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Volunteershoek Pass

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Volunteershoek Pass Volunteershoek Pass - Photo: Panoramio

This is a tough, high-altitude gravel pass that connects the Wartrail farming valley with the well-known Tiffindell Ski Resort, close to the RSA/Lesotho border. Relatively long at 9,6 km, it rises from 1916m ASL to 2567m. With its 1:14 average climb gradient, this pass can be called nothing but 'steep'! The first 4 km offers gradients of up to 1:5! This is strictly a 4x4 only route and high ground clearance, as well as low range, are mandatory. The pass is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Bidstone Pass.

Most of the climbing is done in the first 3,8 km, where after the gradient eases right off to around 1:20 until the 7,7 km point after which the road steepens again to 1:7 till the summit. The road levels off near a small solitary cottage, which marks the end of the pass at the 9,6 km point, but there is still a fairly long pull of 8,2 km before you will arrive at Tiffindell. Allow at least 2 hours to complete both sections, excluding stops.

Expect rapidly changing weather conditions including severe electrical storms, heavy rain, hail, snow and very strong katabatic and anabatic winds. It you break down on this pass, assistance will be either from Tiffindell or from the nearest farm in the Wartrail Valley. Either way, it will be a long walk. Go well prepared with recovery equipment, as well as appropriate clothing and emergency food rations. We recommend carrying a satphone.

 

Scroll down to view the map & video. It is recommended to watch this video in HD. (Click on the "quality" button on the lower taskbar of the video screen and select 720HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....



[Video cover photo and footage by Mike Leicester]

FULL-SCREEN MODE: click PLAY, then pass your mouse over the bottom right corner of the video screen. The outline of a square will appear. Clicking on it will toggle Full Screen Mode. Press ESC to return to the original format.

Note: Google Earth software reads the actual topography and ignores roads, cuttings, tunnels, bridges and excavations. The Google Earth vertical-profile animation generates a number of parallax errors, so the profile is only a general guide of what to expect in terms of gradients, distance and elevation. The graph may present some impossible and improbably sharp spikes, which should be ignored.


Getting there: The pass is typically approached via the R393 road between Lundin's Nek and the towns of Barkly East and Elliot, but it can also be driven in the descending mode via the Tiffindell Ski Resort. For those wanting to drive the pass in this direction, take the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass from Rhodes up to Tiffindell. Just before the final haul up the final slope to the ski resort, there is a clearly marked fork. Ignore the Tiffindell turn-off and continue westwards, past Loch Ness for 8,2 km to arrive at the eastern start and summit point of the pass adjacent to a small green roofed cottage.

Views south from the radio mastView south from the U-bend near the radio mast / Photo: Mike LeicesterWe filmed the pass in the ascending mode from west to east. To approach from this direction, head north (or south) on the R393 and turn east at GPS S30.718474 E27.753897. You will drive along the southern side of the Funny Stone Stream and past the Funny Stone farm for 8,5 km, to arrive at the western starting point of the pass. If you miss the turn-off (which many first timers do), you will arrive at the last farm on this road called 'The Dargle'. Just do a U turn and retrace your route back for 1 km to find the starting point at a small bridge, under a dense stand of trees, where a yellow sign board warns that only 4x4 vehicles may travel the pass.

This is definitely a pass that will be driven by a 'gravel travel' enthusiast for many good reasons - and the only other reason (which also happens to be a good one), would be to go skiing at the nearby Tiffindell Ski Resort or to visit a local farmer. The pass is rough and tough as it ascends through some severe hairpins with the road traversing the mountainside in a series of switchbacks, each of them opening up increasingly dramatic views. With an altitude gain of 651 meters, this is one of SA's more serious passes. Non 4x4 vehicles should use the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass to access Tiffindel.

Once you are in the Wartrail Valley, look for the sign indicating Tiffendell Ski Resort/4x4 Only/Private Road.  The farm immediately to the south is called Bidstone, and this is obviously where the Bidstone name tag has crept in as an alternative name to the Volunteershoek Pass, but the locals insist that the original name of Volunteershoek must be used.

The start is at a small bridge over the Funny Stone Stream, quite befitting of such a fantastic pass you are about to drive. The road starts climbing gently at first hugging the right hand flank of a wide ravine with a small river bisecting it.

Start of the pass at the Funny Stone bridgeThe crossing of the Funny Stone Stream marks the western start of the pass / Photo: Mike LeicesterOnce past the first cattle grid, the gradient gets steeper, the track narrower and the conditions rougher and passes a small farm house on the right hand side after 600m.

The road heads resolutely northwards for approximately 1 km, then abruptly makes a 110 degree right hand turn to a higher level as it heads from north to south-east and continues to climb steeply at around 1:13.

After another 1.5 km, a U-bend bend looms, but this one is wider, and arcs through 180 degrees. There is a radio mast close to the road at the apex of this bend and ample space to park several cars at a fairly level section. From this vantage point at the 1,4 km mark at an altitude of 2078m ASL, you can enjoy wonderful views over the lovely farms of the Wartrail Valley. In addition, the vegetation is clear on this bend allowing for uninterrupted views.

The road now heads towards the north-east after the U-bend for another 1,8 km, climbing continuously. There is a second cattle grid about 500m after the view-site. Beyond the cattle grid, the road surface deteriorates markedly and it becomes necessary to lower your speed and choose your driving lines carefully as a multitude of embedded and loose rocks have to be skirted. Be prepared to stop and affect temporary road repairs as is needed. Generally this would be in the form of packing rocks into some of the deeper gullies and wash-aways, so that tyres remain in contact with the road.

The radio mast view siteStop at the radio mast and enjoy amazing views over the Wartrail Valley / Photo: Mike LeicesterNear the end of this long climb a lovely view opens up directly in front of you of a small waterfall at the apex of the third hairpin bend. There's not much space to stop on the corner - perhaps just enough room for one vehicle, but a little further up the next slope, you will still be able to get decent photos of the waterfall.

This section of the pass is probably technically the most difficult. Be patient and alight frequently, examining the various obstacles on foot and only then make a decision on which line you will choose. They key is ensure that your vehicle always has traction on the road surface with all four wheels and that no part of the undercarriage connects with the hundreds of thousands of loose and embedded rocks on the road surface. If you are short of time, it's not a good idea to drive this pass and if you're caught in the mountains after dark and in severe weather, things will worsen rapidly. Always advise people of your ETA at your place of destination, so that help can be dispatched, should you not arrive by a pre-arranged deadline.



[Video cover photo and footage by Mike Leicester]

You are now faced with a short steep climb into the south-east up to the third hairpin, which swings to the right again, now heading for the final stiff climb to the section where the gradients ease off a bit. There you will see the road stretching off towards the east for many kilometres as it twists and turns around the buttresses. This is also a good spot to disembark and enjoy the fresh mountain air and those forever views.

The going is a little easier after the third hairpin, but is still limited to less than 30 kph. Once the road levels off, the routing becomes much more of a contour road, than a pass and this is the time where one can relax a bit more and enjoy the huge mountain-scape to the right as the road meanders in and around the steep grassy hills and valleys, remaining at approximately the 2400m contour for 3 km. At the 7 km point the road reaches a false summit, then swings through a double switchback, where the gradient increases sharply to 1:6. Finally a small house with a green roof appears on the left as the road claws its way to the upper plateau. The house is privately owned and marks the official summit and end point of the Volunteershoek Pass. You now still have to drive the 8,2 km of undulating section over the summit plateau, past Loch Ness, after which the road finally ends at the intersection to the Tiffindell Ski Resort.



[Video cover photo and footage by Mike Leicester]



Volunteershoek - snow drivingVolunteershoek - snow driving in late October / Photo: Trygve RobertsThe Volunteershoek-Tiffindell Traverse (or VTT)  starts where the Volunteershoek Pass ends at the summit point - at the small cabin (note that is private) near the western summit. The road runs all along the spine of the mountain remaining mainly above 2500m altitude and reaches a maximum point after 3.3 kms of 2689m. 

This section of the traverse provides a sense of total isolation as the track undulates gently over the high ridges of the mountains. There are no steep drop-offs, but the views on a clear day are vast, with the high peaks of the Drakensberg and the highest peak "Ben MacDhui" [3001m] brooding to your left, whilst the views to the right fade away into the distance with blues and grays of row upon row of mountain ridges. Here you will feel like you're on top of the world. This 8 km traverse holds few dangers as long as you keep your speed down to a sensible level (max 40 kph).

Snow driving in South africa - a rare treat.Heavy snow makes for challenging driving and navigation. This scene was during late October, 2013 / Photo: Trygve Roberts

After the summit the road dips down a short mini-pass and skirts a stone building with a flat roof. At the time of filming, the building appeared to be uninhabited, but it is no doubt used as a sheep or cattle kraal. All along the pass there several cattle grids - some of them have bumpy approaches and exits - slow down to 10 kph to avoid any bouncing.

Near the eastern end, the road makes a sharp bend to the left and the substantial lake "Loch Ness" with its twin islands, comes into view. There is fine trout fishing to be had here, but remember to get your fishing permit in Rhodes first. After clearing a cattle grid, the road traverses the dam wall where good views of the two islands can be seen. This used to be the primary water source for the snow making machines at Tiffindell, until a dispute between the two land-owners forced Tiffindell into building their own dam, which construction is now complete.

The end of the traverse is reached at the junction of the turn-off to Tiffindell, which is located about 1,5 kms up the hill to your left. If you continue straight on the road will reach the top of the Carlisleshoekspruit Pass after 7 kilometers. That pass will take you down through the Bell River Valley back to Rhodes [right] or the Naudes Nek Pass [left]. There is a third alternative just 200m after the Tiffindell intersection, where a two spoor track can be seen heading off into the east. This the TTT (Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse) and is 27 km long and takes 2,5 hours to complete. It will take you past the beautiful Tenahead Mountain Lodge and on to the eastern view-site of the Naude's Nek Pass. The TTT is also only suitable for 4WD vehicles.

We have edited our original 2013 snow videos into a 2 minute unnarrated video which shows how completely different conditions become, when rain and snow falls. We have also supplied two separate route files, covering both the pass as well as the VTT. These are free to download for subscribers.

Video footage courtesy of MPSA

A short explanation about the difference between AWD and 4WD: All wheel drive vehicles either have the option of permanent AWD or part-time AWD. When engaged, engine power is transmitted to the rear wheels at around 70% with 30% going to the front wheels. 4WD (four wheel drive) vehicles on the other hand have power delivered to front and back wheels in equal proportions (50/50). Generally speaking, most AWD vehicles are not designed to handle rough roads like this pass and they universally lack ground clearance. Many people who own AWD vehicles believe they can go to places where 4x4's go, but this is both dangerous and ill-informed. AWD vehicles are generally designed to deal with slippery urban road conditions (ice and snow) and better quality gravel roads. They are considerably safer than normal cars, but they are not proper 4x4's. It is not advisable to drive the following Eastern Cape passes in an AWD vehicle:

Volunteershoek
Lundin's Nek
Ben Mac Dhui
Bastervoetpad

Endless African skies and a dramatic mountainside -- this area of the Eastern Cape is a must-visit for South African and international adventurers alike! Fly-fishing in summer? High-adrenaline skiing in winter? Perfect! 

Why not spend a night or two at the Tiffendell Ski resort? Watch a short video on the resort below. 

 

The Naudes Nek pass is the anchor pass of the Big 8 Challenge Passes of the Eastern Cape and the one most visitors like to tackle first. The passes are as follows:

1. Naude's Nek Pass 2. Bastervoetpad Pass 3. Otto du Plessis Pass 4. Barkly Pass 5. Volunteershoek Pass 6. Carlisleshoekspruit Pass 7. Lundins Nek Pass 8. Jouberts Pass

Two more passes have been added to the above list which are the Ben Mac Dhui Pass and the Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (TTT) making a total of 10 adventure passes which will form the basis of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge. Details elsewhere on this website.

Make your plans. Book a cottage, B&B or hotel in Rhodes, Tiffindell or any one of a number of amazing farm stays and country lodges and get this incredible pass ticked off your bucket list!

 

[Video cover photo - Walkerbouts Inn]


Fact File:

GPS START

S30.719028 E27.828833

GPS SUMMIT

S30.684275 E27.868543

GPS END

S30.684275 E27.868543

AVE GRADIENT

1:14

MAX GRADIENT

1:5

ELEVATION START

1919m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

2581m

ELEVATION END

2581m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

662m

DISTANCE

9.6 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

North East

TIME REQUIRED

30 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

40 - 60 kph

SURFACE

Gravel

DATE FILMED

15.12.2016

TEMPERATURE

22C

NEAREST TOWN

Lady Grey (50km)


Route Map:

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From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Volunteershoek Pass  and the Volunteershoek-Tiffindell Traverse (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened and most GPS software systems)

 

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Mountain Passes South Africa is a website dedicated to the research, documentation, photographing and filming of the mountain passes of South Africa.
 

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