Semonkong -Senquyana River- Katse Dam-Khubelu River trail 2017

Semonkong -Senquyana River- Katse Dam-Khubelu River trail 2017

This trip did not disappoint, it was advertised as a true and tough 4x4 trail across the mountain passes of Lesotho over a period of 4 days and 350
kilometers. The trip offered exactly that, plus perhaps a bit more, packing rocks, road building and road clearing became the norm of each day and slowed the group’s progress down to a standstill at times.
The group, made up of ten 4 wheel drives and nineteen adult males left the Ficksburg municipal campsite by 08h30 on the Friday morning and headed for Semonkong from where the trail proper would begin. Re fuelling from our Jerry cans would also be done at Semonkong, there was a shortage of fuel in Lesotho at the time and Semonkong had run dry a few days previously. Permission had been granted to us allowing us to take full jerry cans across the border. A quick bite to eat whilst refuelling and we were soon on our way to our first overnight stop on the banks of the Senquyana River, around 29kms away. Nothing like pushing hard to get to the campsite and having that sundowner whilst watching the sun set over the Maluti’s. We all learnt a good lesson on day one, things do not always go according to the plan and a reminder that in Lesotho we don’t talk about distance but rather in hours or time.

We began with the final descent into the Senquyana River valley at around 3.30pm, giving us close to 3 hours to cover the final 3 kms before sunset, no problem. Within the first few hundred meters, the leather gloves came out and the road clearing began, a small obstacle though and together with a bit of spade work to level out the off-camber we were soon progressing forwards. The track levelled out and was pretty good for a few hundred meters, when oh no, a huge big rock blocking the track. We estimated it to be in the region of 3 to 4 tons. After about an hour and with two HI-Lift Jacks working in tandem with each other we were able to shift the rock to one side giving us just enough room to squeeze
the 4×4’s past. The physical side was not yet over though, there was still quite a bit of rock shifting and road building to be done on the way down to the river which we eventually got to at around 19h30, thirsty, tired and pumped up. Those last few hours had been demanding on everyone concerned, the drivers used all their driving skills to negotiate the boulder strewn descent and the passengers often walking ahead guiding the drivers and road building when necessary.
The beer, the braai and the pillow were all good that night, in that order.
The following morning after a good night’s sleep we could see in the daylight what a slope we had set up our camp on the night before, I guess that that’s what tired and weary bodies don’t always notice in the dark. It was now time to cross the Senquyana River. Out came the gloves again as we cleared a track through the boulders towards the opposite bank. The river was about 30meter wide where we had planned our route for but fortunately it was fairly shallow and did not present any problems, likewise with the muddy bank on the opposite side. The going was generally a little easier whilst on our way to Katse Dam but there were a few tough sections en- route, one of which almost had Stephan in his Hilux slipping off the edge and rolling down into a ravine. Fortunately for Stephan, the vehicle stopped with one rear wheel hanging over the edge, the opposite front wheel up in the air and the under carriage resting on the edge. With the aid of two winches, one to secure the 4×4 from rolling off the edge and the other to pull it forwards we were able to recover the vehicle without any further mishaps. Other than a visibly shaken driver there was no damage done to the vehicle and he drove very well after that and all was good until he got the first of his trips two punctures a few kilo’s further on. Both were big side wall tears and cold have happened to anyone, but when it’s your turn, it’s your turn. Once again low ratio was the order of the day with diff locks and traction control working hard as we crossed the rugged mountain passes.

What with the unexpected days activities of recoveries, and punctures we eventually pulled up on the banks of the Malibamatso River just below the Katse Dam wall at around 7.30 pm, another 11 hours in the
saddle and we had covered all of 171kms of which 50 was on the tar and another sixty was on good dirt road. By now the convoy had learnt that you do not ask “how much further” but rather “how much Longer”. Viewing the dam would have to wait until daylight hours, we were tired, hungry and of course in a rush to pop the cap of that first chilled quart of Maluti Larger. Looking at the dam in the morning, we were amazed to see just how low the water level was, it’s difficult to judge from standing higher up and at a distance but the vertical drop must have been around 10 to 15 meters, perhaps more. It is going to take a lot of good rain or really heavy snow falls to fill the dam up again, fortunately the Vaal dam has filled up which takes the immediate pressure off of the Katse. For the local mountain folk, the Maluti’s are oozing with springs after the recent rains and the veld is really looking the best it has in a long time, the grazing was plentiful and the crops were looking good with plenty to harvest before the long Icey winter months set in.
We were midway through our mandatory braai when Ryan Otto, Halfway 4 Ways 4×4 guru began complaining about a severe pain running down his left arm and that he was not feeling at all well. This was around 20 minutes after receiving two stings on his left shoulder, which we assumed were wasps. A little later he had pain coming up his leg as well and announced his immediate retirement to his tent. Needless to say, Ryan did not sleep much during the night, was nauseous throughout and was by now running a fever. A decision was taken, he was on his way home via the shortest route to a doctor in SA which happened to be Ficksburg. The doctor there sent him on to a hospital in Bethlehem for tests to be done. After blood tests and a drip they could not find anything there and suggested he carries on to Gauteng. That night he was diagnosed with Tick Bite fever. Judging by the way and speed in which it took Ryan down, it must have been a severe strain of it and perhaps aggravated by the two stings.

Thanks must go out to Sean and Dries who cut their trip short so that they could take Ryan and make sure that he saw the right people. Thanks guys, we need people like you.
The following day we had a quick 20 km stretch on the tar to warm us up before taking a turn onto the dirt for another long day’s road building and hard 4×4 driving. Once again the route took us along what were once dirt roads linking the mountain villages to one another. Unfortunately for the locals, the roads had deteriorated to such an extent that they were now non-negotiable and they had to rely on horseback for transport between the villages, the other remaining option was to walk, which nearly all did. Between the Chinese and the South Africans, many of Lesotho’s roads are being tarred, but those are only the main roads and the small mountain track and trails are not receiving much attention at all. Villager’s that used to be easily accessible by two wheel drives bakkie’s are now barely negotiable by hard core 4×4’s and their adventures teams.

We reached our camp on the Khubelu campsite about an hour before dark, giving us time to set up camp in the light and get the braai going a lot earlier than the previous nights.

The next day the convoy split up as we hit the tar road, the Gauteng’s turned left towards Butha Buthe and the KZN’ers turned right towards the Sani Pass.

All agreed, this was one mighty fine 4×4 trip which had great campsites, spectacular views and hours of tough 4x4ing over many rugged mountain passes, and of course, a fantastic group of people willing and eager to get involved when it really mattered.

Roll on 2018