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Old 07-21-2007, 02:59 PM   #1
1NiteOwl OP
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Where is the snow in Lesotho?

I live in South Africa, and started adventure riding in 2003 when I got my then new Africa Twin. It's opened up a whole new world as I have gradually pushed the boundaries further.

There are two land-locked countries within South Africa: Swaziland in the east where it is bordered by Mozambique on the other side, and Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho is known as the Mountain Kingdom and the locals say it's just as big as it's neighbour when you fold it flat. It's biggest export product is water.
There are many borders posts between South Africa and Lesotho, but the most famous and popular one, particularly among the 4x4 brigade, is Sani Pass in the northeast. A recent announcement by the government that they intend to "open up" access to Lesotho by tarring Sani Pass has resulted in a flurry of petitions by all the die hard off-roaders who want to keep things dusty and dirty.
As you can see from the map, there are lots of mountains here, with lots of passes. Some are tarred, others are dirt. Pretty good biking country, and only about 3 hours away from the industrial heartland of South Africa. Sani Pass rises nearly one kilometre over a twisty route of 8 kilometres on the main climb/ descent. This is the view from about halfway up. There are about 20 hairpin bends up the last and steepest section; no barriers.
Last year I did the trip going up Sani Pass, this year it was time to do the down run. I wanted snow (we don't see much of it down here), but missed the snowfall by a week. After a week of weatherwatching it didn’t look like any more snow was going to fall, so the next step was ensuring that there would at least be some left on the ground. This is what I managed to find from the Lesotho weather bureau:

The Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) has predicted average rainfall and light snowfall in the next coming months and has thus advised farmers to start preparing the soil for plantation.

In an interview during a one-day meeting on climate outlook for the coming agricultural season, a meteorologist, Mr. Mphethe Tongwane urged farmers to start ploughing the fields to enable soil to absorb the moisture.

He said it is important for the public to be updated on weather forecasts regularly in order to get ready for summer cropping.

Presenting the seasonal climate forecast for 2006/2007 another Meteorologist Mr. Charles Ts'eole said LMS has predicted that there will be some average rainfall for the next three months of October, November and December this year while in January, February and March next year the country will experience normal rainfall.

Mr. Ts'eole stated that according to the seven day weather outlook predicted by LMS as from Tuesday this week, cold weather will be experienced in the lowlands until Wednesday while in the highlands of the country, it will snow until Wednesday.

''The weather condition continues to be unpredictable as a result of the climate change,' he elaborated.

He indicated that from Thursday the weather is likely to be warm again.

Not very clear, but what the heck. I hit the road after supper and got to the Meiringskloof nature reserve just after midnight. All the chalets were taken, but there was lots of camping space available. No prizes for guessing why. Here is the route:

I had breakfast with the rising sun whilst trying to get some heat into my clothes and the moisture off the tent liner.
As you can see the scenery is quite beautiful, with lots of sandstone formations eroded by wind and weather. Some houses in the area are built using sawn up blocks of sandstone.

Lots of people seem to have died here...

... but we are welcome in the kingdom!

The initial transition is quite gradual- the elevation about 5000-6000 ft AMSL- while the big mountains creep closer.

As you can see, there is definitely some snow in them thar hills, and it is soon in sight. Note the power lines strung up the mountain along the road.

From 7000 ft there is plenty of snow on all the south-facing slopes. The air temperature is "fresh". On the way to Moteng Pass the road winds past Afri Ski, a resort for well-off South Africans who are too poor to get to Switzerland. The conical hat on the signpost is a national symbol for the Basutho people (inhabitants of Lesotho).

When it doesn't snow, compressors are used to create snowflakes from water pumped out of dams adjacent to the ski slope. This allows the operation to offer skiing for nearly 4 months in the year.
The melting of the snow creates some interesting patterns alongside the road.

At Mokothlong the tar ends, and soon the road is slushy with molten snow. Things are getting interesting.
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Old 07-21-2007, 03:13 PM   #2
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Snow in Lesotho?
Nice pics and report!!
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Old 11-29-2007, 04:32 PM   #3
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Thank you for this report on looking for snow in Lesotho. I can look out the window now and wish there was no snow. I am not a big fan of snow because where I live we loose about four months a year use of our motorbikes. Your excellent report makes it quite clear of the many differances world wide. Thank you for sharing and if I could, I would send you all the snow you could possibly want.
Cheers, Bill.
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Old 11-29-2007, 05:15 PM   #4
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Thanks for the ride report.

Is there more? I certainly hope so!

I am constantly amazed at how different parts of the Earth can somehow lok so similar, and so different.


Rides - Spanish: El Cantar de la Lluvia | English: Flight of the Platypus | And, of course: Carretera Austral '07

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Old 11-30-2007, 12:01 PM   #5
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I missed this one the 1st time round... nice pics!
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Old 11-30-2007, 12:08 PM   #6
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When I was a kid, I had a world map in my room. I spent hours looking at it and wondering what all those places were like.
Lesotho was fascinating, since it was a country within a country, and also because I knew nothing about it! Thanks for the glimpse!

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Old 12-11-2007, 10:33 PM   #7
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Thanks for the great report. I would love to ride in RSA/Lesotho one day.
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Old 12-12-2007, 08:38 AM   #8
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Thumb nice!

looked really good, and some great pics, bet you never thought you would wish for heated hand-grips in Lesotho though?

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Old 12-12-2007, 10:58 AM   #9
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When Will It Happen?

Hullo Owl,

do you know when this tarring process is due to take place? I have not "done" Sani yet... I must before it's too late!

Nice report, thank you.
There is NO SUCH THING as a big steak... or a big trailer.
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Old 12-16-2007, 12:16 AM   #10
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Answers to some questions

Duckbill/ Martynbiker: I am sure that snow and riding in it (or avoiding it) is quite common in the northern part of the US and northern Europe. For us in sunny South Africa it's quite a novelty, however, and Lesotho is the nearest place to get some experience of riding in these conditions. This year, we had a pretty cold winter and most of the trip was at sub-zero temperatures. Heated grips would've been cozy, but layering of the clothes (including gloves) worked well enough.

Riderbob: there are good surfaced roads from Johannesburg all the way to Lesotho. The nearest town is Fouriesburg, about 340 km from Johannesburg. At the legal speed limit (120 km/h) this can be covered in less than 3 and a half hours, including a fuel/coffee stop. It's worthwhile trawling through the Golden Gate national park while you are in the area, however, as the sandstone formations are quite spectacular. PM me if you would like more details.

Carnivore: The entire resurfacing project up Sani Pass is planned in three phases and scheduled for completion in 2009 (you may guess the month, nobody's committing to a date). The first phase of 14 km from the Himeville road to Good Hope is in progress. The second phase is the next 11 km to the present SA Border Post, which will be moved to Good Hope. The last 8 km is Sani Pass itself, which will undoubtedly be the most difficult. R25M of the R160M for the project has been budgeted for this financial year, so presumably the bulk will need to be spent after March 2008. My bet would be that the Pass itself will still be unspoilt in 2008.
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Old 12-16-2007, 01:28 AM   #11
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Amazing Lesotho with snow
Thanks for report
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Old 12-16-2007, 01:30 AM   #12
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Thanks NiteOwl, for the information, and also foe a VERY nice report. I can "feel" the adventure beginning in my core.... you did a good job of stirring it up!

I think I want to go up Sani, and then work my way west and south to Ramabanta, Matsieng and the Maseru area. So far, i haven't found a route that far south, but a colleague has raced in the area quite a bit, aso i will plan it with his input.

Kind regards to u and Mrs Owl!
There is NO SUCH THING as a big steak... or a big trailer.
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