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Old 12-11-2007, 04:51 PM   #8
1NiteOwl OP
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Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Southern Africa
Oddometer: 88
Over the Top

The lowest point of the route (see elevation map) skirts the Sengu river in an almost Alpine setting. The Drakensberg mountains on the left form the border with South Africa.

From Mokholong follows a serious climb of 1000 metres over the next 25 km (see graph at end of report). Of course, the interesting parts are always on dirt.

Looking ahead at the interesting parts, where the snow lies.

It didn't take long before this road gave a quick warning not to mess with it as I ripped around a corner where a car approached from the shady side. A quick dab at the brakes resulted in a very close slide past the side of the car instead of a slowdown- frozen mud!

Local cars are not very common in Lesotho- most people ride everywhere on Basutu ponies or donkeys. Some even carry pillions! It's a tough country to make a living in, and the life expectancy is only around 45.

From the top, the view is quite spectacular.

Around Mohlesi Pass it's slush!

At the top it's one big snowfield with tufts of heather sticking out. Not something South Africans are very used to.

Near Sani Top, it's nearly 10 000 ft AMSL.

Here, people manage to eke out a living with no electricity and very little natural fuel (wood). Even their water supply is frozen over. Note the huts in the middle distance- not much smoke to be seen.

The bike slides to a muddy stop at the border post by a quarter to four. The last section of 44 km to Sani Pass has taken an hour an a half, mainly due to the photo-stops. No time to visit the "highest pub in Africa" now, been there done that.

I quickly get my passport stamped and roar off for the South African border 8 km away along lengthening shadows- and hit the deck within a kilometre of the border post: ice! Because this part of the road gets little sun it freezes over early in the afternoon till late in the mornings.

At the ice curtain one turn further it's a repeat performance as the rear end passed the front down the slope. Pulling the front brake has the inevitable result of losing it completely within meters of a waiting 4x4, whose occupants are sampling the frozen mass of ice in the corner.

The cold from the frozen deck and lack of sunlight is tangible. Luckily no damage, but it's like a skating rink here, despite a whole lot of sand having been put down to aid traction. The only way to manage the descent is to cut the engine and use the clutch to ease down the slope whilst keeping both feet down. Very gingerly. Some people in a truck offer to follow me, should I need help. They also slide, but in this situation 4 wheels is good, two wheels bad!

Three turns like this and it's all over, with traction improving rapidly. It's possible to crank it downwards, dodging potholes, erosion trenches and rocks. Nothing too difficult on a bike, but slow going for the 4x4s. Oh, and did I mention the mini-bus taxis with off-road tyres coming uphill?!

Soon enough, the white border post sign appears in view, but what’s this, they’ve locked the gate and its not even five yet! (Answer: they close at four).

Judging by the condition of both gate and fence lots of people try to sneak through the border gate and fence. I mentally sort through my toolkit for a suitable spanner to loosen the gates whilst waiting for the trucks that are going to follow me, when I realise that I can slide underneath the gates without loosening anything.

A bit of cajoling and one of the border police leaves his cozy office fireplace on my behalf, to drive all of 100 yards (!) to open the gate for me. Another stamp and we're on our way in a hurry to Nottingham Road, 120 km away, while there's still some light (not much). Lots of road works on the first 10 km from Himeville, where the road is being widened for the promised tarring of Sani Pass.

It's dark by the time I refuel in Mooi River and then it's the home run on the N3 highway, no point in going on the alternative routes with 430 km still to go. Fuel consumption takes a dive as the kilometres are lapped up over the frosty landscape. Two coffee and fuel stops later had me home at midnight. A 1200 km round trip.

The elevation map above shows the section of the trip from the entry to the exit (Sani Pass) of Lesotho. The latter section has a drop of 1km over 9 km of twisty road.
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