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[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]
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Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.
Digging into the details:
Getting there: The TTT can be reached from the west via either the Volunteershoek Pass (4x4 only) or the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. The western start is officially at the Tiffindell Ski Resort. For those wanting to approach from the east, drive to the summit view-point of the Naude's Nek Pass and take the gravel road to the left marked Tenahead Lodge. Continue for 4 km to arrive at the Tenahead Lodge, which is the eastern starting point of the TTT.
[Video courtesy of DroneSnap.co.za]
We filmed this route from west to east. Just to clarify matters, the TTT is essentially a 27 km long high altitude contour road which more or less remains at the 2600m level, except for the start and end sections. There are a number of mini-passes along the traverse which are all included in the route, including the unnamed 2 km pass which is the final drop down towards the Bell River on the eastern side, close to the Tenahead Lodge.
From Tiffindell, the road descends steeply at a gradient of 1:7 for 1,3 km to the first intersection, which is marked as Wartrail to the right (down Volunteershoek) and Rhodes to the left (down Carlisleshoekspruit Pass). Keep left here and head east for 0,3 km over a cattle grid and keep a look-out for a small two-spoor track heading off to the left through an open farm gate with a small sign next to it. For those who don't necessarily want to drive up the steep slope to Tiffindell, you can go directly onto the TTT at this gate after ascending the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass. The GPS coordinates are S30.660371 E27.939220 - Elevation: 2562m
Turn left onto this track and remain on it for the next 25 km. It's not easy getting lost from here, as there are no more roads or intersections whatsoever. This is the last frontier, so to speak. Prepare yourself for a fairly long and bumpy journey and allow between 2 and and 2,5 hrs for the trip. If you have not yet deflated your tyres, do so now and take them down to around 1,2 bar to ensure good traction, a more comfortable ride and a third bonus is the reduction in the likelihood of getting a puncture.
Make sure your camera's batteries are fully charged as the next two hours are a photographers dream with green rolling hills; steep sided gorges and steep ravines; rushing streams; Alpine type flowers and well fed cattle.
All distances quoted are measured from Tiffindell and not from the gate. The first part of the route rises slowly via many gentle turns as the road follows the northern side of the deep ravine carved out by the oddly named Upper Knoppieshoekspruit. A high point is reached at the 6,2 km mark at an elevation of 2666m. The scenery is dreamy and very much reminscent of an Alpine scene with steep, grassy slopes peppered with wild flowers, with the gorge on the right, providing a sobering reminder that you are driving along the highest contour road in South Africa.
[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]
A long descent follows as the road reaches its lowest point along the entire upper section at an altitude of 2546m at the 8,4 km mark. At this point you can look to the right (south) and get a great view of the deep gorge that takes the river through the mountains to join the Bell River. The chances are that you will have this entire vast vista all to yourself. The green hills all tumble down steeply towards the main ravine and if you drive this route in summer, you'll be pleasantly surprised how cool it is. Cattle can be seen grazing contendedly on the sweet grasses and the hillsides are peppered with wild-flowers including muti-coloured irises. Keep a look out for the unique 'Dolos Dobo Lily' which only grows between 2450m and 3200m altitude.
There are six farm gates along the route. Each should be left as you find it. Some of the gates are in a rickety state, but they still perform their function of keeping cattle on the right side of the fence. There are also a number of cattle grids along the route which are all in sound condition. Prepeare yourself for many unbridged stream crossings - probably in excess of 20.
Mostly these are fairly straight-forward and the average 4x4 will have no problem with the depth. Should you find yourself on the route in heavy rain conditions, please exercise due care and know that the streams get ever deeper and wider as you make progress eastwards. If the first crossing appears to be problematic, rather retreat early and return at another date. Believe it or not, the name of the farm being traversed along this section, is called 'Chevychase'.
At the 6,1 km mark, there is a fork in the road. The left hand option is an old version of the road and a new bypass is in place, so stick to the right hand side. This is one of the sections of this road that could become very tricky in wet weather. Change to low range and proceed down the slope slowly which is rocky and slow.
There are two small anti-stock theft huts close to the road. Each of these has solar power and radio connectivity. Remember their positions or eben better, mark their positions on your GPS as this could be a life-line for assistance should you break down on this lonely road. The second and slightly bigger unit is at the 8,7 km point at an elevation of 2555m. The patrol officer must have one of the finest views in the world as this hut has a commanding view in every direction and was obviously built there for that exact reason. Even in mid-summer there was a fire burning in the stove inside. Stop and say hello to these youngsters who spend a very lonely existence in this icy cold place in the interests of protecting our borders. If you have some spare clothing or food, you know what to do.
Stock thieves from Lesotho have plagued the farmers on the South African side for many years, resulting in the construction of this road, which allowed the SAPS to patrol a wide swathe of mountainside all along the border. Farmers lost thousands of cattle over the years and eventually SAPS set up the unit at Cairntoul, as well as the satellite stations along the route. Each of these locations were strategically selected, to allow rangers to see long distances and thus effectively patrol the main theft passage over the mountain range, by using radio transmissions.
[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]
From the 8.4 km point to the 18 km mark the road hardly changes altitude on any great scale, but the going remains slow and the track is generally quite bumpy, forcing a very low average speed of around 20 kph. This entire section is undulating and peppered with small climbs and descents. There are some rough patches which are stony or rocky, but they generally don't last for long.
At the 18,6 km mark, the road swings into the south and crosses the main river for the first time. There is no bridge here, so check the crossing out on foot if the water is flowing fast or looks too deep. Directly ahead on the next grassy slope you'll see the SAPS Cairntoul anti stock theft complex.
The road now rises up the slope after the river crossing and bisects the complex, then swings away to the left and soon commences the biggest climb of the whole route. This climb starts at the 18,8 km point and climbs rapidly at a gradient of 1:8 to the next summit at 2673m. This climb is rough and bumpy and consists mainly of ridged bedrock. This will be very tricky when there is snow and ice around. The taller peak on the left is called Dooiemanskrans (Dead Man's Buttress) and has a summit of 2881m. There is also a substantial cave near the top.
Cautionary: This route should not be treated lightly and the Grade 1 to 2 rating we have allocated is only applicable in fair weather. This part of the Eastern Cape is notorious for its unpredictable weather and when things do change here, as in severe electrical storms, heavy mist or snow, the rating will rapidly change to Grade 4 to 5 and could become life threatening. Always keep a sharp eye on the weather and speak to the locals who will have a better understanding of what to expect. Tell someone at home what your ETA is at your next stop, so that if there is an emergency, the authorities can be notified to effect a rescue operation. If you do experience a break down, and decide to walk out for assistance, the best place to head for will be one of the two satellite huts or the main SAPS base at Cairntoul. Make sure you have the right equipment to survive a long, high altitude walk, which should include a map, compass, warm clothing, food and water.
[Video cover photo by Trygve Roberts]
From the summit there is a good view of the next valley and the road can be traced all the way to the next nek, which is reached at the 24.5 km mark at 2621m. This is also the western start of the final pass, which drops rapidly down into the Bell River Valley, via a series of steep and sharp hairpins to reach the river at the 26.7 km point at an elevation of 2506m. If you look to your left along the last part of the descent, you will see a tall peak of 2824m called Tina Head, which provides something of a clue as to how Tenahead Lodge earned its name. The farm on which the lodge is built bears the name of Tenahead farm.
Just before the river is reached, another gravel road forms a Y-junction with the TTT, which leads off to an isolated farm in a dead-end. This road also provides acces to Lehana's Pass which is a rugged and wild footpath which leads down the Drakensberg to the valley floor. This 'pass' is not doable in any vehicle motorcycle or bicycle. Some cyclists who have traversed this pass, have had to portage their bikes the whole way and proclaimed it to be 'murderously tough'.
Cross the Bell river cautiously. The crossing has been well chosen as there is a wide, fairly flat rock to facilitate vehicles getting over and there were no deep pools or crevaces on the day we drove it. You will cross the Bell River twice more in rapid succession and within 50 metres of the third crossing, the buildings of the beautfully designed Tenahead Lodge can be seen on a small ridge jutting out over the river. It is a beautiful setting.
This is a 5 star lodge and only has 7 double rooms and falls under the umbrella title of a boutique hotel. If you can afford it, this is a wonderful place to spend a day or more. Besides the spectacular setting one can try your hand at fly-fishing in the Bell River, do the Lehana's Oxwagon Hiking Trail, take a horse trail or simply relax and pamper yourself in their spa and wellness centre. The food is great and the hospitality even better. The management of Tenahead Mountain Lodge are keen followers of this website and will make you feel more than welcome.
Check out the tariffs and details here: http://www.riverhotels.co.za/
If you continue heading south-east beyond Tenahead Lodge for a further 4 km, you will arrive at the Naudes Nek view-site. From this junction, you have the option of descending to Maclear down the eastern side of the pass, or you can turn right and head westwards to Rhodes.
|GPS START||S30.653644 E27.925994|
|GPS SUMMIT||S30.653644 E27.925994|
|GPS END||S30.709394 E28.137238|
|DIRECTION - TRAVEL||East|
|TIME REQUIRED||150 minutes|
|SPEED LIMIT||None - Self limiting|
|SURFACE||Gravel & two spoor (P3233)|
|NEAREST TOWN||Rhodes (34 km)|
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