BAVIAANSKLOOF FLOOD DAMAGE
We owe the Eastern Cape Roads Department an apology. After the recent floods and during a radio interview I estimated that the Baviaanskloof would be impassable for a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks. The PRD fixed the road in two days flat! Now THAT folks, is seriously impressive. So three cheers to the guys with the yellow graders. Great work!!!
18th March - A discussion on the pre tour planning of the Ben 10 Tour and the recent floods in the Baviaanskloof. LISTEN
1st April - Discussion around the first day of the recent Ben 10 Official Tour. LISTEN
The Ben 10 Eco Challenge Official Tour - Day 2
Chapter 7 / Day 2 – Bottelnek Pass
The previous evening we made the decision to swap days 2 and 3 around as there was a 75% rain forecast for Day 3 and we particularly did not want to drive Bastervoetpad Pass in the rain.
Day 2 also had a shortening option which we decided to activate, in the interests of keeping smiles on the faces of our guests. We also brought the breakfast time 30 minutes later – all designed to make things more comfortable, but these would prove to be minor plusses in what would become an extremely hectic day.
Group Romeo left first and headed north on the R58 towards Barkly East, turning right onto a minor gravel road that would take us north-east all along the Bottelnekspruit river to the foot of the Bottelnek Pass.
Although this pass was not one of the challenge passes it is nonetheless also a high altitude pass (2204m ASL) but it is the valley drive which is so exceptionally charming. Tall mountains increasingly hem the road in with weird sandstone formations and oddly shaped barns, which all look like the same person designed them.
They are universally built from large dressed sandstone blocks with low angled corrugated roofs and a large arched central door. Most of the farms in the valley have been abandoned, their dark interiors hiding the secrets of generations past.
Up the Bottelnek Pass we go without any issues and once over the summit, the mountain is devoid of trees. There is however miles of grassland and the cattle do well here. They can be seen high up the steep slopes as sure footed as goats. The only reason we can come up with why the farmers have failed here financially is the difficulty in getting their produce to the markets. There is certainly no shortage of water or pasturage.
We are making good time, but the weather is looking a little dodgy. Looking towards the east the mountains are covered in cloud. This is not a good sign as our main goal for today is the 5th challenge pass – Bastervoetpad, reputed to be the most technical pass to drive in SA. It’s a long weekend and many people have descended on the area to do the Ben 10. In short order we arrive at the start of the foothills of the pass.
A slower group of 5 vehicles, kindly allow us to get past. From the first bridge, it’s straight into low range, which will be the gear ratios of choice for the next 20 km, which is likely to take us 4 to 5 hours.
Chapter 8 - Day 2 - Bastervoetpad Pass (The first two punctures)
The weather had turned chilly. Thick white clouds were billowing over the distant summit point. In the valley the track was a slushy mess of black mud and protruding rocks. The convoy had been advised about gear ratios, moving their seats forward and choosing their driving lines carefully. A few cows and sheep watched our procession of cars bumping slowly past.
After just 5 minutes Anwar in the Land Rover Discovery spoke on the radio: “I have a puncture!” On closer examination we established that both his right front and rear tyres had serious sidewall cuts of about 30mm length each. Both tyres were down on the rim. The damage had been done by protruding wires from a cracked concrete pipe.
“How many spare wheels do you have?” I asked.
“Just one” came the reply.
In the meantime the group that we had passed earlier caught up with our stationary group and added to the helping hands. Shortly thereafter our second group (Mike) also arrived and another group of bikes and vehicles pulled in behind them - 28 vehicles in total - stretching back almost 1.5 km.
The ground underfoot was soft and soggy and the scissors jack kept on burying itself deeper in the mud. The other three wheels had been chocked and soon the rear wheel was off. But the jack height was just short of getting the fully inflated spare onto the hub. Every turn of the jack, saw it starting to lean precariously towards the rear.
A second hydraulic jack was produced and a few planks to stabilise the base and at last the spare was on. A decision was made for the Land Rover to return to Elliot to fit two new tyres, but first we had to get the 20 odd vehicles which had tailed back past the Land Rover past it, then fill the front wheel with Tyre Weld.
One of the drivers in Group Mike, Richard Heathcote, had driven up Bastervoetpad the day before (by accident) so already had that pass ticked off and kindly offered to shepherd the Land Rover back to Elliot.
Chapter 9 / Day 2 – Bastervoetpad Pass (The bikers are falling - a lot!)
With the Land Rover (and the Land Cruiser bakkie assisting) on its way back to Elliot, our convoy size was down to 12 vehicles and the solitary motorcycle. The ascent up the western side of the pass was rough with hundreds of thousands of loose rocks and stones, all interspersed with deep ruts and mud.
Our motorcyclist, Francois, was riding without his pillion passenger, who had sensibly taken a lift in the group Mike lead vehicle. After less than 500m Francois had his first fall. A low speed affair and very common amongst the biking fraternity. The problem with a big bike like a BMW 1200 GSA is that it weighs around 270 kg. Lifting it back up requires not only physical strength, but technique and practice.
Mike went to help and soon Francois was mobile and on his way again, but within 100m he went down a second time. The last group of bikers had in the meantime worked their way through the three convoys and passed Mike. They also started falling, which kept Mike very busy, assisting not only Francois, but bikers not in our group as well.
It was a long, painful climb up to the summit point for Group Mike. At that stage Francois had taken about 12 falls. He was getting tired and had pulled a hamstring. The summit was completely under cloud, once again denying us the pleasure of enjoying what is considered by many, to be the finest view in South Africa.
We stopped briefly for the required summit selfies and forged on towards the descent, which was even rougher than the ascent and considerably wetter, as it it is on the eastern side of the mountains. It had rained steadily the whole of the previous 24 hours and the pass was going to be very slippery.
Chapter 10 / Day 2 – Bastervoetpad Pass – Slipping & Sliding
Here and there rockfalls had sent large boulders tumbling onto the road. Most of them could be skirted, but a few required manhandling and a spade for leverage. We progressed steadily along a contour section and at about the 12 km point, the serious part of the descent needed to be driven.
The convoy was requested to stop and wait as I nudged the Land Cruiser around and down a 110 degree right hand bend. All the tyres were coated in thick mud, so traction was poor. The big 3 ton vehicle went into a slide. I kept my foot off the brake and did my best to guide it in as straight a line as I could. It would be the first of many such sections. Everyone in our group made it through the first one without mishap.
I called Mike on the radio who had not reached the top of the pass yet and advised him that conditions for a motorcyclist were not good. Based on the intel Francois at that point decided to abandon his attempt to complete Bastervoetpad. The bike was left on the side of the road and Francois got a ride with Mike.
Chapter 11 / Day 2 – Bastervoetpad Pass – Why running boards are a bad idea...
A little lower down the pass, we were presented with a left hand bend, with a fair amount of inside banking. To the left was an earth embankment (luckliy not rock) and a deep rut at its foot, so the obvious line was to take the bend more to the right at a higher level.
As we started the bend, the rear of the Land Cruiser (despite being in low range with the rear diff lock on) started sliding to the left as graciously as a ballerina in Swan Lake. In three seconds we had slid almost 90 degrees across the road with the rear end up against the embankment – effectively blocking the whole road and no one ahead of me to tow me out.
The 105 series Land Cruiser comes out standard with front and rear diff locks. It is seldom that it is ever necessary to use the front diff lock, but this seemed to be a perfect opportunity. It engaged effortlessly and I turned the steering full lock to the left and drove out of the situation without any further issues.
Those behind me decided not to go as far right as I did and one by one they went sliding into the embankment. Very few vehicles came out of that one without some body damage and several running boards were reduced to twisted and bashed aluminium.
Chapter 12 / Day 2 – Bastervoetpad Pass – Farmers are wonderful people...
Gingerly our convoy worked its way down the pass. We spotted a Verraux Eagle at close range. Another highlight of the Ben 10. At last we slid our way down to a river crossing and a small stone farm house on the left signposted “Valetta”
The farmer was waiting for us there, and astonishingly invited our entire group in for tea and coffee. Bennie and Marjorie hosted about 15 of us, allowed us to use their toilet (which the ladies in our group really appreciated) and we spent the better part of an hour enjoying our lunch break with these wonderful, hospitable people who didnt know us from a bar of soap.
Bennie told us about a group of bikers who were beaten by the mountain the previous day – two of them with broken bones and had slept over at the farm. Bastervoetpad is a serious pass and not to be taken lightly. Yet there were some people who had driven (and ridden it) in the ascending mode the previous day.
After Valetta, there is a short section involving another 4 river crossings, after which the road improves a lot and we could switch to high range and pick up our speed to 50 kph, through dense stands of plantations owned by PG Bison. Once on the R58, it was an easy drive on tar via the ever impressive Barkly Pass back to our base.
We had our group back at Mountain Shadows by 4 pm in high spirits. For the less experienced drivers some were still full of adrenaline and the bar sales that night did rather well!
Five challenge passes done - five to go!
The video below consists of a slideshow covering the salient features of Day 2:
Thought for the day: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance" ~ Confucius