Call it the Mountain Kingdom, or the Switzerland of Africa. These are all well-earned nicknames for Lesotho, as its dramatic peaks and remote highlands are difficult to traverse on foot, let alone by wheeled transport. So it’s no surprise Lesotho offers some of southern Africa’s most impressive off-roading trails.
The still untarred Sani Pass is perhaps the best known. But tucked away high in the Maseru district is Baboon’s Pass, another of Lesotho’s especially demanding ‘roads’. It’s known as a car breaker for good reason. (Just ask Anton Willemse, who drove it and reported on his experience in our June 2019 issue. – Ed) This 26-kilometre pass has gained notoriety for pushing both driver and 4x4 to the limit. Nevertheless, in a series of events that can only be described as an epic adventure, a group of 13 adrenaline junkies attempted to conquer this beast of a challenge. The difference this time was that most of the convoy would be made up of little Suzuki Jimnys.
Six months of planning went into this arduous journey up the mountain pass. The first steps were to put together a team of off-roading gurus, and a few enthusiastic tagalongs, map out a route and get the vehicles properly serviced and modified to cope with the conditions.
Altogether, the convoy was to be made up of four Suzuki Jimnys (dubbed Trapsuutjie, Kerneels, Jack Russel, and Nomad), a Suzuki motocross bike (codenamed II), a Land Rover Defender (Lily), and two Jeep Wranglers (known as Bumblebee and Carlos).
Plans seemed to be on schedule, apart from Lily’s clutch failing and being quickly repaired just two weeks before the event. There was also the problem of Nomad’s much-needed lifter kit, which of course did not arrive until the night before departure.
The team now faced a dilemma: let sleeping dogs lie and risk seriously damaging Nomad later on Baboon’s Pass or take a chance and do a full-body lift only hours before the convoy hit the road? The temptation of the kit proved too great, so it was all hands on deck to give Nomad a boost. Several hours and countless profanities later a distress signal went out that only the front of Nomad had been raised. Nomad had to drive for reinforcements in full squat mode, dazzling passing motorists with its headlamps that were now better suited for spotting air raids. This was 04:00 on D-Day, Friday the 13th as it so happened.
With only two hours sleep for the drivers who had managed to sort out Nomad’s rear suspension, the group seemed all set – until a second call for aid from team Carlos. He, as it turned out, had also spent all night tinkering with the gearing in the Jeep Wrangler’s differential. With dire consequences. Unfortunately, the repairs were too great for our tight schedule and a rescue party was sent to pick up the stranded drivers.
We bid farewell to our fallen soldier as we continued onwards to the border where the third and fourth unfortunate events were waiting for us.
Thinking the worst was over, at the border we discovered there were no registration papers for Lily the Landy and one of the passengers had brought his son’s passport instead of his own. While it was feasible to organise a copy of the registration papers for Lily in a town nearby, we thought it slightly optimistic for a fully-grown man to pass off as his teenage son.
It was agreed that a team would peel off to retrieve the passport and meet up with the rest of the convoy the next morning. We finally made it to Ramabanta Trading Post in time for sundowners, a quick braai, and then straight to bed. With no cell phone signal, all we could do was hope that the team who had turned back earlier would arrive in time.
Out of Ramabanta
A rested team woke the next day to a welcome sight – the members who had turned back earlier had arrived and the reunited group assembled in the restaurant for breakfast and a quick debriefing.
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