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Mountain Passes News

The week that was!

* The festive season is over - it's back to work!

* Report back on the final leg of our recent Lesotho Tour.

* Podcast - Listen to a talk on the impact of social media

* Pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Back to work!

The silly season is over. We hope your waistline coped with the onslaught, but more seriously that you managed to survive the roads. We haven't received official accident figures yet and it's not our station to report on bad news, so I'm sure you will hear the statistics on the main stream news channels. 

Lesotho Tour - the adventure continues

Driving past the Letseng mine is similar to the mines on the Witwatersrand, except the man made mountains are grey instead of cream coloured. Once past Letseng there is a long and steady descent to the main town in the area.

Mokhotlong is located in the mountainous north-eastern part of Lesotho. The name is a Sesotho word which means "Place of the Bald Ibis". Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest point in southern Africa, is found near the town.

Mokhotlong’s role as a police post first brought people to this part of Lesotho in 1905, and it developed into a trading centre for the Highlands region. However, it was preserved from major development by its remote location. Not until 1947 was radio contact established with Maseru, the capital city. An air strip was built and a road cleared through the town to link Mokhotlong with the rest of Lesotho, but even so, it continued to be outfitted with provisions and supplies by pack mules from South Africa via Sani Pass.

Our convoy rumbled on to reach the 14th pass of the tour - the Kotisephola Pass (or Black Mountain Pass). 

This is a mega pass by any standards. It's very long at 32 km and displays an altitude variance of 1066m. With a summit height of 3244m ASL, headaches and nose bleeds might be experienced by travellers from the coast who have not had time to acclimatise. 

Packed into that length is a total of 139 bends, corners and curves of which 8 have angles in excess of 90 degrees and of those, 6 are hairpin bends, all of which occur on the south-eastern section of the pass. The pass is subject to lots of snow in winter and ice on the roadway will make things highly dangerous, even for 4WD vehicles. Chatting over the two way radios we recalled driving this pass in 2012 whilst construction was underway and the very odd sight of seeing Chinese trucks and road building equipment as well as Chinese nationals doing the manual labour. We never saw a single local employed on these projects. 

Rumours abounded at the time of the Chinese labourers being convicts. After completing their "sentence" it was said that they were then free to live in Lesotho as free men but were not allowed to return to China. Whether any of these stories were fact or fiction, we do not know. But what we do know is that the time it took to drive the pass then and now was about 80% shorter. The roads are actually excellent and a real pleasure to drive on.

It didn't take long and we arrived at the Lesotho border post at the summit of the Sani Pass. We stopped in at the highest pub in Africa for a bit of refreshment. We could not have wished for more perfect weather and for your scribe this was the first time ever traversing this iconic pass in clear weather. What a treat.

High on the Drakensberg escarpment, on the border between South Africa and Lesotho, Sani Mountain Lodge (previously known as Sani Top Chalets) offers comfortable accommodation beneath a sea of stars at night and breathtaking landscapes during the day. Sani Mountain Lodge boasts stunning views, cosy fires, adventure, and great hospitality. [More lower down...] 

The week that was!

* New Year's message

* Lesotho Tour (Chapter 7)

* Bedrogfontein Tour (Chapter 4)

* Pass of the week

* Words of Wisdom


Happy New Year!

From the team at Mountain Passes South Africa, we wish you a year of health, happiness and of course - travel. The year ahead is filled with the promise of exciting challenges and it's so often one's attitude that makes all the difference when it comes to achieving goals. So don't go on a diet, but rather make a lifestyle change so that it's permanent. Don't procrastinate, for as we all know a 'draadsitter' is not a cool person. Make decisions. Do those trips. Live your dreams. Take risks. Apologise. Forgive. Dream. Love and respect your fellow man/woman. 

Some changes for 2020

Each January we review our pricing on goods and services and adjust where applicable. We are exceptionally conscious of retaining our current subscribers and to reinforce that we are only increasing our 12-month subscription renewals by R10. This brings renewals to just R280. The rate for new subscribers will be R350 for the 12-month subscription, and for those choosing the 6 month option, it will be R250.

We have expanded our gifting options to include coffee mugs, T shirts, Golf shirts, caps and Gift Vouchers. For those that have completed the Ben 10 Eco Challenge, we have a separate range of souvinier gear.

This newsletter will be published every fortnight in future as opposed to once per week, but will retain the same format that you are accustomed to.


Lesotho-Sani Tour - Oxbow to Letseng

The third day of the tour saw a perfect 'blue sky' day with no wind and pleasant temperatures. Our convoy rolled out of the new Oxbow Lodge bang on time and headed south-east to tackle the 11th pass of the tour - the Mahlasela Pass. Not many people know this, but this pass is the highest pass in Lesotho at 3279m ASL with a big ascent of 740m. Once again it was a question of having to engage 1st gear to get up some of the steeper sections in the oxygen starved air. It's another long pass at just under 18 km with magnificent scenery.

As the pass is completed Afriski Resort makes its appearance. We were doing good time, so we popped in at Afriski for a look around. Situated in the heart of the Maluti Mountains, this luxury resort caters to every taste and offers the perfect escape for sport and outdoor enthusiasts, corporate parties as well as families. With a selection of accommodation options, as well as a range of on-site facilities and restaurants, Afriski has everything needed for the perfect mountain getaway. In summer, ambitious mountain goats explore the peaks in pursuit of a wide range of outdoor endeavours. The resort welcomes mountain bikers, trail-runners, hikers, fly fishermen as well as enduro and off-road enthusiasts. Multiple trails, paths and streams await discovery. When the seasons turn and the cold descends, the ski slopes come to life, and log fires in the evening provide time to unwind, kick back and relax. [More lower down...]

The Inside Story

* The year that was

* New merchandise

* Lesotho-Sani Tour - the final chapter

* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour - Chapter 3.

* Podcast - Listen to the highlights of the Lesotho Tour

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Adieu 2019

This is our final newsletter of 2019, when it's customary for us to take a look at the metaphorical road that we have travelled this year. It is also an opportunity to thank you for your support and encouragement and to wish you the very best of health and happiness for the year ahead.

In February 2019 we turned professional. This was a major decision after having spent the past 45 years running a different business, but everything has turned out better than expected and the additional time we are now able to invest in the MPSA project is bearing fruit.

Our biggest growth has come from the social media side of things where we put a LOT of effort into creating interesting and varied posts. Between Dec 2018 and Dec 2019 we amassed over 10,000 new followers on our Facebook page and the current rate of growth is about 1000 new followers per month. The total at the moment is 23,000 - that number having been reached on Christmas Eve.

Many people ask me why we put so much effort into social media when it doesn't bring in any income. The reason is that we are building MPSA into a national brand. It works on the principle of first having to give, before receiving. Some simple arithmetic shows the following. An average MPSA post is seen by about 3000 people. We post 8 times per day so that makes 24,000 post views a day; 168,000 per week; 722,000 per month and 8,600,000 per year. We have had a Facebook presence since 2013, so that is 60,681,000 post views over that period. Those figures are conservative. It's probably a lot more, but it illustrates what is possible to achieve on a small budget. Building a credible brand is key to having a sustainable business and with the power of social media it is possible, but most new businesses opt for sponsored (paid) posts. Those simply don't have the credibility of organic posts. But we warned it requires consistent and sustained creative effort.

Having said that, moderating the page requires patience, people skills and an enormous amount of time. With the credibility factor comes a level of respect and discipline which most followers abide by and after 7 years everyone knows what is required in terms of keeping the party clean - and especially positive. Now you know!

We enjoyed a very successful year with our tours, with all but 2 of them being fully booked. The tours also consume a huge amount of time - and it's all in the planning and getting the details right so that our clients enjoy a seamless experience. We had our fair share of drama on tours, losing a Land Rover in a flooded river; a motorcycle stranded on top of Bastervoetpad; a broken suspension on the summit of Ben MacDhui; a stranded Jeep with injector issues and several punctures and a few lost tyres. It's all part of the risk and excitement but we dealt with all those issues with aplomb. We will be working very hard over the next two weeks setting up the draft plans for all the tours in 2020, so do remember to come back and check our tours page to see what's on offer. Our return business ratio on our tours reached 70% by November. A sure sign that we are getting the formula right.

Our subscriber base has enjoyed good growth in 2019 and especially pleasing is to see how many subscribers are signing up from overseas. Expats longing for South Africa make up a fair portion of those overseas subscribers. Clients from Europe are especially appreciative of the website, stating that it allows them to plan an extended trip through South Africa and arrive armed with knowledge and confidence.


MPSA Coffee Mugs and new T-Shirts

Brand new merchandise on our shop page is now available. We have introduced a coffee mug into our range (the same one that guests on our tours receive) as well as new T-shirts and Golf shirts specially chosen for fabric suited to travelling. As always our subscribers get a discount. Check out the pics and pricing of the new merchandise at the MPSA Shop.


Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 6)

We were ticking off some of the biggest passes in Lesotho on our second day on tour and still more passes beckoned. Next up was the Moteng Pass.

This major pass is located between the town of Kala in the west and the Afriski Resort in the north in the northern quartile of Lesotho. It has a huge altitude gain of 896m that stretches over a distance of 15.3 km which converts into an average gradient of 1:17, but don't be fooled by that figure as it includes the descent. Most of the ascent from the western approach is between 1:5 and 1:8.

The 91 bends, corners and curves will require your full concentration. Amongst those there are 4 extreme hairpin bends and one full horseshoe. The A1 road is the major route across the northern sector of Lesotho and as such carries a fair volume of traffic including some very large trucks. These need the full width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends, so be fully aware of this as you proceed along this pass.

[More lower down...] 

What's inside?

* Christmas Greetings

* Gift a special friend with a lasting gift

* Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 5)

* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (Chapter 2)

* Featured pass of the week - Witsieshoek

* Words of wisdom


Merry Chistmas!
2019 has been a long, tough year for many South Africans and in many cases the phrase "money's too tight to mention" applies. The weak economy has taken its toll in every sphere. From the MPSA point of view we have done our best to keep our prices of all our products as affordable as possible and intend continuing in that vein for 2020.

We wish you and your family a peaceful and blessed Christmas. Stay positive and focus on the good all around you. It is possible to avoid negative news to a large extent. We attempt to only post positive uplifting material and that formula seems to be working for example on our FaceBook page which more than doubled in followers this past year. That growth has been exponential.

Don't miss next week's news release on the 26th December, where we will turn back the clock and review the year that was.
Until then, be safe & drive defensively.


Give someone a classy Christmas gift that costs just R300

Click on the link > Fill in the details of the recipient > Add your message > Pay with your card or do an EFT > Voila! Christmas shopping done. The recipient will remember your thoughtful gift for a full year and beyond.


 

Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 5)

With the tour of the Katse Dam completed we were a little pressed to make up some time and several big passes to conquer. As we bade farewell to the charms of the Katse Lodge, we commenced almost immediately with the first pass of the day - the Nkoabee Pass.

This is another big tarred pass covering 16.2 km. It is one of several big passes along the A25 and connects Seshute in the north with the Katse Dam complex in the south. There are 95 bends corners and curves to contend with, of which 23 have angles greater than 90 degrees, but there are no hairpins.

The altitude variance of 624m means lots of ascending and descending and although the road is tarred, caution needs to be exercised in terms of traffic volumes and the very real possibility of finding livestock on the road.

The pass offers very good elevated views of sections of the Katse Dam. It gives access to two airports - Katse Airport at the southern end and Seshutes airport at the northern end.

Starting in the north, the pass starts at the apex of a tight left-hand bend near the runway of the Seshutes Airport. The road heads south, steadily gaining altitude as it worms its way in and out of the side ravines. Although the ascent is long at 6.1 km, the climb gradient is comfortable, seldom exceeding 1:14. The river visible along the ascent is the Matsoku River.

[Click here to read the rest of this story...]

What's inside?

* Weather gone wild

* The perfect Christmas gift

* Exploring the Katse Dam

* Podcast - Lesotho passes

* Featured pass of the week

* Words of wisdom



Weather in full battle cry

From droughts and record high temperatures to floods. The Apiesrivier and Bronkhorstsruit in the Pretoria area are in flood and Potchefstroom has also experienced heavy rain. Many parts of the Free State and Northern Cape (including flooding in Upington) have brought welcome relief to struggling farmers and the country's dams are starting to fill. On our FaceBook page we posted a photo of a motorist crossing a flooded river at great and unnecessary risk to his life. We are assuming it's a 'he' as women just wouldnt take those risks.

We've said it a hundred times before - If you're not prepared to walk it, then don't drive it!


Give someone a classy Chistmas gift that costs just R300

Click on the link > Fill in the details of the recipient > Add your message > Pay with your card or do an EFT > Voila! Christmas shopping done. The recipient will remember your thoughtful gift for a full year and beyond.


 

Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 4)

Saturday 28th September - We woke to a crisp sunny day at our overnight accommodation at the Katse Lodge. (We have just had news that the lodge will be closed for 2020 as they are doing extensive renovations). After a hearty breakfast we got everyone down to the interpretative centre above the Katse dam wall, where we had made arrangements for a guided tour at 08h30. After 10 minutes waiting there was still no guide, so we took our group down the little pass and over the bridge at the Malimabatso river and up the other side of the gorge where we were permitted to drive over the dam wall and as the guard explained to us, we were not allowed to stop on the wall unless in the company of the official guide.

Once over the wall, we located a large tarred parking area and walked back over the wall. This little excursion which is part of the official dam tour took up 30 minutes and by the time we returned to the interpretive centre, we just made the start of the talk by our guide, who had arrived half an hour late. The talk was fascinating and we all then drove down to the bottom of the wall for the tour inside the wall itself. There is strictly no photography allowed and a guard bringing up the tail end of the group ensures this is enforced.

The thickness of the wall at the base is 60m and a series of arched tunnels run in both directions as well as upward and downward by several levels. It's a little eerie inside the wall and the steady drips of water running underfoot via shallow channels do cause a sense of awareness of "what if?..."

Every 50m or so there are stainless steel measuring devices where concrete sections meet. These measure minute movements within the structure and are carefully monitored on a regular basis.

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Mountain Passes South Africa

Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

Passes are classified according to provinces and feature a text description, Fact File including GPS data, a fully interactive dual-view map and a narrated YouTube video.
 

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Master Orientation Map We are as passionate about maps as we are about mountain passes. A good map is a thing of beauty that can transport you into the mists of time or get your sense of adventure churning. It is a place to make discoveries about deserts and seas, mountains and lakes; of roads leading into places you have not been before; a place to pore over holiday destinations or weekend camping trips. A map is your window to the world.

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