ice bends in first gear low range. The difference I believe is the diesel vs petrol. The diesel will hold the idle ( +/- 800-900 rpm ) easier, in other words, give you a more gentle or even delivery of power/torque than what the petrol does. With the petrol motor one "feathers" the throttle. If the foot pushes just a fraction too hard the power is almost immediate causing the tyres to slip. Once the tyres loose traction it is very tricky to get then back "on track" so to speak. The second gear option levels the power delivery better for a petrol motor, but the speed that you travel will be a little faster. I apologies for not telling you this when we chatted on the phone the other night before you left.... must have been those damn diesel fumes again.... :rolling: :rolling: :rolling:
Cedric,

That looks epic... :biggrin: :biggrin:

I guess you're right about diesel vs petrol. In any case, after we started using 2nd gear low range, our problems went away...

It was an awesome experience. Although scary... I've still got to type up the bit about the descent. That was rough....

I've done Sani before when it has not snowed. This was a first for me....

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by iandvl » 18 Aug 2016 11:50

Sunday 31st

Our original plan was to cross Lesotho and go back via Clarens.
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Sadly, this was not an option, as the roads were still closed near Afriski. So we had to go back the way we came.
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Got up early, packed the vehicles. We were ready to leave at about 09h00, at which point we ran into Brian from Sani Top lodge. He'd already been down the pass and back up with his Cruiser to collect stock for the Lodge. Chatted with him a little in terms of what to expect. His words: the ice would be deepest in the shady corners. The vehicle would slide all over the place. One must not brake, but just control the slide. Low range, first gear - do not brake. And be especially careful of the lowest (ie: the last tight) bend on the way down. This was because the lowest bend is the longest, and being lower in shade for a much longer time of the day. The ice there, he mentioned was very, very, very rough...

In any case, we headed for passport control, and then feeling a little like lamb to the slaughter, we started on the way down...

Brian was right. It's slippery in all the shady corners. The car does slide all over the place. And one cannot touch the brakes. We engaged low range, 1st gear and idled down the pass.
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The last bend on the way down (the worst bit) is where the video I posted on page one occurred - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2QBKioiWM0

At that point, the vehicle was about 15 degrees skew of the track, and I was only just managing to control the slide. I still do not understand how we missed each other, but we made it down safely, and cleared the border post at the bottom.
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We then headed to Clarens (well, I was planning on going home directly). There was a massive accident on the R617 towards Howick, and we ended up taking a serious back route through to the N3. We eventually got to Behtlehem after 18h00, and I decided to overnight in Clarens and leave very early the following morning.

Having pretty much frozen on the top of Sani and roughed it for a day or two, I checked the family into the Mont D'Or Hotel (https://montdor.co.za) in Clarens, and we went out for dinner with my folks.
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Monday 1st
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Woke up super early to leave for home, but discovered the world covered in snow from a new snow storm during the evening. I was not sure how heavy the snow was, and decided it would be safer to wait until it was light before leaving.
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Got home at about 12h00 and immediately started work :(

What I Learnt Descending Icy Passes

1: Tyre pressure was again at 1.4.
2: Be careful in the shady corners.
3: The vehicle is going to slide around. Your job is to focus on keeping the skid under control. DO NOT TOUCH THE BRAKES.
4: 1st gear. Low range. Let the vehicle creep down with compression braking.
5: Where vehicles have travelled before you, they brake the ice on the road, which later remelts and becomes very slippery. You can use the "fresher" snow on the side of the track to try and get better traction. However, do this as required but not for too long at a time, as the snow will melt into your tyre.
6: Brian (from Sani Top) mentioned that should the worst happen and you feel as if you're losing control entirely, steer for the ditch on the mountain-side of the track.

Conclusion

The trip was interesting. It's the first time I've travelled in serious ice / snow. Whilst I'd read as much as I could about the stuff before hand (I even bothered Cedric for some advice), I still felt almost unprepared with the difficulties we had on both the way up and on the way down.

Driving down Sani in icy conditions is terrifying, but I think I've learnt a lot.

Will I do it again ? Yes. I still want to take my drive through Lesotho, and would also like to see Khatse / similar. But I think I'll go in the summer next time. :)

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by Herrie » 18 Aug 2016 12:11

So die pad tot bo by Sani Pass is nog nie geteer nie! :thumbup:
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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by iandvl » 18 Aug 2016 12:18

Herrie wrote:So die pad tot bo by Sani Pass is nog nie geteer nie! :thumbup:
Die pad boontoe is nie geteer nie. Maar die teer begin letterlik by die grenspos bô.

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by Tinus lotz » 18 Aug 2016 12:26

Dankie vir die nice report sommer lus om nou te ry....... :clap:

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Re: Sani - What I Learnt in the Snow

Post by mattk » 18 Aug 2016 12:30

Lovely report, thanks Ian. Did the trip to Katse via Sani/Thaba Tseke in June when the ice was not as thick, but plenty snow. From katse via the Motabeng pass to Matatiele. Lesotho is an awesome place to travel through. :thumbup:

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