Latest News! 4th April, 2019

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Mike Leicester and Richard Heathcote taking in the immense view at the Bastervoetpad summit point Mike Leicester and Richard Heathcote taking in the immense view at the Bastervoetpad summit point - Photo: Francois van der Westhuizen

The Ben 10 Wash-up

Last week we gave you an overview of the Ben 10 Eco Challenge Official Tour. This week we look into the first of the four days in more detail which illustrates the human interactions as the large group of people slowly bonded together to form a cohesive unit, taking care of each other, to ensure a successful outcome for all. The full story encompassing 23 chapters will be published over the next 3 weeks and thereafter will be permanently embedded under a separate menu tab on the main Ben 10 page. [More lower down...]

Wapadsberg/Merino Monster Tour

Our next 1 day tour in the Western Cape takes place on Easter Sunday (21st April) and includes 3 gravel and 3 tarred passes in the mountains north of Ceres. The route includes the magnificent Droelandskloof Pass with the anchor pass being the ascent and descent of the Wapadsberg Pass - a major climb to an amazing view-site. The route is suitable for any vehicle with reasonable ground clearance. We still have space left, so if you're looking for something different to do over that long Easter break, bring the whole family along as our prices are per vehicle and not per person. Book online here.

The Thomas Bain Heritage Tour

This brand new bespoke tour will take place during June or July over three days starting in George and ending in Patensie. It will include the 7 Passes Road, Gouna Pass, Kom se Pad, Prince Alfred's Pass, Uniondale Poort > Overnight in Uniondale for some spookstories.

Day 2 will route through a southern approach to the stunning Nuwekloof Pass and down into the western Baviaanskloof where we will visit a tree house, the Makedaat caves, a bonsai nursery and negotiate the 8 water crossings through Studtis Poort with an overnight stop at the Zandvlakte guest farm.

Day 3 will be spent exploring the Baviaanskloof eastern bio-reserve and include the passes of Grasnek, Langkop, Holgat and Combrinks with an overnight stop at Bruintjieskraal on the banks of the Grootrivier. The next day a short drive out through the Grootrivierpoort will end the tour at Patensie. No less than 12 of the passes on this tour were either designed or built by Thomas Bain. Bookings for this tour will open in a week's time. The tour is only open to 4WD vehicles.

April Fool

We also examine the April Fools Day phenomenon and explore the extraordinary success of our April's Fool post on Facebook. At the time of writing the post had 41,778 views over a 72 hour period. Remarkably the post (which took 5 minutes to knock together) ranks as one of our most successful posts ever. Understanding the power of social media is complex with this post knocking all the standard barriers down. [More lower down...]

Featured pass of the week

In keeping with our theme on the challenge passes, we feature another of the big 10 passes in the Eastern Cape Highlands. [More lower down]

Here is a copy of our Face Book post on April 1st:

South Africa's newest pass unveiled today in the Eastern Cape between Lusikisiki and Flagstaff. The Eastern Cape Government announced this morning that the cost of R2,6 billion to construct the new road would boost tourism in the old Transkei and that taxpayers throughout South Africa should be impressed with the new road. The pass is named after a famous chief who ruled here in the 1800s ~ hence the Lirpa Loof Pass.

Lirpa Loof = April Fool. Most people figured it out, but what is interesting is that the post was viewed by over 40,000 people. Every now and again we hit a jackpot post with phenomenal results, but it is extremely difficult to sustain those big numbers. It's what we call the "Marelise syndrome"

The 2019 Ben 10 Official Tour - The Ultimate Adventure

In this bumper newsletter this week, we bring you the first quarter of the Ben 10 Tour - warts and all. We will also be producing a four part video set covering all the highlights of the tour. These will be processed within the next week. If you want to see the photos, please visit our Face Book page.

Chapter 1- Prologue.

The Ben 10 Eco Challenge was conceived in 2011 whilst on a filming trip in the area as a means to boost local tourism in the Rhodes/Wartrail area by founder of Mountain Passes South Africa – Trygve Roberts.

He wanted to create an event that would last indefinitely, attracting adventure tourists into the area. The owner of Tiffindell Ski Resort, Lew Campbell, contacted MPSA and asked us if we would like to film the zig-zag pass above the ski resort to the top of the highest mountain in the area, called Ben MacDhui.

Mountain Passes South Africa came up with the concept of driving 10 challenge passes in 7 days and creating a special page on their website dedicated to that cause – the Hall of Fame. With 10 passes and the highest pass being named the Ben MacDhui Pass, the challenge title of Ben 10 Eco Challenge came to be.

It was an instant hit and the challenge is going from strength to strength and considered in some circles to be one of the toughest challenges for offroad adventurers. The challenge was opened up to 4x4 drivers, motorcyclists, mountain bikers, runners and walkers.

All the passes first had to be driven and filmed and published on the website. In January 2017 Rudi Peters from Gauteng was the first person (other than the filming crew at MPSA) to complete the challenge. He did it on a BMW 1200 GSA motorcycle.

In just over 2 years 85 people have now completed the challenge, but those that have entered number 166; showing an attrition rate of roughly 50%. This figure is a constant reminder that the challenge is tough and many an entrant retreats from the mountains in defeat.

In this story we take you through an epic four day adventure of our first official tour of the Ben 10 with 14 vehicles and 1 motorcycle. It would turn out to be an adventure of a lifetime – never to be forgotten.

Chapter 2 - Wednesday 20th March 2019 Drivers briefing

The group of 14 4x4’s and 1 motorcyclist arrive at the Mountain Shadows Hotel nestled at over 2000m ASL near the summit of the Barkly Pass. The hotel is ideally suited to our needs with a large lounge and bar area, conference facilities and a big dining area. The rooms are arranged in a horseshoe shape away from the main building which gives everyone quick walking access to all the facilities.

VHF radios are fitted by the guides and tyres are deflated in preparation for an early start the next morning. The group has been split into two groups to be more efficient. Mike Leicester, MPSA’s associate from Johannesburg will lead Team Mike and Trygve Roberts will lead team Romeo – each group comprising 7 vehicles.

The motorcyclist Francois with his wife Eilleen riding pillion will not have radio comms with the group, but will ride out ahead each day. At the drivers briefing there are a few concerned faces and not everyone agrees with the principle of tyre deflation. The acid test will be up in the mountains.

Six months of preparation have gone into the trip. The four days have been split up to cover the 10 challenge passes and in addition another 23 passes have been added into the routes to add some extra pizazz.

Everyone is requested to be in the dining room at 06h00 the next day in order to get Group Mike off by 07h00. Group Romeo would leave at 07h30. Each group would operate on different radio frequencies.

A tiny church near Bastervoetpad Pass / Photo: Ben 10 Tour group

There were 36 people in the group with the youngest being an 8 year old girl and the oldest being the 75 year old Eugene Fourie – a pathologist. In the group there are lawyers, doctors, vets, IT specialists, school teachers, businessmen, farmers and a few retirees.

The convoy vehicles comprised 8 Toyota Land Cruisers and Fortuners, and one each of a Ford Everest, Suzuki Jimny, Isuzu KB250, Nissan Patrol, Mitsubishi Pajero and a Land Rover Discovery G4. The motorcycle was a BMW 1200 GSA.

Let the games begin…..

Team M (Mike)
Mike Leicester & Chantal Nicolaou - Guide - Ford Everest
Casper & Rene Steenkamp - Suzuki Jimny
Eugene and Lalie Fourie & Anne Fraser - Izuzu KB250LE
Hendrik & Ria Verloren van Themaat - Toyota Fortuner
Mark Ilbury - Toyota Land Cruiser 200
Doug & Rose Lyon - Mistubishi Pajero
Richard & Heather Heathcote - Toyota Land Cruiser SC (Sweep Team M)
Francois & Eilleen van der Westhuizen - BMW 1200 GSA (Motorcycle)

Team R (Romeo)
Trygve (Robby) and Charon Roberts - Guide - Toyota Land Cruiser 105
Anwar & Saabira Omar with Nazli & Abdulla - Land Rover Discovery 3 G4
Howard & Amanda Allum with Darrell & Alison Marshall - Nissan Patrol
Trevor & Theresa Hall - Toyota Land Cruiser 200
Graham and Debbie Adie - Toyota Land Cruiser 200
Jacobus & Naomi Smith with sons David, Jonathan and Janu - Toyota Fortuner
Henk & Teresa Rossouw and daughter Tinneke - Toyota Land Cruiser 76 (Sweep Team R) 

Chapter 3 - Thursday 21st March. (Day 1) Fetcani Pass to Lundin's Nek.

Weather forecast - 22C Clear sunny weather. Our route for the day is long, rather than tough. The distance is 382 km and includes the Fetcani Pass, Lundin’s Nek, Dulcie’s Nek, Jouberts Pass, Grondnek Pass, Otto du Plessis Pass and Barkly Pass.

The day starts off at 07h00 with heavy mountain mists in the Fetcani Pass region but soon burns off and we are left with a beautiful, clear blue-sky day. The story of the Fetcani warriors is told over the radios of fierce tribesmen in the late 1800’s who caused havoc in the area, torching huts, stealing cattle and murdering all who came before them.

They were much feared by local tribes and gave the Cape government (British) at the time a headache. The drive from Fetcani to Lundin’s Nek is stunning. The route traverses valleys between mountains of eroded sandstone forming outlandish sculptures, mellowed by lush green pastures and tall Lombardi poplars reaching for the heavens.

The farms have Scottish names – like Reedsdell. The distance passes in a maze of perfect scenery, but ahead the Drakensberg looms and the prospect of tackling Lundins Nek Pass (Lundeans Nek) is on everyone's mind. The road begins deteriorating and soon the convoy is instructed to switch to low range. Deep ruts and washaways interspersed with small rivulets and teeth chattering rocks slow the speed down to under 15 kph.

Day 1 is the magenta track.

Up ahead the SAPS buildings – an anti-stock theft unit, marks the southern start of Lundins’ Nek Pass – the first of the challenge passes. There is a vehicle parked ahead in the middle of the track. It is stationary. As we get closer, we stare in disbelief. It’s a Toyota Corolla 1.6! How on earth did it make it this far?

We stop. The young German couple ask if we think the road ahead is suitable for them to continue. We quickly established that it is a rental car and many a joke abound that a rental car can go anywhere. Here was the proof of the pudding! We managed to persuade them to turn around and go back.

The views over the Telle River valley from the summit of Lundin’s Nek are superb. Alpine flowers dot the landscape which mostly consists of rolling grassland. There are hardly any trees at this altitude (2170m ASL). One can see into Lesotho from here, as the sound of a cowbell clanks nearby and the thundering hooves of a stallion ridden by a young Sotho man gallops past our convoy.

Chapter 4 - Lundin's Nek summit to Lady Grey

The descent down the northern side of Lundin’s Nek Pass presents one with exceptional views of weathered sandstone, almost black soil, rich green grass, tumbling rapids of crystal clear water, shiny cattle and flocks of sheep around any corner, calmly controlled by the local herdsmen who all wear a sort of uniform of a blanket, gumboots and a stick. Their dogs are well controlled too and are well adapted to the job at hand.

Most of the worst damage to the roadway from 2 months ago has been repaired and the descent presents very few problems. The road has many hairpins and razor sharp corners, so 100% concentration is required.

At last we reach the end of the pass close to the Telle River. From this point our route takes us north. Constantly following the river on it’s western side for a long distance through village after village until at last we get to the tar road near the Telle River border post. From there we connect with the main tar road to Lady Grey and drive over a minor pass called Dulcie’s Nek, where suffragette Olive Schreiner once lived nearby on a farm.

A short while later we drive through the sleepy (but artistic) town of Lady Grey where just a week before riots and civil unrest had residents lock themselves inside their homes. All was quiet as our long convoy rumbled through the town.

Chapter 5 - Jouberts Pass to the R58

At the foot of Jouberts Pass we take a lunch break and then tackle the ascent and a quick break at the summit for drivers to take their “proof” photos at each challenge pass summit (a requirement of the event). We follow the eastern descent of Jouberts Pass and begin a very long, but exceptionally attractive gravel road drive of almost 40 km through several farms, each separated by a small pass. There are verdant fields with shiny black and brown cows and here and there a huge bull stands guard over his harem.

The bird life is stunning too and we are fortunate to have a number of knowledgeable birders in our group, who identify a number of birds as we proceed along our route. There are jackal buzzards, Cape vultures, kestrels and a number of other interesting birds.

Finally we reconnect with the tarred R58 and turn left to drive the minor pass called Grondnek followed by the Kraai River Pass and in a blink we are back on gravel and heading south towards the Otto du Plessis Pass. The condition of the road is reasonable and our group is making good time.

Chapter 6 - Day 1 - Otto du Plessis Pass

We reach the northern end of Otto du Plessis Pass at about 16h00 with the GPS showing a 17h30 ETA back at base. That’s cutting things fine. The streams are all flowing nicely from all the recent rain in the area. The roads, although muddy in places have not presented any real challenges. (Little did we know what was still to come)

A hardy herder greets us - one eye missing and most of his teeth - just another day in his life / Photo: Ben 10 Group

The summit shows large billowing white clouds as is so often the case at the top of these big high altitude passes. This one tops out at 2115m ASL. When we arrive at the summit, we are right in the cloud base and the gorgeous views on offer are not visible at all. What a pity – but the weather is always the one factor we cannot control.

We stop briefly at the summit for the now familiar process of the signboard selfies and move straight on down the descent. About halfway down we pop out of the cloud-base, but the available light does not make for good photography. All the waterfalls are flowing nicely.

We have completed 3 of the 4 challenge passes for the day but the clock is not being kind and the light is fading fast. We head on to the tarred R58 at Ida and connect with Elliot and drive up the Barkly Pass – which most of our guests rated a 10/10 despite it being a tarred pass. We arrive back at base in the dark.

End of a very long day. Tired and weary drivers and passengers, but nothing a warm meal and a glass of wine can’t sort out. More is nog n dag....

Next week we will feature Day 2 - where all the action began with the Land Rover picking up a double set of sidewall cuts (and only one spare wheel).

Featured pass of the week:

(Take the link below and watch the video set on this magnificent pass and enjoy a small taste of what we experienced)

* * * * *   L U N D I N S    N E K     P A S S   * * * * *

Trygve Roberts

Thought for the day: "Hindsight is not wisdom. It is merely an observation" ~ Anonymous


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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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