• Plan A, B and C... Lesotho August 2012 trip report

    A report on our trip into the snow covered heights of the mountain kingdom.

    What had been planned as a 3 or 4 day trip through Lesotho in the company of Gasman, Hein, Morne SWAMBO’s and mini SWAMBO turned into a exercise in snow driving, changing plan A into plan B and finally into plan C and all because mother nature decided to remind us that even if we are the dominate species on planet earth, can send 6 wheeled rovers to Mars and drive some of the best 4x4’s available she is still the Boss!

    It started almost 6 months ago during one of many Saturday morning get together at Landyworx. Gasman causally dropped into the conversation that he was planning a trip to Afri Ski in August. Hmm sounds interesting but , i) I don’t ski and have stuffed my back to the point where I probably couldn’t learn to save my life and ii) work keeps getting in the way of life.

    Then during the Landy Festival the topic came up again and it sounded too good to miss out on. A 1st for me, Lesotho, overnight in the middle of what appears to be nowhere, before heading off to Sani Pass and then home. If I missed Afri Ski I could squeeze a couple of days off plus the public holiday, more power to the women in our lives and so it was settled.

    Since this year is a year of learning for me before heading off to CKGR in May 2013 the chance to drive in some of the more remote parts of the country, in terrain I had not experienced before just had to be taken up.

    Gasman, Morne and Hein were to spend Saturday through Thursday at Afri Ski, myself and mini SWAMBO were to meet them on Thursday at 10:00 to then head off to Molumong Lodge.

    As we all know Tuesday it snowed in JHB, well I can also tell you that it snowed at Afri Ski and just about every other place in Lesotho. Not only did it snow but it snowed some more and then just for good measure it snowed a wee bit more. On Tuesday evening I get the first sign of what was to be expected when an SMS from Gasman arrived telling me that 300 mm of snow had come down, all skiing was stopped and the roads up to Afri Ski had been closed.

    Having read the recent thread of the guys getting stuck and then rescued on the same road I was due to travel it was front of mind so preparations took on a keener edge.

    We decided that since we had booked the time off, accommodation in Fouriesburg had been paid and there was a Landy itching to travel somewhere we decided that at least we would make our way down and check on local conditions.

    Last minute trips back to Outdoor Warehouse to top off on some extra thermal gear, space blankets and other suitable extreme cold weather gear ensued before setting off Wednesday midday.

    On the drive down stories of the N3 being closed from Villiers confirmed the extend of the weather, but SMS’s from Gasman indicting clear skies, Google promising no more snow suggested that things were calming down.

    We arrived in Fouriesburg at 16:30 and more by luck than design spotted the turn off to Karmel B&B. Guys if you want a real friendly home from home in this part of the world check Karmel out. Suzette is a delightful person, makes you feel at home from the minute you set foot on the farm and I get the impression that nothing is too much trouble. A large two bedroomed cottage with electric blankets on every bed and a pack of the most friendly and entertaining dogs, OK so I’m a dog lover and maybe these guys might not be everyone’s idea of fun companions, make for a relaxed time after the drive down.

    We drove into Fouriesburg early evening to fill up with fuel both for the Landy ad ourselves. Gasman had stressed we needed to meet at 10:00 if we were to make the trip through to Molumong Lodge with plenty of stops for pictures and food.

    Ok so now the learning starts. Just because JHB has gone cashless don’t assume that everywhere else has. Pulled into a BP garage, well a general store with a couple of pumps out the front, rashly said fill her up please, she’ll take about 120 litres and started to chat to the attended to try and find out about local road conditions. A sudden thought struck me as the Rands clocked up, “Do you take plastic?” Sorry only cash or petrol cards. Oops better stop whole I check the cash status. Phew! Enough to cover what had been pumped then off to the local FNB ATM to draw more.

    Right Landy sorted time for human munchies. For a small town Fouriesburg seems to have an abundance of places to it. On the advice of Suzette we settled for Plaasstoep. Open fire, friendly staff and great food. The chips being the best I’ve eaten since leaving the UK more than 20 years ago.

    An early start was planned for Thursday so it’s off to bed, suitably heated by the electric blankets.

    4:30 Thursday, up, dress, a quick cup of tea, repack the Landy including shuffling things around because, well because you can and we’re on the road by 5:30 arriving at the border at 5 past 6. Only two taxis’s in front of us and surprise surprise officials opening up early.

    Having crossed a couple of African borders I was expecting this one to be no different, wrong! Minimal formalities, friendly officials and within 5 minutes we were on our way into Lesotho.

    Lesotho entry point a little less organised but again no real stress. One simple form, quick stamp in the passport, nobody wanted to see car papers all looking good and then ……….I’m asked to open the car.

    OK nothing to declare nothing to worry about.
    “Sir what’s in this box?” Clothes,
    “And this box?” Recovery gear
    “And this box?” Oh that’s my fridge.
    “How much did your food cost?” I don’t know probably about R600,
    “Do you have the slips?” I’m thinking you’ve got to be joking I stole this from SWAMBO’s pantry but I reply no.
    “That’s going to cost you 14% tax then”. Ok small price to pay to smooth the way, what’s 14% of R600, R84 right? Nope at this time of the day and according to the official with CUSTOMS stamped across her jacket its R112 and no there’s no receipt. Argue the point or move on. In this case move on. Yes I know the arguments about these situations but in this case I had a dead line to meet and was just happy to get through without any real delays.

    SMS’s from Gasman and talks to local police indicates that the road up to Afri Ski is drivable so off we go.

    It was about 06:45 when we left the border post and 09:45 when we finally pulled into Afri Ski. To say the least it was a challenging drive up. I’m pretty sure we were the 1st one through that morning. What I did find out was again just how capable my Landy (Disco 2) is. Climbing, tight bends and steep descents on roads that were still covered with packed snow presented some interesting challenges. What I really liked was the way low range, 1st in manual mode with hill descent controlled the down hills to a less than walking pace speed with real assurance under foot from the BFG’s.

    There were a couple of times when through I guess my own inexperience I would try and bring the Landy to a halt before setting up for a descent when traction was lost resulting in thankfully small slides giving an idea of how bad the road was in places.

    At Afri Ski though we got an idea of just how bad conditions had been for 24 hours or so. Stories of water freezing in bottles inside cars, snow drifts covering some of the smaller cars and engines refusing to start because of battery and fuel problems were common.

    (Thanks to Telkom and Neotel who have both conspired to drop comms into our house pictures are going to be delayed).

    We started to get conflicting stories on the state of roads into the interior. Some saying that the mines had opened them all the way through to Molumong Lodge other than they had only opened up to the mine. After a quick breakfast and much debate it was decided that we would drive through as far as we could.

    It didn’t take very long before we got the bad news. A group of guys coming through from the mines plus some other intrepid folk who has left earlier confirming that snow drifts across the road past the mines were blocking the road and that no plans were in place to open them up.

    OK, so there goes plan A, time for plan B. Drive back to Fouriesburg, regroup and look at going through to either Katse Dam or Golden Gate.

    Now another lesson for me. Brakes are great but they have limits! On the drive down we came across small groups of people driving up to Afri Ski. A mix of 4x4’s and sedans the 4x4’s having no problem but in places the sedans needed some help from their bigger brothers. Good to see the guys pulling sedans up whilst local’s armed with shovels and salt worked on clearing the snow and ice from the roads.

    For me things started to go wrong above Oxbow. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to find yourself on a long downhill with brakes that are fading fast. OK so now it’s back to low range, 1st / 2nd manual and a real slow crawl down the rest of the pass much to the annoyance of some of the local drives. Hey sorry guys but I’m not going anywhere fast now.

    A couple of stops on the way down gave me some braking but not a very pleasant experience. At the time of writing I’m assuming it was my own inexperience that caused the problem, Peter at Landyworx will confirm it Saturday morning I’m sure.

    The rest of the team now decided that Katse Dam would be Plan B. Accommodation was found in Ficksburg. My own plans were that I really didn’t want to risk more mountain trips with potentially dodge brake so I was looking a curtailed trip.

    Not going to happen was Gasman’s response. We’ll transfer some of the gear from my car into yours leave yours parked at the B&B and mini SWAMBO and you will come with us and that’s what we did.

    Thursday evening was a typical South African “maak a plan”. Eight of us booked into B&B, taking over the gardens to braai. It can be bets described as an impromptu party with the owner helping things along by finding AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and other luminaries from the eighties resulting in a loud end to an exciting day. Given that there was one Englseman traveling with a group of Afrikaners I’m humbled by the way I was made to feel one of the group. I owe these guys a great big thank you!!, it was a night for memories and new friends.

    So Friday morning after a full breakfast we set off for Katse dam. Different border post different routines, “cycles of the moon” were a phrased used on more than one occasion. This time leaving RSA we had to declare our camera, iPads, and other electrical kit. Getting into Lesotho no overly officious customs officer in fact they stamped passports without the need to fill in immigration forms and then waved us through.

    Repeated questions regarding the state of roads up to Katse were all met with thumbs up and you’ll be OK’s. Even the police road block at the start of the climb up said it’s fine.

    The plan was to get to Katse, do the dam wall tour and then return to Ficksburg by 16:00 after which I was going to drive back to JHB, the rest making plans to either stay over of start their own treks back to PE and George so time was always going to be tight.

    Well after 2 or 3 stops on the way whilst lesser cars than a Disco 3 (Gasman that was some fine driving skills) including an x-Trail an SLK, a Merc C2000, 3 bikes and a large mutli axle truck and trailer were either pulled, pushed or set to one side we finally gave up the fight 15 kms short of the dam. There goes plan B!

    If I thought I had a capable Landy I have to say that today has made me think about a D3. SWAMBO will not be impressed but I was.

    So we never made it to Molumong Lodge, Katse or Sani Pass. We did make friends with a great bunch of people and we saw some of the most magnificent sights I have seen in a long time.

    Coming from the UK I’ve travelled through Europe, had the opportunity to visit Zurich and the Alps as well as spend time in Austria at the site of a winter Olympics. Yes it’s totally different, it’s also well I guess regulated is the best word I can come up with, but to be in the middle of Southern Africa on the “roof of world” surrounded by snow scenes of such majesty made it all worthwhile.

    Sani will be there, at least un-tarred for a couple of years, Katse Dam will be there I’m sure for a lot longer so we’ll always be able to return.

    Plans are made to be changed, in the end Plan C, go into the mountains with a group of like minded people, enjoy the scenes and experience a form of 4x4 driving that not everyone in South Africa is going to be fortunate enough to share was, in the end probably the best unspoken plan that we made.

    Mother Nature has surely taught us all few lessons over the past month. Through the forum I would like to think that we have risen to the challenges and again demonstrated the very essence of what the 4x4 fraternity brings, friendship, camaraderie, unselfish behavior and in some cases incredible bravery to help others in times of need

    A great place to be a part of.

    Pics to follow just as soon as I find a way to beat Telkom and get then to deliver service 
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Plan A, B and C... Lesotho August 2012 trip report started by Keith Newnham View original post