Bastervoetpad, north of Elliott and east of Barkly Pass in the Eastern Cape, is one of those passes on which every local has an opinion about the condition of the road, but when pressed, no-one’s actually travelled it recently enough to warrant the advice! We had set our hearts on it for a long time. Our trusty chariots were a Discovery and a Toyota Prado. What could go wrong? We bit the bullet.
It was the end of winter, snow was clinging like sugar frosting to the upper ramparts of the southern Drakensberg foothills. At Mountain Shadows Hotel, we took the R393, then turned right at the Bastervoetpad sign. The first stretch to the summit is accepted as the most driveable leg; travellers are always advised to turn back at the crest if they have any misgivings up to this point. (The pass is 39 kilometres in total.) First up, a well-graded road, but after a low-level concrete bridge this quickly degenerated into single-lane access, the road surface sculpted by ruts and washaways and littered with stones and boulders. Often one side of the middelmannetjie had eroded to a ditch. In the valley, abandoned farm buildings bore witness to its remoteness and difficulty in getting there. At times it was a rudimentary track of baked-clay soil hardened into unforgiving dips and humps, and sometimes long stretches of mushy sucking mud and embedded boulders. Our 4x4s wobbled, bounced and slid. There were sizable boulders to clamber over and slide down while tyres worked hard to gain purchase.
Eye level with the snow peaks, the track flattened out and we were at the crest, a height of 2250m (we’d gained 909 metres in elevation). The views were sensational. Below us knobbly peaks rippled away in rich browns ꟷ cocoa, chocolate, vanilla fudge. In summer they are neon green. Next: a far worse section, the descent. We headed downward, into hills of concave and convex curves, dips and rises, shadow and light. The 4x4s were negotiating the narrowest of ledges shackled to the mountainside. One misplaced wheel, next stop 1,000 metres into the valley far, far below.
In places clearly local farmers had packed stones into the worst ditches and washaways; often stray boulders encroached onto the track. At one point, hearts in our mouths, we stared down a long section composed purely of loose rocks and embedded boulders that had settled into deep dips and gullies. The boys tackled it slowly, carefully. Every now and again wheels slid down a rock like a Basotho pony losing its footing but quickly recovering. The vehicles leaned at all kinds of angles. High clearance and low range are absolutely essential here. Another white-knuckle section of crushed and broken rock confirmed that Bastervoet has earned itself a few Grade 4 sections on the pass.
Then we were in a valley with cattle and horses and giant black-streaked cliffs. Bouncing and sliding our way across the valley, steering wheels threshing from side to side, we eventually stopped at a stone table and benches beside a tranquil swishing stream. Over a very late lunch of sandwiches we regained our strength (and composure). It had taken us 1¾ hours to descend. We now knew that, had we asked the advice of Mountain Shadows Inn, they’d have told us: DON’T DO IT! Good that we failed to ask. It had been a real adventure and bar the pale-knuckle episodes, we’d conquered Bastervoetpad. www.gravelroadadventures.co.za/blog