What's inside ?
* Doing the Ben 10 on foot
* Pass of the Week
* New passes added
* Words of Wisdom
Tours: Our Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour is around the corner (22nd to 24th November). If you own a 4x4 with low range, this tour will tick all the boxes. We have 5 places open at time of writing. Bookings can be done here: Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour.
Throwing down the gauntlet
A few weeks ago I met a remarkable young man from Pretoria at the Mountain Shadows Hotel in the heart of Ben 10 Country. He was there to attempt to be the first runner to complete the Ben 10. Coincidentally we were at the same hotel with our second MPSA group tour of the challenge. Jaco Pretorius (aged 45) is tall, lean and clearly very fit. He quietly approached me in the food queue to introduce himself. Today we bring you his story, the planning, the toughness, the elation and the prize. There will be more trail runners after him, but this man was the first. It's one heck of an achievement to complete the challenge in 4 days on foot.
Our newsletter this week is devoted entirely to Jaco's story, so sit back relax and read on. Next week, the newsletter will resume the format you are accustomed to. Here is Jaco's story:
"Our Challenge preparation started early in 2019, when a colleague, Dirk, and I started talking about doing the challenge. I’ve only been in the area once (April 2018) when I drove via Rhodes over Lundean’s and Naudes Nek on my way to Maclear. This was enough to wet my appetite for this beautiful part of South Africa.
Our early thoughts were to do the challenge over 6 days, as running those passes could be rather tough. Dirk and his son, Christo, would do it on the motorcycles, and I would attempt to run it. By May 2019, we had entered on the www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za website, and the real preparation had to start. We had targeted the long weekend in September as the best week to try to do it. This would then also be ideal preparation for my first Skyrun100 race happening mid-November in the same area.
A lot of “google mapping” and reading on the passes happened between May and July to work out the optimum route, and we agreed to commit by August, as we could not delay the booking of accommodation any further.
By early August, after a less than ideal winter for me, I abandoned the thought of running Ben10, as I felt that my fitness level was not where it should be. I told Dirk the news, and he and another colleague, Gerhard, proceeded with their arrangements to do it. Gerhard would be the backup driver in the Ford Ranger, and Dirk and his son would do it on motorcycles. Seeing that they did not have to cater for me, they decided to do the challenge in 3 days, as it required less leave from work.
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The week that was:
* Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg bookings open
* Sani Pass update
* Ben 10 Eco-Challenge V2 Tour (Chapter 2)
* SA History (Chapter 22)
* Pass of the week
* Words of wisdom.
Sani Pass Update
On Sunday 29th September we descended the iconic Sani Pass and for the first time, managed to capture crystal clear footage of the entire descent. Over the next month we will be producing a brand new multiple video set and YOU will be the first to see them.
The condition of the road varies greatly, depending on recent weather systems. Much of the pass has been widened and only a few sections still exist where two vehicles cannot easily pass each other. The road is however very stony and bumpy and it is still necessary to ascend with a 4WD vehicle. Having said that we saw a gent driving up in a 4x2 Ford Ranger, but he had considerable difficulty going up the switchback section - amidst flying stones, dust and lots of wheel spinning. It's really not a clever thing to do.
There is lots of small scale construction happening along the section below the SAPS border control point. New bridges have been built and some are still under construction. Where the road has been widened, the cuttings have been stabilised with shotcrete (gunite) which is unattractive, but cost effective in the long term.
No tarring has taken place at all and at this stage the entire Sani Pass is still gravel. If you are one of those adventurers who wants to drive it whilst gravel, you probably have a two year window to do so.
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As you read this newsletter, the editorial team are still on the road, returning from two back to back tours. This newsletter will take on a slightly different format to our usual newsletter format. There will be no history chapter this week, but next week the history series will continue.
Most of this news letter will be consist of the two tours we have just completed - so let's get straight to the nitty gritty.
Our final tour for 2019 is the Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour towards the end of November. Tickets are selling fast. We have six places left, so if you're keen to join this tour, get your bookings done. You can get full information, pricing etc by using this link: Bedrogfontein Tour Online Bookings.
The Ben 10 Eco Challenge V2 Tour involved a two day trip getting to base camp and an overnight stay in Graaff Reinet, where we enjoyed fabulous Karoo cooking at the Polka Restaurant. Make a note of it and be sure to book as it's nearly always fully booked (and we know why!)
Our group consisting of 11 vehicles met at the Mountain Shadows Hotel (another venue which found favour with all our guests), but by 5 pm we received a message from Mark Heaton, stating that his Jeep Cherokee CRDi had developed a diesel injector problem and he had made it as far as Lady Grey and would be unable to participate in the tour. Fortunately we had three vehicles in our convoy without passengers and we were able to offer Mark a ride with Barrie Barnardt (who we later dubbed Barrie die Bek) for his ability to speak rapidly and continuously (and very cleverly). Mark is quietly spoken, so we had a perfect team in the black Ford Ranger Wildtrack.
We then amended our route slightly and collected Mark in Lady Grey the next morning and so the Ben 10 Tour overcame its first curved ball. But there would be more to come. Day 1 included Joubert's Pass, followed by a magnificent scenic drive back to the R58 and then south to the Otto du Plessis Pass. Conditions were strangely warm (32C) but the area is still dry leaving us with a lot of dust which invariably sees the convoy spreading out over 7 km or longer. [More lower down]
* Cederberg Tour - The final chapter
* South African History - WW1
* Pass of the Week
* Words of Wisdom
Click below for all the details and online bookings:
The gravel back road between Clanwilliam and Algeria is probably the most underrated road in the Cederberg. The road twists and turns through a steep and rugged valley with 1000m high mountains on either side. Thick bush interspersed with citrus orchards keep one company as the road heads southwards following the course of the Rondegat River.
Somewhere near the lovely Jamaka campsite, the valley suddenly displayed the mountain slopes smothered in blue flowers as far as one could see - almost to the 700m contour line. Apparently these flowers are typical in the spring after a mountain fire the previous summer. It really was a sight for sore eyes. High up the slopes on the right the scar of the Nieuwoudt Pass (also called the Cederberg Pass) can be seen, which is the more popular route to Algeria from the N7.
Algeria forestry station and campsites took a major hammering in the big fires a few years back, but it's back on track with new chalets and a smart reception area. Algeria is probably the most popular campsite in the Cederberg and early booking is always required.
From Algeria the road has been brick-paved in the last 8 years, in a community employment project which has now included the Uitkyk Pass as well, which makes it a real pleasure to drive with time to enjoy the sensational views looking north towards the Clanwilliam Dam.
We made it back to Mount Ceder exactly according to our ETA, which allowed guests time to relax before another wonderful meal laid on by Mount Ceder. The meal was preceded to an informative chat on the olive industry by the farm owner and the various varieties were tasted. Another perfect, calm, starry night in the Cederberg ensured a sound night's sleep.
[More lower down...]
* New Tour - Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg
* Back to back tours - Ben 10 to Sani via Lesotho
* Cederberg Tour - Chapter 3
* South African History - Chapter 20
* Pass of the Week
* Words of Wisdom
The Bedrogfontein-Zuurberg Tour (22nd to 24th November)
Set in the Suurberg Mountains north of Addo and Kirkwood, this tour will start in the west in the Wolwefontein area at a game farm which will include a game drive (weather permitting) on the day of arrival. The next morning we will set off up a series of steep sided poorts to cross the Darlington Dam below the wall and then connect with the R400 for a short while before heading back into the scenic northern side of the mountain range. The Zuurberg Pass will the highlight of the first day with it's many sharp corners and amazing views, culminating with an overnight stay at the summit of the pass in a lovely hotel.
Day 2 involves a descent of the Doringnek pass towards Addo and Kirkwood and then the Bedrogfontein 4x4 route will take up the rest of the day with its thick bush, kudus, warthogs, monkeys, baboons and bristling birdlife. The route ranges between a Grade 1 and Grade 3, but 90% is fairly easy driving with just enough of the tricky stuff to keep drivers honest. The overnight stop will be at another bush lodge near the Darlington Dam, close to the starting point.
Day 3 is at leisure with the choice of a game drive or an early departure for home. Bookings opened on Monday and already the first tickets have been snapped up. We can only take 10 vehicles, and obviously 4x4 with low range is prerequisite. This will be the final tour on offer for 2019. Sign up and discover why more than 50% of all our bookings are repeat business.
For more information and online bookings CLICK HERE.
On tour for two weeks - As you read this newsletter we will be heading up towards Elliot for the start of the Ben 10 V2 Tour on Saturday 21st September. The weather forecast is looking fine and our local lady on the spot reports very little snow during the winter with conditions being dry. A light drizzle before we get there would be nice to keep convoy dust levels down, but rather dry than muddy!
On the 25th we drive up to the Free State town of Clocolan to meet our next group at Zuikerkop Lodge departing on the 27th September for the Lesotho-Sani Tour and a beautiful drive to the Katse Dam (which is extremely low at the moment with only 13% water levels). From Katse we head north over some of the highest passes in Africa (higher than 3000m) to spend our second night at the Oxbow Lodge and our 3rd day takes us down the Sani Pass - the highlight of the tour where our final night will be spent at the Sani Hotel.
Both of these tours are fully booked.
There will be lots to report back on when we return, but in our absence the newsletters will continue and of course our Face Book page will feature photos on the go and a few short video clips to let you know how things are going.
Descending the very steep and bumpy Eselbank Pass and being able to see Wupperthal for almost 30 minutes from the top of the pass, lends credence to the saying "Distance lends enchantment to the view" for as we crossed the low level bridge and entered the town from the south, the harsh reality of the recent devastating fires was something of a shock.
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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.
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.