It may sound like a ludicrous idea, but trekking up Sani Pass during the tail-end of winter is an experience never to be forgotten and one to do before the highly contentious tarring of the gravel road begins…
Words and photographs by Haidee Visser
Not for the faint of heart, the trek up Sani Pass is strenuous to say the least, but the views along the way just get better and better. What is normally a road that is cautiously driven with a 4×4 vehicle, is a steep ascent on foot, reaching close to 45 degree angles near the top of the pass. Winter time may not seem like the ideal season, but the cold is preferable to the heat, because after about 20 minutes of trekking – it may as well be summer anyway.
Sani Pass is a 9km stretch of road that connects South Africa with the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ – Lesotho. Beginning at an elevation of 1544 metres, the ascent reaches up to an elevation of 2876 metres, climbing a total of 1332 vertical metres – a serious amount of height to gain in a short distance! Those that have driven the precarious twists and turns of the gravel road will tell you it is equally strenuous, and unfortunately there is very little wiggle room for appreciating the views – the reason why the very best way to experience this beautiful swath of land connecting two countries, is on foot.
Sani Pass as a reputation as one of the best bad roads in South Africa – attributed to the insane gradient in certain sections, hair-pin bends, loose gravel, falling rocks and steep drop offs lining the road. But, this also make for adventure, and for those with a pioneering spirit, trekking this notoriously formidable pass is a worthy achievement.
Hiking Sani Pass in the winter time only adds to the adventure of it all, with rolling clouds of mist, a possibility of sleet and even snow, reaching the top is an added achievement at this time of year. Along the way you can expect to see frozen rivers and waterfalls, icicles, deep patches of snow and an undulating landscape of browns and oranges that carry the beauty of winter, as far as the eye can see.
The ultimate prize is reaching the top of the pass, marvelling at the never-ending views of the rolling hills and plains of the Underberg and enjoying the famous hot chocolate and warm crackling fires at the Sani Pass Hotel bar.
Some top tips for hiking Sani Pass during the winter:
- Pack your passport for boarder control when you arrive in Lesotho
- Bring an all weather rain jacket / coat
- Layer-up your clothing – you’re going to warm up quickly during the trek and may want to shed a couple of layers.
- Wear non-slip trekking shoes with good ankle support
- Carry a trekking pole
- Pack plenty of high-energy snacks
- Take rest stops as and when needed – the altitude will affect your pace.
- Take it slow on your descent of the pass – the gravel is slippery in certain sections
- Give yourself plenty of time for the ascent – at an average pace it takes approximately 4 hours to get up and 2 hours to get down.
- Don’t forget to look up and take in the views.