Slip,sliding away

Words and pictures by Neil Harrison Words and pictures by Neil Harrison

Slip,sliding away


While the phrase ‘extreme weather’ sends most folk into hibernation mode, our editor recently spent a weekend away with a club whose members relish such meteorological challenges.
There is a fair number of clubs clustered around the interests of off-road vehicles and travel. Some clubs are geographical in nature: if you live in Putsonderwater you might belong to the Putsonderwater 4x4 club. Other clubs are focused on a particular activity: the Lets-see-howfar- we-can-drive-up-thisdune- while-holding-arefreshing- libation-inone- hand club enjoys ongoing support. Clubs’ entrance requirements vary. Some require that you simply share an interest, others would like you to at least own a 4x4 of some description, while others merely call for you to have an internet connection and something to say. There truly are clubs for all reasons.
Clubs with a very low barrier to entry tend to attract a broader cross-section of humanity. Attend one of their events and you’ll meet the politician, the joker, the bore, the organiser, the president, the man who generally ends up doing all the work, the ideas guy (he never does any work), the rich member, the poor member, the woman who rules the catering committee with an iron fist, and the guy who has the dirt on everyone (generally the barman).
Conversely, the more specialised clubs tend to attract a narrower cross-section of humanity; which makes sense, as the more specialised your common interest, the more similar your personality traits are likely to be. Which is why it came as no great surprise to discover that the Unimog club is populated by a bunch of nutters. These are the kind of people who take great delight in doing things their own way, without the slightest care or reference to how the rest of the world operates. They are, I have to say, my kind of people.

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself here; this is an article about a trip to Lesotho with the Unimog club to find some snow. Grant is our resident Unimog fan, but as he was already booked out on another excursion he had to – grudgingly – hand over the invitation to me.

Ferdi de Beer, Mercedes-Benz’s Unimog specialist and chairman of SA’s Unimog club, had come up with a window of opportunity. The idea was that we’d watch the weather forecasts carefully and depart during a time when snow was predicted. One particular week began with a prediction of snow. But, as the days progressed, that forecast changed to ‘there’ll be lots of snow’, and finally ended up with, ‘extreme weather is forecast. Stay at home. Do not under any circumstances go to Lesotho.’ Which, of course, is exactly what the Unimog club went and did.

Our trip began just outside Fouriesburg, where the club assembled: a collection of seven Unimogs, ranging from a brace of 416s, right up to the latest U5000. Double-cab (known as doka by aficionados) configurations were the most popular, followed by single cabs. Body types varied from campers of varying degrees of luxury to canvascovered and open baks. Participants ranged from 30-somethings all the way up to seemingly-respectable elder citizens. Filling in the gaps between the Unimogs were three Geländewagens, one ferrying yours truly.

The Caledonspoort border post has to be one of the best ways to enter Lesotho, as both the South African and Lesotho facilities are clean and well-run, a credit to the related government departments on both sides. So it wasn’t long before our convoy was gunning through the mountain kingdom in pursuit of snow. Of course, when Unimog owners talk about ‘gunning it’, what they mean is a cruising speed of 80 – 100 km/h, so our progress was a little more sedate than most folk might be used to. But it wasn’t too long before we were heading east towards Pitseng, and after that, Mafika Lisiu Pass.

As we began the long slow haul up the pass – built to allow the construction of Katse Dam – the weather closed in, the skies looming darkly above. Soon, a few raindrops began to fall, and then, snow! Well, more frozen rain than snow, but who’s complaining? By the time we crested the 3 090m pass, our world was shades of white and grey, and visibility had dropped to 50m or so. We stopped near the lookout point to take photographs and regroup. Now it definitely wasn’t snow, but tiny little balls of ice that stung any exposed flesh. The temperature dropped to – 7° C but was probably a good deal lower if the wind chill factor was taken into account.

What is an annoyance in northern climes remains a novelty in Africa. Snow makes you feel like a kid again; it’s a delight, an excuse to throw snowballs, make snow angels, build snowmen Ferdi de Beer, Mercedes-Benz’s Unimog specialist and chairman of SA’s Unimog club, had come up with a window of opportunity. The idea was that we’d watch the weather forecasts carefully and depart during a time when snow was predicted. One particular week began with a prediction of snow. But, as the days progressed, that forecast changed to ‘there’ll be lots of snow’, and finally ended up with, ‘extreme weather is forecast. Stay at home. Do not under any circumstances go to Lesotho.’ Which, of course, is exactly what the Unimog club went and did.

Our trip began just outside Fouriesburg, where the club assembled: a collection of seven Unimogs, ranging from a brace of 416s, right up to the latest U5000. Double-cab (known as doka by aficionados) configurations were the most popular, followed by single cabs. Body types varied from campers of varying degrees of luxury to canvascovered and open baks. Participants ranged from 30-somethings all the way up to seemingly-respectable elder citizens. Filling in the gaps between the Unimogs were three Geländewagens, one ferrying yours truly. The Caledonspoort border post has to be one of the best ways to enter Lesotho, as both the South African and Lesotho facilities are clean and well-run, a credit to the related government departments on both sides. So it wasn’t long before our convoy was gunning through the mountain kingdom in pursuit of snow.

Of course, when Unimog owners talk about ‘gunning it’, what they mean is a cruising speed of 80 – 100 km/h, so our progress was a little more sedate than most folk might be used to. But it wasn’t too long before we were heading east towards Pitseng, and after that, Mafika Lisiu Pass. As we began the long slow haul up the pass – built to allow the construction of Katse Dam – the weather closed in, the skies looming darkly above. Soon, a few raindrops began to fall, and then, snow! Well, more frozen rain than snow, but who’s complaining? By the time we crested the 3 090m pass, our world was shades of white and grey, and visibility had dropped to 50m or so. We stopped near the lookout point to take photographs and regroup. Now it definitely wasn’t snow, but tiny little balls of ice that stung any exposed flesh. The temperature dropped to – 7° C but was probably a good deal lower if the wind chill factor was taken into account.

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