August 01, 2007 GMT
The 4 Stooges Go to Lesotho

After having met a few guys at the BMW club a few months ago - one fellow invited me for a 3 day ride to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. I remembered fondly my visits to Lesotho over 20 years ago following the famous Roof of Africa 6 day motorcycle race - so I accepted enthusiastically.

That trip was planned for early April - but the local guys had to cancel - due to work commitments. What a bugger when work gets in the way of good riding!!!

Anyway - the route was well planned, so I organised the same route - but riding with some good Aussie friends working here (Craig & Jeff) and a local riding buddy - Roche (all work for Hatch).

Once word got out - Sydney (a Dutch fellow also working in a JV with Hatch), and Craig's wife Jenn & Dawn (MiL) decided to follow the same route in 4 x 4's. You will see later why this ended up a really great idea.

Only problem - by the time all calendars aligned, we decided to go late May.

Now the weather in Lesotho can be quite dicy in late May - as Lesotho is very mountanous (over 3,000m) it can be quite cold & gets quite a deal of snow.

Hence - we called the ride "The 4 Stooges do Lesotho" as we were told we were quite crazy for attempting it so late in the year. In fact the week before we left, there was the first really cold snap - and we travelled from Joburg to our 1st night's stop (a great lodge at the base of the mountains) in -3C, along some really great, fast dirt roads. This was a fun day, marred only by a flat tyre just on dark on Jeff's bike.

Boy that day really tested my thermal undies & confirmed I should be OK in Alaska (skins, thermals, polar fleece, gortex liner, dynatec jacket).

A few photos from the lodge:

View from the dining room - just as the sun is rising (for breakfast)
Boy was it cold!

The 4 bikes leaving the lodge at 7.00am - still below zero at this stage.

The lodge is at the base of the mountains & we are headed straight for the famous Sani Pass. This pass is said to be the best in Africa - for views & a "must do" for motorcycles - though we have been warned - it is a VERY rough dirt road (read track).

A view from part way up to Sani Pass.

We got up most of it without issue - but about 500m from the top of the pass - after several stops & slips in ice & very rough (BIGGG rocks), steep, switchback ridden track, Jeff had a slip of the wrist & put (read - launched) his bike over the edge in very spectacular fashion (tripple with a twist!!!).

We subsequently found out he broke his wrist - as he parted company with the bike immediately after launch.

After several airborn tumbles, the bike came to a stop 30m down the side of the mountain in 1 metre thick snow, and big boulders.

2 hours later, and with the help of all (especially Sydney & his Landrover Discovery & comprehensive recovery gear), we had Jeff's bike back up the track, and loaded onto a passing bakkie (South African for "ute") for the trip back down to the lodge - and await BMW Recovery to collect it.

Jeff was OK - though shaken, but as a keen photographer - had to capture the recovery action on camera. We humped that heavy bike up the slope - using snatch straps & the Discovery - pulling in small increments across the track.




Jeff joined Sydney in the very warm & comfy Discovery for the rest of the trip.

Anyway - Craig, Roche and myself made it to Sani Pass OK at 2873m elevation (as did Jenn & Dawn in the X5) - and celebrated with some good shots:



After completing border crossing formalities at the pass, we adjourned to the highest pub in Africa - so we stopped for a warm drink & made a tentative plan about going forward.

A sign over the door to the pub: "Lesotho is not for sissies" - how true!

Some shots from the deck at the back of the pub - not a bad view - you can see some of the track on the way up:





Lots of snow at the top - so we decided we would see how far we could get on the track going forward - and if we made it over the higher pass (over 3,000m) - we would continue. If we were not back in an hour, Jenn would know we made it & were going according to plan (though about 3 hours late).

Jenn was going to wait at the pub for Sydney & Jeff to get back from the lodge, and then follow. Our plan was to get to Katse Dam for the night - only 150kms away - but the map showed this to be a very windy route (it ended up taking us 6 hours of solid riding to make that 150kms).

Well - none of us had ridden in snow before - so as we ascended the next section (gradual slope) we learned quickly - stand up, NO wheel slippage, VERY easy on the throttle, maintain momentum & don't look back! Boy - it was getting hot now in all that gear & expending a great deal of energy!

The knobbie tyres were essential (as Roche found out after a number of slippery experiences - not having a knobbie on the back) He was prepared to pay ANYTHING for a knobbie at one stage.

We had a stop after I had a little lie down - (slow on a very icey switchback). We assessed our situation (all absolutely buggered from the effort).

300m to the top (but steeper), or go back down. A 4 x 4 driver coming down said more snow at the top & beyond!!!! OH shit! Going down was going to be tougher than going up - with certain falls and often! (The 4 x 4 driver was overheard saying to his passanger in Afrikaans - "what a bunch of wankers trying this on heavy bikes!!!") - A shot of Jenn & MiL coming up that stretch:

So - we decided (in true Stooges fashion) to push on - following Craig's lead we tried the "faster has to be easier" approach. This proved to be successful (though a bit scary), and we crested the top. At the top was another 4 x 4 that had been following our challenges for most of the morning. They videoed us and cheered as we crested the top - that made us feel better! After a few k's of flat terrain riding in snow, it started to abate & the dirt track was very welcoming. We continued on with enthusiam & some pride in having learned a new skill - riding 250kg pigs in the snow!

Stunning, ever changing views awaited us at every turn for the next 5 hours, over very dusty dirt tracks, through countless mountain passes, pristine river crossings, several villages of very proud & statuesque locals - horse riders, with blankets wrapped around their shoulders, a knob kirrie (fighting stick) & the very distintive Lesotho conical straw hats, and lots of smiling, waving kids (mostly - but a few throwing rocks because we did not stop & give them sweets).

One thing is common the world over - a woman's work is never done - collecting the fuel for the fire:

Boy were we glad to get to our digs that night. The 4 x 4's didn't get in till 8.00pm - 3 hrs of driving in the dark.

The digs were at Katse Dam - built about 10 years ago as water storage and hydro electricity (both commodities - about the only export industries in Lesotho - apart from some diamonds ). We bunked down in the single person quarters, now a lodge - perched on a cliff overlooking the dam.
A good fire, some warming drinks & a chat with other visitors bore fruit. 2 doctors were also guests at the lodge (one - a lady specialist in emergency medicine), was recruited to have a look at Jeff when he arrived a few hours after us. She put him in a temporary cast, fed him some welcome drugs & Jeff slept the night comfortably.

The next morning - again in sub zero temperatures, we fixed 2 flat tyres (we had 4 all up over the weekend) - mine was a horse shoe nail - that I now have as a memento of the eventful journey! We headed up, down and around the most fantastic mountainous bitumen road I have ever been on - 80kms of pure motorcycle joy, again stunning views and a bit of vertigo (the edges were so close & so steep) and some trepidation as ice and snow patches appeared around corners - where the shadows kept it cold.

For those that know Mt Glorious near Brisbane - multiply by about 4! and we had it all to ourselves - stunning!

Once we got back down to the Lesotho/South Africa border, it was a quick run back to Jo'burg over dirt roads, back routes & a bit of highway, to get back just before dark - tired - but still buzzing from a great ride, fantastic company & lots of stories for the campfires in the future!

Jeff had to face Susan with a "please explain" about the cast - he ended up having surgery that night to wire up his wrist & put a full cast on. But as always - Jeff had a smile and saw the positive of it all - the insurance would sort the bike out - and anyway - it would take a while for the wrist to heal, so he wouldn't be riding for a while anyway. But he was keen to plan the next adventure ride.

Cheers for now - the next episode will be back to Botswana in a few weeks - but further north to the Makgadikgadi salt pans for 5 days!

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at August 01, 2007 02:20 PM GMT

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