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Mountain Passes News

The week that was

* Trips & Tours

* Mountain Man

* Forts of South Africa (Part 2)

* Podcast

* Pass of the week

* Words of Wisdom


Trips, Tours & Training

It would seem Covid 19 has unleashed an unprecedented need to travel amongst the population. All of our current tours are fully booked, which is a symptom of a need to travel. Our newest tour - a one day affair - is focused on driver training and basic 4x4 tuition. We had no idea there was such a big demand and of course, even though our August 23rd training day is fully booked, we will certainly be creating more of these days.

Some weeks ago we mentioned a joint venture with a Gauteng based company who will be running mountain pass tours, but much more on a 4x2 basis. We are busy fine tuning all the technical details and with a bit of luck MPSA will soon be offering tours in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo under the capable leadership of Johan Badenhorst.


Social Media:

A good friend of mine, Kuba Miszewski, who lives in the Hawequas mountains near Wellington, sent me an interesting photo, which I decided to post on our social media platforms. The results were astounding. On Facebook at the time of this newsletter's publication, the post has had an astonishing 352,000 views in 48 hours. This is an outright record since we started our social media pages in 2012. Here is the photo and caption. You decide!

Did you know that “Hawequa” is actually Koisan for “The man in the Mountain”. On occasion at Equinox in the late afternoon, this man can be seen in the mountain behind Wellington, on the way to Bain's Kloof Pass. Hat Tip: Kuba Miszewski

 


Weather Watch:

The much anticipated anti-cyclone with its gale force winds turned into nothing but a weak cold front with a few rain squalls (in the Western Cape), but it did deliver a massive drop in temperatures. Some good rains have been reported in the drought stricken Eastern Cape. The system appears to have picked up speed as it heads up the KZN coast with forecasted speeds of 50 knots. (About 90 kph)


Forts of South Africa (Part 2)

The Martello Tower, Fort Beaufort.  In 1794 a round tower at Cape Mortella in Corsica was only captured with great difficulty by the British.  The sturdy design was subsequently used for the coastal defense of England when threatened by invasion during the Napoleonic Wars and over 70 ‘Martello’ Towers were erected.  The plans for the Martello Tower at Fort Beaufort, originally proposed for Grahamstown, were certified as correct in April 1857 at which time the tower was presumably completed.   

    Martello Tower, Fort Beaufort Emplacement for rotating canon at top of tower.   

POST RETIEF, 1836 – 1878

This Post is magnificently situated in the Winterberg on a plateau at the foot of the Didima Mountains where it guards the head of the pass that drops steeply down into the Blinkwater Valley, the last home of Piet Retief in the Cape.

Sir Benjamin Durban wrote: ‘when in 1836 I caused a military post to be established in the Winterberg, I named it Retief…This Gentleman, Mr. Retief, is the same whom in the latter end of 1835 I appointed Field Commandant, for this active and judicious conduct at a period of difficulty and anger.

The Post was heavily invested by a large force of rebel Hottentots in February 1851 when it was crowded with refugees, their animals and household possessions.  For four days it was cut off from all supplies of food and water, then it was relieved by a commando of 130 burghers and 140 Fingos under Capt. Ayliff, W.M. Bowker and Dods Pringle.

[Read more...]

 The week that was

* Tours Update

* Frontier Country (History of SA's forts)

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom


Tours Update: 

AUGUST 23rd (Sunday):
Elgin-Grabouw 4x4 Tour - To be launched early next week. This is a one day tour (allowed under current lockdown rules) offering lovely scenery of mountains and lakes amongst fynbos and pines. We can take 10 vehicles on this tour. The grading ranges from 1 to 5, but there are escape routes on most of the difficult obstacles. We will only drive up to Grade 3 level. This tour is suitable for novice and intermediate 4x4 drivers and will double as an introduction to offroad driving. You will need a 4x4 with low range. Bookings will open by Tuesday 4th August . Distance 27 km. 4 to 5 hours duration. Only open to residents in the Western Cape.

September: Ben 10 V3 Tour - Fully booked

October: Swartberg  2020 Tour - 1 place available. Click for full information and online bookings

November: Wild Coast Tour - 1 place available. Click for full information and online bookings


Last week's article on the manganese mine in Du Toitskloof sparked a lot of interest and the snippets of unusual history that we weren't privy to at school, are quite captivating. Today we start Part 1 of a series on the Forts of South Africa. The article was compiled  for the Grahamstown Historical Society by Eily Gledhill.  Photographs by Rex and Barbara Reynolds. Published by the 1820 Settlers National Monument Foundation. 

 

FRONTIER COUNTRY

THE FRONTIER FORTS,  POSTS AND SIGNAL STATIONS

The initial disasters of the war which commenced in March, 1847 were severe.  Elands Post was abandoned.  A strong punitive force under Col. Somerset which had pushed across the border of the Colony to Burn’s Hill near Fort Cox, had to retreat to Block Drift but at the Keiskamma River crossing another heavy attack resulted in the loss of half of the 125 ox wagons carrying military stores.  Peddie was invested.  In Lower Albany, Cuylerville, Bathurst and the fortified farmhouses were besieged.  Refugees flocked to Grahamstown where the streets were barricaded.

Eventually Fort Peddie was relieved via Committees Drift and Trompetter’s Drift and the Battle of the Gwanga ended in a resounding victory for the Colonial forces.

[Read more...]

The week that was

* Western Cape drought broken

* Tours update

* Road signage and vandalism

* History of Du Toitskloof Pass

* Bloukrans Pass completely closed

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom

 

Weather Watch:

At the time of writing this newsletter, average dam levels for the City of Cape Town were at 77.4% after three major cold fronts swept in, bringing heavy downpours, snow and gale force winds. Even Namibia and Namqualand were drenched, promising a good showing of wild-flowers during August and September (if our government allows us to travel!) It seems the drought in the Western Cape is now finally broken. The Eastern Cape did get some rain, but not nearly enough.


Tours Update:

August: All tours cancelled or postponed due to Covid travel restrictions.
September: Ben 10 V3 Tour - Fully booked
October: Swartberg 2020 Tour - 3 tickets left. Click here to book.
November: Wild Coast Tour - Fully booked


Signage refursbishment project

Progress is slow, as time and good weather windows permit. As always with new projects, the learning curve is steep. An extraordinary amount of interest has developed from our social media postings about road sign vandalism and particularly so amongst the biking fraternity. We are starting things off with an education programme. The best way to connect with a biker is to ask him how he would feel if we pasted an MPSA sticker on his bike without his permission. The response is predictable - Outrage!

"Then how come you think it's OK to put a sticker on our signboards?"

That brings the point home instantly. We are connecting with all the major biking clubs in South Africa to get the point across and a national biking magazine will be doing a feature on the issue as well. It's a start and hopefully within a few years we will have a better culture amongst adventure travellers to not deface road signs.

A number of interesting options have arisen as suggested by readers and followers - some of that well worth considering and one of the Rotary Clubs are interested in assisting as well.


Closure of the Bloukrans Pass on the R102

We posted a photo on our Facebook page of the new concrete blocks which now completely block access to the old Bloukrans Pass - one of Thomas Bain's early construction projects and clearly a much loved pass by the greater South African public. The post attracted 28,700 views and 204 comments. It would seem that the new measures are a combination of ensuring Covid 19 inter provincial travel is controlled and some of the comments suggest that smugglers are using the old pass to evade the road block on the N2. Others feel the Eastern Cape roads department is to blame, as the eastern half of the pass lies in that province, whilst the better maintained western half lies within the Western Cape. The Bloukrans River forms the actual provincial border.

It will remain to be seen if the concrete blocks are removed after Covid 19. Like so many things at the moment, conspiracy theories abound. One thing is for certain, the old pass is a much loved part of South African history. 

The pass can still be driven from the eastern side, but when you reach the western end, you will have to retrace your route back to the start. Please understand that if anything happens to you or your vehicle, you will have no insurance cover or claim against the relevant roads authority as the pass is officially closed.


History - Du Toitskloof Pass and the manganese mine. (Sent in by Kuba Miszewski)

This interesting article provides an insight into some of the history around Du Toitskoof Pass.
It was written by Peter E. Spargo from Rondebosch, Cape Town in 1999.

Although the Western Cape is not generally considered a mining area, over the centuries, there have in fact been a remarkable number of mining ventures in the area. Thus at one time or another gold, silver, tin, manganese and tungsten mines have all operated in the region – honestly or fraudulently! Amongst the most fascinating of these mines have been those devoted to the extraction of manganese – and none more than that in Du Toit’s Kloof.

Manganese has been known since at least the first century of the Christian era and for the last few centuries has been used on a small scale for operations such as decolourising glass, while its oxide was later used in the production of chlorine. As a result it has long been sought by prospectors and it is therefore somewhat surprising, that the metal, whose ores are so widely distributed throughout the Western Cape, should not have aroused more comment earlier in the Colony’s history. However, in the early-1870’s a substantial deposit of manganese ore was discovered in Du Toit’s Kloof above the point where the Molenaars River joins Du Toit’s Kloof Stream, i.e. near the old original road tunnel, up above to the right as you face Worcester direction. It is not clear who the original discoverer was of the deposit, but we know that by the mid-1870’s a substantial mining operation was underway on the site.

[More lower down]
 

The week that was

* A cold winter

* Trips & Tours

* Signs of the times

* Reflections of my life

* Pass of the Week

* Words of Wisdom


Winter Weather continues

2020 is proving to be what is likely to be the most significantly unusual year for every person on the planet. Our winter weather is also considerably wetter and colder than what we have seen in a very long time, with record wave heights, wind speeds, snow falls and rainfall patterns (in the Western Cape at least).

The frontal system that hit the Western part of South Africa on Sunday afternoon caused plenty of damage to infrastructure and especially radio masts and dishes.

But those damages are insignificant compared to what the Covid 19 pandemic has done to this country's economy.


Tours update

With the abrupt turnaround by government on leisure travel, it meant we had to postpone our Wild Coast Tour for the second time. We have now moved it to November, Our guests almost without exception have been supportive and understanding.

We are launching our new Swartberg 2020 Tour today and you are the first to see the details. This 5 day tour from the 19th to the 24th October, will start in Swellendam and head north to Bosluiskloof via Gysmanshoek and Seweweekspoort, where we will spend two days at Bosch Luys Kloof Lodge. From there we will be driving mainly on gravel to De Rust and north through Meiringspoort and on to Prince Albert. Day 4 we will drive the Swartberg Pass as well as the out and back trip to Die Hel via Elands Pass with an overnight stop at the Calitzdorp Spa. The final day we will tackle the Rooiberg and Assegaaibosch passes and finish at the beautiful Rooiberg Lodge. This tour is suitable for 4x2 vehicles with reasonable ground clearance as well as soft roaders. Book online here:

Swartberg 2020 Tour


Road signs

Our refurbishment of 54 road signs in the Western Cape has highlighted a number of issues. It's an expensive and time consuming exercise, exacerbated by vandalism, which includes graffitii, bullet holes, stone throwing, scratching, stickers, spray paint and more. One of the first tasks we have undertaken is to tackle and correct the subculture of defacing road signs, which is considered quite acceptable in many spheres of society.

The week that was

* Cape of Storms

* How to refurbish roadsigns 101

* Tales from the Karoo

* Podcast

* Featured pass of the week

* Words of wisdom


Cape of Storms

The third and most powerful of the major frontal systems this winter is scheduled to arrive in Cape Town today. Big snowfalls, gale force winds and heavy rain have been forecast. The system is forecast to reach as far north as Namibia. Expect snow on passes above 1000m altitude as well as road closures from Thursday till Monday.

If you're a storm-chaser, get your wellies and foul-weather gear and make sure your camera is waterproof. We'd love to see your pictures.


Road Signs - An education

We ran up the first set of decals to refurbish the first of the summit signs of 54 passes in the Western Cape. I thought this would be an easy and pleasant task, getting me out the office and into nature where I am happiest, but I was in for a big surprise. Those road signs that we all take for granted involve a lot more effort to maintain than what most people think. They are very much bigger when you're standing 1m away. They are also subjects of much abuse. Illegal stickers, graffiti, bullet holes, malicious damage, rocks thrown at them. In short, they do not look pristine for long and require regular maintenance. The signs have been up for about 10 years.

I made up a pack list of gear I thought I would need - decals, scissors, marking pens, masking tape, methylated spirits, spray on soap, rags, bucket, fresh water, utility knife, ladder, safety vest and a whole lot more. For the first experiment, I knew it would take me longer than I expected.

First the whole sign had to be washed down. Then all non-official stickers had to be removed. Some of them were very stubborn and required a gas gun to heat-soften them. Glue residue is removed with meths and elbow grease. The thought did occur to me to send all the businesses that pasted decals on the signs an invoice for removal and cleaning! The surface is a spray painted brown surface. Removing old decals with a blade damages the spraypaint. You have to work very, very carefully.

The weather has to be good as well. Any mist, fog or rain and the decals will not adhere properly.

Then came the repair of the bullet holes. There were 10 holes clean through the metal (Chromadek) and many other others that were not powerful enough to pierce the metal, but enough to make a big dent. My original idea of filling the holes and then covering the front side with the brown vinyl was hopelessly optimistic. That would have been far too time consuming, impractical and expensive, so the holes are simply covered with a slightly oversized square of vinyl. The results are actually quite satisfactory.

[Read more lower down...]

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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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