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Author Topic: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse  (Read 532 times)

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Offline JonW

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Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« on: February 09, 2020, 12:46:32 pm »
This is an off-road trip from Sehlabathebe Nature Reserve to Sani Top in Lesotho. There are no paths or tracks that you can follow, you are entirely reliant on following your GPS through the valleys and mountains that lie between the start at Sehlabathebe and the finish at Sani Top.

As far as I know this trip has only ever been done twice before, the first time by IanTheTooth and the second time by Highsider and Xpat. The common denominator that connected their trips were the Matat riding gods Iain Macdonald and Stuart Joyner who accompanied both parties on their rides.

Ever since reading Ian's ride report I have wanted to and not wanted to do this trip.

Wanted to, because it looks like an amazingly irresistible challenge, and not wanted to because at the back of my mind I have always had doubts as to whether either my bike or I were up to it. No-one has to tell me that IanTheTooth is a better rider than I am, I have ridden with him enough to know this for myself. So when I read in his report that he needed help on his WR 250 on certain sections of the ride, I knew that I was going to battle.

Now I love my KTM520 and while it has yet to let me down out on a ride, perhaps this 20 year old bike was not the ideal machine for this trip, but it's the only bike I have got so it would have to do.

Over the past few months I had put together a few trips into Lesotho, one up into the Sehlabathebe area so we could have a look at the first part of the trip without actually having to commit to the whole traverse, and another from Sani Top to Rhino Peak and back which would allow us to look at the last part of the ride. Both these trips went well and we didn't encounter anything unmanageable. However I was well aware of the fact that we hadn't yet attempted the really difficult parts of the ride.

The initial group that I invited to do the ride with me was 5 riders, however this quickly escalated to 12 as others asked if they could join in, and then asked if they could bring their friends with. I was not too comfortable with this number of riders in the group, but was assured that the more people in the group the more to help carry bikes up hills and over rocks.....yeah right  :)

By the time of the ride the number had dropped down to 10, 3 of us from Pmb, Highsider, Beebob and I, 2 from Bloemfontein, Losper and Lourens 2 from Jhb, Campbell and Robert and 3 from Pretoria, Shaun, Dawie and Carel.

The plan was to make our way to Sehlabathebe in 3 groups on the Saturday, then meet up at Thamatu Lodge on Saturday afternoon, then do the traverse together on the Sunday. The actual traverse itself is not far in terms of distance, it's only about 70 odd km long. Except for me on my 520 and Highsider on his slightly newer 525, everyone else was on newish KTM500's.

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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2020, 01:10:39 pm »
Rob, Kevin (Highsider) and I left Pietermaritzburg at around 06h30 on Saturday morning, and trailered our bikes to Himeville, where we were to meet up with Campbell and Robert who had driven down the night before and spent the night at a Bn'B in Himeville. After arriving we geared up and managed to get away by about 08h00. The plan was to go up Sani Pass, left at St James before Mokhotlong to Thaung, then follow a new route Losper had given us to Sehonhong, then over Matabeng Pass to Sehlabathebe, get fuel at the Chinese shop, then on to Thamatu Village and Thamato Lodge where we would stay the night.

Now leading up to the trip, all my attention had been on the Traverse section of the trip, I have done Sani over Matabeng quite a few times before, so I never actually gave this section any thought. It was only in the car on the way to Himeville that Rob mentioned that the distance between Himeville and Sehlabathebe was 270km, way more than what Kevin and I could get on our bikes. Bad, or should I say, no planning on our behalf. Anyway things worked out in the end, we managed to get fuel at Molumong Lodge courtesy of Shaun, and i then found a guy at Thaung who had fuel for sale. Crisis averted.

The trip through Lesotho and over Matabeng Pass was great, although we took far too long and only got to Sehlabathebe after dark, which meant the Chinese shop had closed by the time we got there and we were unable to get fuel. This meant we had to go all the way back to the Chinese shop the next morning before the Traverse, which cost us about 2 hours.

Losper's new route and Matabeng Pass were great, but have to say Matabeng has deteiorated a lot since I was last there.

Here's a video from Kevin of the five of us going over Matabeng:




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Offline 2StrokeDan

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2020, 01:24:45 pm »
Great riding Jon!

No overheating on the bikes?
 

Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2020, 01:46:02 pm »
Great riding Jon!

No overheating on the bikes?

Thanks Dan  :thumleft:

My 520 overheated a few times on the ride on particularly steep rocky sections, the only bike in the group that doesn't have a fan.

Solution was just to let it cool down for a few minutes then fill up the radiator from my camelbak
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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2020, 02:20:32 pm »
After arriving Saturday evening at Thamatu Lodge the first thing I need to do was sink a cold Maluti after a long day in the saddle. After this the piping hot shower was just what the doctor ordered.

Feeling refreshed, we proceeded to tan some meat on the fire and had a great evening in the Thamatu dining area, getting to know some of the guys who I had never met before. It wasn't long before everyone was off to bed, we were all pretty knackered and we had an early morning planned for the next day. I have to mention how well equipped Thamatu Lodge was, 10 of us staying there managed absolutely fine.

The next morning we were up as the sun rose, some of the bikes needed a bit of maintenance, ie mine and Kevin's  :biggrin:, and we needed to have some breakfast and then get to the Chinese shop as early as possible to fill up with petrol.

Rob , Kevin Campbell Robert and me headed off to get fuel, while the others who had fueled up the previous day would leave a bit later and meet us at a pre-arranged spot along the route.

Have to mention that the weather was perfect for the trip, we had a smattering of rain, but mostly blue skies and not too hot.

Thamatu Lodge on Sunday morning:

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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2020, 02:22:53 pm »
More at Thamatu

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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2020, 02:24:29 pm »
And more
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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2020, 02:37:54 pm »
So after going back to the Chinese shop which was about 10km away, we got fuel and then turned back towards Thamatu village and headed off into the wide open valley following cattle paths that led to the start of the first valley that we had to head up. Our timing was perfect, as we arrived at the meeting spot pretty much the same time as the others, who had first gone to look at a view site along the way.

From there we followed our GPS tracks along the side of the mountain, approaching the notorious waterfall section.

The going was already difficult, steep grassy rutted slopes interspersed with rocks

I got about two thirds up the first hill before I lost it, I then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes exhausting myself trying to wrestle my bike up the side of this rocky slope.

Some pics of the waterfall section:

These were the last pictures of the trip that I took.

from here on I was more concerned with survival than gathering memories  :(
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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2020, 02:51:22 pm »
At some stage some of us crossed the river above the waterfall and went off the GPS track we were following, probably because that side looked a bit less rocky and gnarly than the side we were on.

Unfortunately this proved to be a mistake, as this side was steep, grassy and traction was very hard to come by.

GPS records show that this 1.7 km section took us 2 hours 40 to cover.

I cannot say I was having any fun at this stage.

We also got split up from the other 5 around here and that was the last we saw of them.

Huge thanks to Rob Scheepers who assisted me and a couple of the others here, were it not for you I don't know how we would have got off the mountain.

Here's a video put together by Campbell of the trip, which shows some of what we went through. I'm a bit disappointed that after crashing more times than I can remember he didn't manage to catch a single one of my off's on film  :biggrin:

Awesome video Campbell   :thumleft:


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Offline Highsider

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2020, 04:31:18 pm »
Not to worry, Jon.  I have a few on my video.  I certainly have a lot of my off’s coming up in my video...


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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2020, 05:50:18 pm »
Not to worry, Jon.  I have a few on my video.  I certainly have a lot of my off’s coming up in my video...


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Thanks Kevin, looking forward to it  :imaposer:
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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2020, 06:16:46 pm »
After getting to the top of the valley the riding did become a lot easier, the only problem was that I was pretty blown from the earlier exertions and I was making stupid mistakes.

Still unending rocks, tufts of grass and holes wherever one looked



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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2020, 06:31:39 pm »
After an hour or two riding we reached the massive Mashai Ridge. Was not really a problem getting up it coming from our direction, but I doubt you would get over it coming up the other side. It is a massive steep hill covered in boulders and ruts with no discernible pathway. It was too steep just to ride down, you had to zig zag down in amongst the rocks. I cautiously followed Rob down here and with his help made it to the bottom in one piece, albeit with a badly bent footpeg.

After that it was more valleys, more rocks and more mountains, until we got to the Rhino Ridge which is quite a steep descent. Coming down here I chose the wrong line and got into some gnarly rocks, one of which banged a hole in my stator cover which was now leaking engine oil. Luckily I had brought some Pratley Steel with so I could mend the hole and stop the oil leak.

Unfortunately this cost us about another 40 minutes while we waited for the Pratley to dry.

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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2020, 06:39:51 pm »
From there it was an easy ride to Sani Top, most of us had done this section before, so we were quite relaxed.

My only setback was that I ran out of petrol before the end, Campbell was kind enough to donate a few litres which got me home.

We eventually got to the Sani Top border at 17h50, and down to the South African border just after !8h00 to find it locked already, but managed to sweet talk the border guys into opening up for us.

Thanks Kevin Rob Campbell and Robert for the awesome trip, was fun but I think both my bike and I are getting too old for shit like this  :biggrin:

« Last Edit: February 09, 2020, 06:40:41 pm by JonW »
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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2020, 07:08:02 pm »
....

Thanks Kevin Rob Campbell and Robert for the awesome trip, was fun but I think both my bike and I are getting too old for shit like this  :biggrin:

Easy solution there Jon - just get younger bike  ;)

Joking aside - this is a massive achievement.  :thumleft:

I think if you would have stuck with the original track at the top of the waterfall valley, you would have saved some energy and probably enjoyed the whole ride much more. Kevin said the route you took this time at the top of the valley was much worse than the one we did last time, and even that one wasn't walk in the park.

Offline Highsider

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #15 on: February 09, 2020, 09:25:31 pm »




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« Last Edit: February 09, 2020, 10:17:48 pm by JonW »
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Offline frankmac

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #16 on: February 09, 2020, 09:37:04 pm »
My hat off to you mountain goats. Unfortunately I don't have a head for heights.
 

Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2020, 10:18:55 pm »




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Awesome footage Kev.  :thumleft:
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Offline JonW

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2020, 10:34:18 pm »
....

Thanks Kevin Rob Campbell and Robert for the awesome trip, was fun but I think both my bike and I are getting too old for shit like this  :biggrin:

Easy solution there Jon - just get younger bike  ;)

Joking aside - this is a massive achievement.  :thumleft:

I think if you would have stuck with the original track at the top of the waterfall valley, you would have saved some energy and probably enjoyed the whole ride much more. Kevin said the route you took this time at the top of the valley was much worse than the one we did last time, and even that one wasn't walk in the park.

Thanks Martin and thanks for your encouragement to do this trip  :thumleft:

Must say a new 500 would be nice  :)
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Offline IanTheTooth

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Re: Sehlabathebe to Sani Top Traverse
« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2020, 11:19:19 pm »
Congratulations Jon!
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