|07-21-2007, 03:59 PM||#1|
Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Southern Africa
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:
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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