16 July 2012 by Chris Marais

Snow patrol

Many urban South Africans see snowfalls as a joyous occasion, until they take their eyes off the road and have to deal with the occasionally harsh realities of getting stuck and becoming snowbound.

Julienne du Toit and Two Pack, her German shepherd, up in the Eastern Cape mountain snows

The much-awaited ‘deep snowfalls’ finally arrived in the Eastern Cape this past weekend. I could see the white-capped mountain peaks from my office window, which made all regular work immediately redundant.

Loading cameras, water and a shaggy dog called Two Pack into the Isuzu bakkie (pick-up truck), we drove out of our home town of Cradock and up into the Brother-in-Law Corner Pass, known locally as the Swaershoek.

Snow-stuck in the mountains

Although we’ve been up many a mountain pass with expert adventurists and have been given good advice by the best, it seems we just don’t listen.

This occasionally daunting mountain pass is legendary, and features in most of the old hunting and travel journals of the 18th century adventurers and pioneers who came this way from the Cape coast. It was then known as the Zwagershoek, presumably because the farmers who had settled in its valleys were all related by marriage.

Like most South Africans with urban backgrounds, my wife, Jules, and I are annually unprepared to handle snow. Although we’ve been up many a mountain pass with expert adventurists and have been given good advice by the best, it seems we just don’t listen.

Saved by a friendly Cradock farmer and his kin

To us, snow is luscious photography, craggy silver peaks, and the stuff you ball up and hurl at Two Pack, who tries to eat it all. It’s snowmen and breathtaking landscapes and, yes, those snow angels that leave you soaking – but laughing.

So as we hit the snowline, no one in the cab thought to engage the differential lock (difflock) of the bakkie, thereby giving the wheels much better traction. And when we came to a slightly sticky patch near the crest of the Swaershoek, we thought, OK, we’ll just reverse down the pass.

After three minutes of this patently suicidal manner of driving, we decided to make a 52-point turn in the road – and ended up stuck in the snowy mud. Luckily not for long, because half of Cradock had driven up to see the snow and we were pushed out by a kindly farmer and his family.

Will we ever learn? Maybe we’ll be cautious for the rest of the season, but come next year’s snowfall, we’ll probably go all ga-ga about the white stuff again...

  • Tiffendell Ski Resort in the Eastern Cape Highlands has just been purchased by a Johannesburg ski-supply business owner after 3 years of closure – which is great news for skiers, because next season we can all rather troop off to Tiffendell instead of getting stuck in the snows of the Swaershoek Pass.
Heading back home down the slippery slopes

Category: Adventure

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