For the last four editions, Trygve Roberts of Mountain Passes South Africa has entertained us with tales from the most epic Ben 10 Eco Challenge to date. The group finally reached the end and conquered the final four passes!
Nearing the end of our epic Eco Challenge – jokingly dubbed “The Wet Edition” – we headed out at sparrow’s as we had a long, tough day ahead. We had four major challenge passes waiting for us and I had to remind some our group of intrepid explorers that things were going to get hard, especially towards the end of the day, but that it would all be worth it!
First of all, we needed to back-track all the way to the Wartrail Country Club, which served as our first comfort break for the day. From there we took the road along the Funnystone River. This drive is particularly pleasant as it weaves through tall rows of Lombardi poplars and tranquil farms. Before long we arrived at the start of the first challenge pass of the day – Volunteershoek Pass.
We knew it was going to be tough and muddy, but the recent road repairs done by the local farmers meant we had many water diversion mounds to contend with. These were sharp and high, which meant using momentum was impossible – except for the Suzuki Jimny with its short wheelbase. For everyone else it was a matter of pausing briefly at the top of the mound and inevitably going into a slide on the far side. We were all fully cognisant of doing as little damage to the road as possible, so everyone was asked to engage their rear lockers and remain in low range.
The first part of the ascent up Volunteershoek was very technical but loads of fun and the whole convoy made it safely up the trickiest section. Then came those sections where the farmers had tried to stabilise the road by embedding old tyres into the surface. They actually looked much worse than what they were and even the vehicles with the lowest ground clearance made it through.
Eventually we were at the summit, where we stopped briefly to celebrate having conquered challenge pass number seven. Up at that altitude of around 2 600m above sea-level, the air is crisp and clean, and the views stretch over the endless rows of mountains cutting across the landscape. There are no trees, just plenty of grass. The good grazing meant an abundance of livestock on the roads, but by the final day of the Ben 10 expedition this had become a normal part of the daily driving.
The drive from the summit of Volunteershoek Pass to Tiffindell is about 16km long, but it takes an hour to cover it as the track follows a ridge into the east with the looming bulk of the Maloti range keeping guard to the left. The route passes over the dam wall of Loch Ness – the highest-altitude still water fishing spot in South Africa – and soon intersects with the road to Tiffindell. We still had the TTT (Tiffindell Tenahead Traverse), Naude’s Nek and Carlisleshoekspruit passes to complete and not enough daylight hours left, so we slashed the time for lunch to mere minutes and headed directly to the first gate of the TTT.
It’s a tough drive in anyone’s book (for drivers and especially passengers) as vehicles tend to roll from side to side a lot. It takes about two-and-a-half hours to complete and in the past we had found that it makes guests weary. This was again the case with some of our older guests, who wanted to throw in the towel when we reached the Tenahead Lodge. It took some persuasive talk to convince them to tough it out and complete the last two passes. It had also started raining again, further dampening flagging spirits.
Next up was Naude’s Nek Pass. There were no real problems as the road surface is generally quite good and by 17:45 we were close to Rhodes. We only had the very steep Carlisleshoekspruit Pass left to complete. With the rain falling steadily and natural light fading fast, we tackled it, turned around at the summit (no easy feat with 13 vehicles) and descended in darkness to arrive back at the Rhodes Hotel at 19:30. A weary, but proud group, we had not only completed the official Ben 10, but also several additional passes.
At dinner it was time for our usual Chappies Awards, where all manner of unusual and fun awards are handed out. The rain continued all night long, resulting in an adventure filled trip home over several flooded bridges and causeways. Our very first Ben 10 Challenge a few years back was also a wet one, but this tour was on a completely different level. Congratulations to all the drivers and passengers who stuck it out – we welcome you to a group of proud Ben 10 Eco Challenge alumni.
*Next year’s Ben 10 will probably be held over the Easter weekend. Keep an eye out on the website for more info:(www.mountainpassessouthafrica.co.za)
Participants & vehicles
- Toyota Land Cruiser 105 GX: Trygve Roberts (guide)
- Toyota Fortuner: Hans Matter & Irene Matzdorf
- Colt Rodeo V6 LDV: Bob Selman & Pieter Pienaar
- Ford Ranger Wildtrak: Theo Hammond & Charon Vorgers
- Suzuki Jimny 1.3: Tom & Jeanne Hemsted
- Mitsubishi Pajero Sport: Bernhard Klodwig
- Suzuki Grand Vitara: Ian McMurray
- Toyota Land Cruiser 200 VX: Bruce & Jill Meyer
- Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen: Colin & Ann Meyer
- Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Series: Marco & Lina van der Merwe
- Volkswagen Touareg: Ian & Betty van Heerden
- Toyota Land Cruiser 200: Rupert & Lizzie Worsdale
- Toyota Prado: Sam Alim & Birgitte Madlener
The Ben 10 Passes Include:
Barkly Pass (2 018m)
Bastervoetpad Pass (2 240m)
Ben MacDhui Pass (3 001m)*
Carlisleshoekspruit Pass (2 563m)
Joubert’s Pass (2 234m)
Lundin’s Nek Pass (2 170m)
Naude’s Nek Pass (2 590m)
Otto du Plessis Pass (2 115m)
Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse/TTT (2 720m)
Volunteershoek Pass (2 581m)
*Currently closed – substituted by the Bottelnek Pass (2 204m)