Words and images by Evan Haussmann
It’s a fact of life: there’s precious little traction between rubber and snow, especially compacted snow. Which is why they invented snow chains. We don’t have snow chains. Rewind, a few days back. “Drive a 4×4 in the snow? Ja, I can do that.” Hell, I’ve driven on practically every other surface, in all sorts of places, all over the world. But what do I really know about snow? So, I ask Google.
The omnipotent hive-mind throws up lists that advise: “Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Don’t power up hills.” One unsettling last point catches my eye: “Stay home, even if you are experienced. Don’t tempt fate. Unless you have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.” I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew. Excellent!
That was then. The “somewhere I have to be” is now the top of Sani Pass. Instead, I’m pacing in the road below. The minute hand chips away at the tiny wedge of time left between now and the border closing time. Our Fortuner idles patiently. A crab-like logging machine is clearing wood strewn across the bridge ahead. Its claws clamp and swing, releasing the oversized matchsticks onto a new truck. The hapless logging truck has long since gone, leaving bent railing in its wake. It’s difficult to tell what the cause of the accident may have been, but I’m guessing that frozen roads may have had something to do with it.
It is sunny and yet it is still cold – icy, icy cold. With the road cleared, we push on, slipping through the South African border with minutes to spare. By now, it is dark and moonless, and the infamous bends and ruts of Sani Pass are accentuated with black shadows cast by the headlights. At times, there is nothing but blackness ahead. Then, as we round a hairpin bend, a rock face dives across the windscreen and slides into the black void down the side of the car. As we drive ever upwards, larger and larger white patches start to reflect in the lights. Snow!