Pinner’s Perspective: Conquering the Mighty Sani Pass

Oli realises a 10-year dream by pedalling up the Sani Pass where it feels as if you’re breathing through a straw!

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The Sani Pass is a gruellingly steep unpaved mountain road that provides the solitary road-link between KwaZulu-Natal and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Originally only navigable on foot or by pack-mule, a brave ex-spitfire pilot by the name of Godfrey Edmonds ‘opened’ the pass by man-handling his ‘Willey’s Jeep’ up and around the dramatically tight switchbacks to become the first ever person to drive up the 13km pass.

Fast-forward 69 years and I find myself jumping off my mountain bike, walking over to get my passport stamped at the SA border post, and staring into the heavens trying to work out where on earth the summit is. How on earth could a Jeep have made it up what must have been not much more than a donkey track back then? My heart was beating fast … as much as a result of the altitude as the excitement I felt.

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You see, I’ve been coming to Underberg, which lies at the foot of the Sani Pass for the past ten years, either to race or work at the sani2c. During my racing days, it would have been ludicrous even to suggest the idea of conquering the mighty Sani Pass the day before the race started.

However, after starting to live-tweet two years ago (which means less racing and more working!), the lure of the Sani Pass has been rumbling through my imagination. So, once I was confirmed to live tweet the 2017 sani2c I knew I had to make it happen. Having arrived a few days early, all that stood in the way of the summit was a wall of rock and air so thin it feels as if you’re breathing through a straw.

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Leaving the recently surfaced approach road, my front tyre almost immediately pointed skywards and it was simply a game of trying to maintain a consistent speed while not over-cooking my lungs, which became increasingly strained as I gained altitude.

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At first I was hoping to have company to ease the effort. But only a few minutes into the climb, I couldn’t have been happier all-alone in the depths of rural South Africa. The ascent was magical, and was everything I had hoped it would be. The sun even broke through the clouds as I reached the major switchbacks spewing light and energy into the valley below. For 13 incredible kilometres, it was the just the mountain and me.

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Reaching the summit, 2873m above sea level my passport was stamped, a coke was drunk and a few pictures captured… then it was time to descend! And oh my incredible greatness, it was so fast, loose and rrrrad. It took less than 10 minutes to descend what had taken two hours to ascend!

If you haven’t driven or ridden the Sani Pass do yourself a favour, get to Underberg, suit up and give it your best shot. The effort is what dreams are made of.

Ciao ciao,

Oli

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