Rooihoogte Pass (R318)

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Mr. Burger's bluegum trees at the viewsite Mr. Burger's bluegum trees at the viewsite - Photo: Gerhard Marx

Over a distance of 7.6 km, the tarred Rooihoogte Pass displays 370m of altitude variance, with a comfortable average gradient of 1/20. Literally a stone's throw along the same road is Burgers Pass, formerly known as Koo Pass. Both of these passes were first designed by master road engineer, Thomas Bain in 1877.

The Rooihoogte Pass was originally known as Thomson's Pass and together with the Koo pass, both received name changes in the 1940's. This is reputed to be the pass with the highest summit altitude in the Western Cape. The pass is more enjoyable driving it in the descending mode with huge views over the rugged Langeberg mountains.

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[Video cover photo: 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: To approach from the north, as we have produced it, turn south off the N1 4 kilometres east of the summit of the Hex River Pass (and 21 km west of Touws River) at GPS S33.396606 E19.837205. Drive south for 31 km to arrive at the northern start and summit point of the Rooihoogte Pass. 

For those wanting to drive the pass from the south (ascending), head west out of Montagu on the tarred R381 for 30 km and ascend the Burgers Pass. Continue for a further 20 km to arrive at the southern start of the Rooihoogte Pass.

History: This pass is inextricably linked to Burger's Pass (Koo Pass) as well as with Cogmanskloof to the south of Montagu. Thomas Bain designed and supervised the construction of all three during 1877. The two passes of Burger's and Rooihoogte climb out of the Koo Valley over the Waboomsberge to summit on the plateau of the Nouga Hills.

P.M.Burger's map of the pass and the old passesP.M.Burger's handdrawn map showing all four passes / Courtesy: T.MurrayHistory tells us that at least two earlier passes traversed these mountains before Thomas Bain cast his "theodolite eye" over the landscape. The earliest pass may have been built as a co-operative venture by the first farmers that settled the Koo valley between 1730 and 1740. This pass was known as the Eselsgal Pass (for the steepness of its gradients and the displeasure it gave the mules) and existed as far back as 1800. Wagons had to be half unloaded and needed to return to the bottom to haul the second half of the cargo up. The gradients were steeper than 1:5!
Surprisingly, the 200 year old road is still in reasonable shape, despite being covered by Waboom bushes (Protea Nitida) with some neat stonework still evident. Thomas Bain's road took a far easier line which was well to the west of the Eselsgal route.

Bain's meticulous dressed stone walls can still be seen below and to the south-west of the current road. The Bain pass was opened on 11th November, 1877 - a date which was commerorated for many years thereafter in the form of a traditional Koo Picnic.

Snow at the summitSnow near the summit looking west at Matroosberg / Photo: Mauritzg In 1919 a Mr. P. Ravenscroft built a third route over the mountains on a route very close to the current pass. Eager to have his name remembered in posterity, he carved his famly crest into a rock, which still exists today.

This gravel road was used by farmers to transport apples and pears to Matroosberg station - the trip taking two full days.

The modern tarred road (R318) was completed in 1967. With a summit altitude of 1244m ASL, it makes this the highest of the Western Cape passes. Similar to the Outeniqua Pass near George, this is one of only two passes in South Africa, where four passes can be seen simultaneously.

The pass was originally named Thomson's Pass after Mr. J. de W.Thomson, who was the MPC for Swellendam and the MEC for roads until 1968. He was remembered for his great endeavours towards improvements to the pass. The pass has now reverted to its old name of Rooihoogte, despite the fact that another Rooihoogte Pass exists between Villiersdorp and Worcester; not to mention a plethora of similarly named passes and poorts in South Africa. History has a way of repeating itself and the renaming of places for political reasons happened then and is doing so again right now, depending on who is in power. 

Rooihoogte PassGreat views and a safe pass, but no safety shoulders / Photo: Trygve RobertsPass Description: The northern start of the pass is very easy to identify by a large concrete microwave tower on the right. There is also a sign next to the road, claiming an altitude of 1234m, but all our measurements both from Google Earth and from a calibrated altimeter, measured 1244m - a difference of 10m. We regularly come across signage discrepancies. In this case, the variance is fairly small, but in other cases, they can be large - as in the case of the Komsberg Pass. The summit point is not the best place to enjoy the high altitude views. There are far superior viewpoints further along the pass. The Matroosberg Peak can be seen in the distance towards the north-west, some 36 km away as the crow flies.

Initially the road sweeps through a wide 90 left hand bend with an easy arc, descending at a gradient of 1:14 as the road sweeps towards a shallow side ravine, where a much sharper 90 degree right bend takes the heading back into the west.

There are a number of long, straight stretches along this pass and the first of these lasts until the 2 km point, where the road enters a long and easy S-curve. The views open up on the left offering big views over the plains stretching away towards the Langeberg range.

Next up is the most significant feature of the pass which is a full hairpin bend, and although the road curls through a full 180 degrees of arc, the radius is reasonable and only requires a minor adjustment in speed. With the heading now into the south-east, the descent gradient gets steeper at 1:11.

At the 5,2 km mark, a picnic site appears on the left adjacent to a side ravine,  where a cluster of tall bluegum trees provide some welcome shade during the hot summer months. The descent continues into the south and at the 6 km mark, a minor gravel road intersects from the east. This is a dead-end and ends at a few farms.

Another big S-bend follows, after which the heading reverts back into the west. At the 7 km the final S-bend sweeps first left, then right, then into a tight 110 degree left han bend. At the apex of this last bend, there is a large picnic are with plenty of shade, with good views over the valley to the south.

The pass ends at the 7,8 km mark, at an altitude of 868m ASL at the bridge crossing of a small river.

[Credits and Sources: Dr. Graham Ross; Patricia Storrar; Patrick Coyne; Tony Murray]


Fact File:

GPS START 

S33.604254 E19.852440

GPS SUMMIT

S33.604254 E19.852440

GPS END 

S33.630048 E19.826651

AVE GRADIENT

1:20

MAX GRADIENT

1:10

ELEVATION START

1244m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

1244m

ELEVATION END

868m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

376m

DISTANCE

7,6 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

South-West

TIME REQUIRED

8 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

80 - 100 kph

SURFACE

Tar (R318)

DATE FILMED

14.11.2018

TEMPERATURE

24C

NEAREST TOWN

Montagu (50 km)


Route Map:

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Route files:

||Click to download: Rooihoogte Pass (R318)  (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)

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