Baboon’s Pass | In the grip of the Baboon
With rocks named Goliath, Lesotho’s Baboon’s Pass is where drivers have to brave rock falls and sudden snow storms − and sometimes have to be airlifted out. David Maritz gave it a shot.
Baboon’s Pass is no play¬ground − full stop. This pass near Ramabanta is one of the most remote, roughest and impassable passes in Lesotho – more suitable for donkeys and pedestrians (and baboons) than for vehicles.
It’s synonymous with jumbo rocks, dizzying precipices tugging at your vehicle, drivers who give up and helicopter rescue missions.
Yes, Baboon’s Pass is where you earn your spurs – the hard way. Nonetheless, says David, “Go drive it − it is worth every scratch and cent!”
David’s party of 12 spent 17 hours traversing the pass’ 26 km in September last year.
How difficult is the pass really?
Some parts of the pass, creaking up Thaba Putsoa, might look easy on a photograph, but it is a whole new ball game if you have to drive it.
The very difficult, very technical pass keeps you on your toes all the time. Over the pass’ 26 km you climb from an altitude of 1 200m to 2 850m.
You will have to do some road-building and move rocks on the pass − an 800 m section kept us busy for two hours. Rocks that are too large for manual moving have to be dragged away with using the vehicles and tow ropes.
We planned driving the pass in a day, but got caught in the dark and had to stay overnight in the pass.
It is only 17.5 km from the Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge, where we stayed the previous night, to our overnight spot in the pass, but this stretch kept us busy for over 11 hours − from 5.30 am till after 4 pm.
What’s more, it took us almost seven hours (from 6.30 am to 1 pm) to cover the remaining 8.9 km from the overnight spot to the end of the pass.
How did the vehicles fare?
While the Land Rovers did extremely well, the Land Cruisers and the Defender would have fared better with diff locks (there was sometimes a lot of wheel spin); the Hilux needed a serious suspension lift.
Were any vehicles damaged?
Apart from small things such as cut tyres (fortunately we didn’t loose a tyre), dings and scrapes, the biggest damage was to the extra fuel tank of Rudi’s Cruiser.
The rocks and stones did a proper job of panel beating the tank, which is lower than the spare wheel. We repaired it right there in the pass.
Pg 2: If I want to go …
If I want to go, do I have to convert my vehicle?
Yes, at least make sure of the following:
Irrespective of what you’re driving, your vehicle will become stuck and scratched. Good ground clearance makes things easier, especially if your vehicle has a long wheelbase. A skid plate is also advisable.
Solid or independent.
Even though a vehicle with an independent front suspension will make it, a proper suspension upgrade will firm up the ride and reduce body roll. The driver of such a vehicle also has to choose his line very carefully to pass over the obstacles. A vehicle with a solid front axle is probably more suitable to the pass.
Without it your vehicle’s sides can get severely damaged. You can ditch your running boards in any case once the pass is done with them.
Tyres such as all-terrain or mud-terrain tyres that can endure punishment are essential. The tyres on our vehicles were Cooper STTs, Maxxis Bighorns and BF Goodrich ATs.
It is imperative to have good recovery points, because you get stuck a lot and don’t want to struggle with weak points. Side recovery points aren’t indispensible, but can get you out of a fix.
Diff locks will help and will also help prevent excessive damage to the environment. Diff locks make stretches where you have to put foot to pick up speed and momentum to get over an obstacle so much easier.
In the absence of diff locks or traction control, good wheel articulation makes it easier to get through the pass.
Pg 3: What to pack?
What do I have to pack?
- Lots of warm stuff such as a jacket, trousers and blankets; it is always cold in the mountains, especially at night. Trousers also help protect your legs from scrapes and cuts while you’re road-building.
- Anti-sun. Lip balm, suntan lotion and moisturising cream such as Vaseline are essential because the sun, dry air and cold take their toll.
- Enough food and water for 3-4 days, especially sufficient drinking water as you dehydrate quickly.
- A first-aid kit as well as someone who has first-aid training.
- Two-way radios make communication that much easier.
- A satellite phone is especially useful in an emergency.
- Tracks4Africa’s maps to prevent you from getting hopelessly lost.
- Leather gloves. The sharp and rough edges of rocks and stones cut your hands while you are carrying stones and building roads.
- Recovery gear. A high-lift jack is indispensible. We used the high-lift jack and snatch straps three times each, winches twice, and a spade once.
- Spade, axe, chains but these aren’t indispensible.
- A crowbar can make life easier here and there, but you’ll manage without it.
- Fan belts and water pipes
- A complete set of spanners
- Extra oil and brake fluid
- Extra spare wheel/s
- A compressor
- Sunlight soap or Pratley Steel for repairing a leaking fuel tank.
- Extra fuel. Although fuel is readily available, take cash along as fuel cards aren’t accepted in Lesotho.
Pg 4: David’s top tips
David’s top tips:
Is this your first time?
Don’t tackle the pass on your own, as you could get so stuck you won’t be able to recover yourself. Four to five vehicles are ideal, because in an emergency two can look for help while the rest remain behind. The pass is neither for inexperienced drivers nor where you want to learn how to 4×4.
Pack loads of patience, a sense of humour, cooperation and a positive attitude. Leave irritation at home.
Choose your group wisely – one wrong choice can make the whole group negative. The pass can make or break friendships, and there is no chance of turning back.
Who’s the boss?
Choose one person to be the leader.
What’s this thing?
Take a mechanical boffin along.
Day to day.
Set aside at least two days to drive the pass. It can take a week in case of a breakdown.
Start early morning so you can pitch camp in the pass while it’s still light. You can then cover as m
uch of the pass as possible while it’s light – you don’t want to tackle Baboon’s Pass in the dark.
Leave Charles and Jack at home.
No alcohol, the pass is difficult enough and you need all your concentration.
Don’t bash your way through the pass. If your wheels start spinning, stop and pack stones to make passing easier. The pass is there for all and those who follow have to get through at the same place. Conserve Lesotho – it’s a very beautiful country.
R78 000 please, Sir.
Don’t get upset if your vehicle gets damaged; it can always be repaired.
Use the right tyre pressure – 1.5 bar works well.
Easy does it.
Take it easy on the clutch; should you damage it, you will make it very difficult for the rest of the group.
What does this switch do?
At least one person has to be an experienced 4×4 driver, especially for recovery. If each vehicle has an experienced 4×4 navigator, your trip will be so much easier.
Front, middle, rear.
The positioning of the vehicles in the convoy is important for efficient recovery.
What was that?!
Radio communication is important as the wind can rule out shouting instructions. We used VHF radios.
Cellphone reception is good close to the end of the pass, near Semonkong, but there is no reception in the pass.
If you are camping in the pass, stow everything away in your vehicle and lock it. Someone stole a gas bottle from under one of our vehicles.
Don’t hand sweets to the local begging children, as some of them have turned to throwing stones at those who ignore their demands.
Ashley and Jennifer Thorn, owners of the Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge (266 2234 0202), are extremely helpful.
Pg 5: How do I get to …
How do I get to the start of the pass?
From Roma there is a tarred stretch before the turnoff to Ramabanta, 50 km along at the foot of the pass. The Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge in the valley next to the Makhaleng River, is a good place to overnight at before tackling the pass.
Pg 6: Who went along …
Who went along and in what?
- Simon and Estelle Gerber from Kempton Park in a Land Rover Defender 110 Td5 (standard suspension; BF Goodrich AT tyres; no traction control or diff lock);
- Rudi and Phillip Cronjé from Bloemfontein in a Land Cruiser
80 GX (OME suspension upgrade; BF Goodrich AT tyres; no diff lock).
- André and Martin Nel and David Maritz from Pretoria in a Land Cruiser 80 GX (Iron Man suspension upgrade with airbags; Maxxis Bighorn tyres; no diff lock);
- Andrew Geel and Mike Labotsky from Durban in a Land Rover 90 Puma (standard suspension;Cooper STT tyres; traction control);
- Lukas Pieterse and Johan and Gerda Siebert from Pretoria in a Toyota Hilux SRX 2.5 D-4D (standard suspension; BF Goodrich AT tyres; rear diff lock);
Quite a few members of the group are active on the forum www.4x4community.co.za, where the plan for the Baboon’s Pass adventure was discussed the first time, while others are members of the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa.
Originally published in Drive Out #31 | June – July 2009
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