Summit of the Moteng Pass under snow
Summit of the Moteng Pass under snow - Photo: Wikipedia

This major pass is located between the Afriski Resort in the north and Butha Buthe in the west, in the northern quartile of Lesotho. It has a huge altitude gain of 896m that stretches over a distance of 15.3 km which converts into an average gradient of 1:17, but don't be fooled by that figure as it includes the descent. Most of the descent from the eastern approach is between 1:5 and 1:8.

The 91 bends, corners and curves will require your full concentration. Amongst those there are 11 extreme hairpin bends and two full horseshoes and a further 16 bends in excess of 90 degrees. The A1 road is the major route across the northern sector of Lesotho and as such carries a fair volume of traffic including some very large trucks. These need the full width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends, so be fully aware of this as you proceed along this pass.

The pass has been the scene of numerous accidents, mostly involving trucks and buses. All the passes in Lesotho are above the snow line, so driving here in winter invariably means having to deal with snow and ice, which is to be avoided if possible - and especially so if you are not in a 4WD vehicle.

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 1080HD.) Wait a few seconds for the video to display.....

 

FULL-SCREEN MODEMODE: 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.


Digging into the details:

Getting there: To approach from the east (as we have filmed it), the best-known landmark is the Afriski Resort. Head north-west along the A1 for 20 km to reach the eastern start of the pass.

To approach from the west, the most obvious starting points are either Maseru or if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Maseru, then Ficksburg might be a quieter option. From either point it's easy to access the A1 route. There are many villages and towns to traverse, with the main ones being Hlotse, Butha Bhute and Kala. From Kala it's another 25 km to reach the western start of the Moteng Pass. 

Lesotho sheep herderHappy sheep herder along the pass / Photo: Mark Eekhoff

Pass Description: From the western side, the pass starts at the crossing of the Tsehlayane River, then curves through a wide left-hand bend, climbing rapidly to settle down into the south-west, where the gradients ease off somewhat to around 1:10. Wide views open up to the left where one can look all the way up the valley where the Oxbow Lodge is located. This valley will be flooded when the new Polihali Dam fills up.

After 1.5 km another tarred road feeds in from the right. This short road leads to a small building complex a little further along the road and resembles what looks like a school or construction offices.

The road then follows the contours of a conical shaped peak on the right, turning gradually through a big right-hand curve, which follows a small stream into the north till the 3 km mark, where it turns sharply by 130 degrees back into the south as it maintains altitude. Once through this bend, the telecom towers at the summit become visible. A flat disused gravel pit is visible on the right which was used as a crushing plant during the tarring of the pass.

The summit area has a spacious view site that can accommodate about 20 vehicles. Two radio towers mark the summit which is 2811m ASL. This is probably the best place to stop safely. Excellent views to the east allow vistas up to 20 km distant and a short walk up to the towers allow eye watering views to the west, where sections of the pass can be seen zig zagging down the cliffs and ridges.

Moteng Pass accidentBe wary of large trucks that need space to get around the hairpins / Photo: YouTube

Before you commence the descent it's important to understand the sheer magnitude of this pass and inherent dangers that you will be facing. The first is the high probability of overheated brakes, which is why you should immediately shift down to a lower gear and use engine compression to slow your vehicle down.

Good drivers will know to only occasionally feather their brakes lightly to maintain a safe descent speed. For manual light motor vehicles, use 2nd gear and go to 1st gear down the steepest sections. Those with automatic gearboxes should manually shift down and leave the gear shift in the correct gear for the same effect.

The gradients vary between 1:5 and 1:8 for the next 10 km losing almost 900m in altitude. It's also important to know that brake fluid boils earlier at higher altitudes. The first sign that your brakes are taking strain will be a slight shudder when braking. As the discs heat up, the shuddering will increase. That's a good time to find a safe spot to stop and wait 15 minutes for the discs to cool down. Don't be shy to gear down, even if it means that the engine might rev over 4000 rpm, no harm will be done. Save your brakes for when you really need them.

 

From the summit, the gradient steepens quickly as the road drops down into the ravine via a few gentle bends, then turns sharply to the right at the 6 km mark, changing the direction into the north. Next up is a sweeping turn to clear a nose in the mountain, then the road drops down in stages towards the first proper hairpin bend - and it reverses direction completely by 180 degrees.

The descent gradient steepens to 1:8 as the road descends quickly into a sharp horseshoe bend, followed by an S curve. Once through that, the road can be seen ahead getting even steeper towards the next horseshoe bend, which is even tighter than the first one. Remember to keep a look out for trucks coming up the pass and try not to reach any of the sharp corners simultaneously. Remember its law in Lesotho to give right of way to trucks, pedestrians and livestock.

Once through the 2nd horseshoe, another big S bend swings the direction into the north once more for a straight stretch at a slightly easier gradient as the road seems to head directly into a ravine. This is where the next hairpin pin is located. Once you've gone through it, you will be faced with the steepest section of the entire pass, where the gradients reach 1:5. You will be grateful that you used your brakes sparingly, as even in 1st gear, you will still need to brake here.

At the bottom is the third horseshoe bend and this is also the one with tightest turning arc, which will take the heading into the north for the last time. From here the road will follow the course of the Hololo River all the way to the end of the pass.

Moteng Pass dramaA stark reminder of how dangerous ice and snow can be - even on a tarred road / Photo: P.G. Jonker

At this stage you will have completed about half of the pass and the worst is behind you, but don't relax too much as there are still a few nasty surprises further down the valley. At the end of this long straight descent, the road swings abruptly to the left to clear the point where two side streams flow under the road. These are small tributaries of the Hololo River.

At the 9 km mark, you'll get a good view of the next set of hairpins which is in the form of a chicane, as the road reverse direction twice, in the process losing 60m of altitude. There is another sharp left hand U bend at the 11 km accommodating another small river flowing northwards. At the 13 km mark, the final set of switchbacks needs to be negotiated. These have easier turning arcs, but still require careful driving.

The road steepens once more as the last bend drops down to the village of Moteng (on the right), then the road straightens out and levels off appreciably till the end of the pass is reached at the 15.3 km mark at an altitude of 1918m. You will have descended a whopping 896 m from the summit.

 

Points of interest on the western side of the pass are the Liphofung Caves and the Muela Hydro Electric Plant. Both offer visitor tours which are informative and worthwhile, if you have the time.

 

CAUTIONARY: The speed limit in Lesotho is 50 kph in rural areas and 80 kph on national roads. Road blocks and speed traps are common and more so nearer the bigger centres.

AfriskiAfriski is a popular destination during the winter snow season


Fact File:

GPS START

S28.756894 E28.536258

GPS SUMMIT

S28.755714 E28.600811

GPS END

S28.736043 E28.616896

AVE GRADIENT

1:17

MAX GRADIENT

1:4

ELEVATION START

1924m

ELEVATION SUMMIT

2821m

ELEVATION END

2612m

HEIGHT GAIN/LOSS

896m

DISTANCE

15.3 km

DIRECTION - TRAVEL

East

TIME REQUIRED

30 minutes

SPEED LIMIT

60 kph

SURFACE

Tar (A1)

DATE FILMED

14.4.2024

TEMPERATURE

15C

NEAREST TOWN

Kala (37 km)


Route Map:

Use these powerful features to get the best use out of the map:

  • Choose either Map View or Satellite View (overlaid on the map detail.)
  • Zoom in and out; rotate in any direction.
  • Use the Get Route feature (directly beneath the map): type in your address to get a personalised route straight from where you are to the pass, with time and distance included.
  • Detailed written and printable directions.
  • Drag the 'little orange man' icon onto the pass for a complete 360° tiltable "street view".

From Address:


Route files:

||Click to download: Moteng Pass (A1)  (Note - This is a .kmz file which can be opened in Google earth and most GPS software systems)