Words & pics by Lourens Rautenbach
There are 4×4 trails that offer bags of family fun and some mild off-road driving. There are 4×4 trails that provide a bit more of a driving challenge. And then there are 4×4 trails such as Letele Pass in Lesotho. This pass, which has seen off many a potential 4×4 conqueror and has caused untold misery, is one of the toughest 4×4 tests in Southern Africa.
Letele Pass, located in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, is a six-hour drive from Gauteng. The actual pass is a whole different kettle of 4×4 though: last year it took a convoy of mostly modified Jeep Wrangler JKs three days to complete the trek, which is only about 40km in length.
The pass, which mostly consist of large rocks and boulders, has beaten up a number of 4×4 groups who attempted to scale it in the past. Back in 2013, a group gave up after a few day of battling with the boulders; it was just too difficult, and the vehicles picked up too many problems. Essentially, this pass should not be attempted with a 4×4 with wheels smaller than 35-inches for short wheel base vehicles and 37-inchers for long-wheel base 4×4s.
A front locking differential (in addition to a rear diff lock) is also a huge asset. You must carry essential spares with you, and be pre-pared to sort out mechanical maladies on the pass. For example, on our trip we had a modified Mitsubishi Pajero with us which snapped a driveshaft on the rocks. The Pajero team was handy with the spanners though, and replaced the shaft in very good time. Ground clearance and traction are the two main ingredients that you require to conquer the pass. In our modified Jeeps, we could crawl over some sections without too much trouble. Those same sections would be the death of a Toyota Fortuner, for instance, execpt if it was carried over the rough parts.
Our tough vehicles were not a guarantee that we wouldn’t have issues. Every single one of us had to be recovered at some stage. Some sections, even though they were just 20m in length, took more than an hour to negotiate. Another unique challenge proved to be our sleeping arrangements. Because of the extremely rocky and sloped terrain, finding a relatively flat and open spot to pitch a small two-person tent was nigh impossible. On both nights we drove until about 8pm, mostly because we couldn’t find a suitable area to put up a camp.
A roof-top tent would be a logical alternative, but on this extreme pass, you don’t want to be top-heavy. A small ground tent is ultimately better. Extra fuel is another necessity. Even though the pass is only about 40km long, you drive the entire distance in low-range, so the 4×4s use more fuel than you’d expect. If I could change anything on my rig it would be to update my short-wheel base Rubicon to the five-door, Unlimited Rubicon. Like Hansie Coetzee’s Hellboy. This is simply because of the space constraints of the shorty, and the automatic gearbox option in the longer wheel base Jeep. On the rocks I stalled the manual Rubi about 110 times.
If I can give any 4×4 driver who plans to attempt this trail some advice, it would be to first tackle the ‘normal’ terror trails, such as the infamous Klipdrift obstacle at Moegatle, and Lesotho’s Baboons Pass. In my experience (in my modified Jeep), Baboons Pass was a 3 (out of 5), while Letele Pass is a 40km-long grade four with plenty of five (out of five) tests in between. This pass is one of the toughest 4×4 challenges in Southern Africa, if not the toughest.
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This 4×4 trail review is brought to you by 4×4 Muscle Trucks, who specialise in creating off-road leviathans. Their most recent builds include the R2 million Hilux called Godzilla and Hellboy, the big and mean Jeep Wrangler featured on these pages. 4×4 Muscle Trucks is owned by Hansie Coetzee, who also owns TJM Pretoria-East. More information: Tel: 012 809 0090; tjmptaeast.co.za
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Name: Letele Pass, Lesotho
GPS co-ordinates: S28.98716/ E28.36052 (start of pass)
Accommodation: Wild camping (so go well prepared)
Food: No facilities at all, you need to be fully sufficient
Difficulty level: 5
Vehicle required: A standard 4×4 with low-range will not make it further than 100m on the pass. For a shorty, you need at least 35-inch wheels, and for a long-wheel base, 37-inch wheels are required (except if you want to pick up pieces of your 4×4 along the way). A rear locker is absolutely essential, a front locker highly advisable, as are plenty of spare parts.
Self drive: Yes
Contact: None. You arrive, you drive. You should tackle this pass only as part of a well-prepared group. Taking on this pass by oneself is a surefire recipe for disaster.