by Gerald O’Brien

We sometimes get asked, but why did you do it? We did it because it’s there and it’s a big tick off the 4x4 Bucket list.

Baboons Pass is a notorious mountain pass that sometimes forms part of the motorcycles route on the annual Roof of Africa Rally. It’s rough, really rough with big boulders, steep inclines and declines and very narrow tracks right on the very edge of the mountains. If you’re afraid of height, then baboons Pass is not the place for you.

It was a few years back that the first motor vehicle made it over the pass, and since then it has been a must do drive for many 4x4 enthusiasts. At Halfway where we eat and sleep 4 Wheel Drive, it seemed like the natural thing to do, so we did it. We planned to drive the pass towards the end of the winter season and before the first rains, aiming to have a dry run for our first attempt. We were lucky, the week preceding’s snow fall left a few visible signs of the snow but our route was fortunately bone dry by the time we got there. To negotiate baboons pass in the wet would be virtually impossible and probably bordering on suicidal.

We spent the first night in the camp site at the Ramabanta Trading post from where we had a good view of the first rocky climb to the pass, and from far it did not look to bad, time would tell. The convoy was made of six vehicles, 4 Hilux bakkies, a 76 series Land Cruiser and a SWB Jeep. Three of the Hilux’s were from 4 Ways, the other from Shelly Beach and the Cruiser and the Jeep from Scottburgh, a good mix of vehicles. The Toyota’s all had a minimum of Old Man Emu suspension fitted and aftermarket All Terrain Tyres. The Jeep also had a lift kit together with front and rear diff-locks installed and higher profile tyres. It just so happened that all but one of the vehicles were sporting BFG A/T tyres.

After deflating our tyres to around 1,5kpa, handing out 2 way radios and a briefing which included the order of the vehicles in the convoy, we were on our way by 08h30. There was no time for settling in or warming up, the boulder hopping began in earnest right from the very beginning, low ratio and diff locks became the norm. Drive a bit, stop, build the road up with rocks, guide each other up and over and then carry on till the next rough stretch. I must say, at some places the track looked way to narrow for a vehicle to squeeze through but with wheels on the edge and mirrors folded in we got through every time. Covering the first 10.5kms to the halfway mark was relatively easy and it took us just on 2, 5 hours. Here we had a well-deserved breather and time to catch up on a few war stories, tighten everything down again and making adjustments before the need for pressing on once more. The second half of the pass, as we soon found out is a lot more extreme that the first half. The boulders were bigger and carried on for longer stretches which had us out of our vehicles practicing our road building techniques a lot more than the first half. Goliath rock is a large rock close to the end of the pass and is positioned on a tight 90 deg bend with a steep gradient and was almost impossible for the longer vehicles to make in one go, a multiple point turn was the order of the day. Reverse too far and it would be over the edge for sure, and all this on loose rocks where traction is not guaranteed.

The second 10.5kms took us 4 hours to complete, giving us a total time of 6 and a half hours to cover the 21 kilometers, which gave us and average of 3, 2 kilometers per hour. The visible damage to the vehicles included a scratched front bumper and a ding on a left rear fender. As with any trip of this nature, there would be the mandatory bumps on the vehicles under carriages, but the vehicles are tough and built to withstand undercarriage impacts. Looking back now, those 4 near standard Hilux bakkies handled themselves extremely well in some of the roughest and toughest conditions that one can find. The vehicles 4x4 drive train worked well, sometimes favoring Traction control in the sharp corners and then diff locks on the straight sections. The Cruiser and the Jeep were the pick of the bunch and I would say the Cruiser edging out the jeep on Performance. What I find quite amazing, is the amount of absolute punishment and abuse that the tyres take is such conditions, and they simply keep coming back for more. We had a total of 24tyres climbing and spinning on the rocks with not one puncture or torn sidewall. No vehicle recoveries were necessary and in all a really great 4x4ing experience was had by all. That night a braai was laid on for us at the Semonkong lodge where we relived many of those hairy moments many times over. Would we do it again? If the mountain’s there we will answer the call.

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