It wasn’t quite Christmas Eve, and perhaps they weren’t exactly three wise men, but the story of the rescue of three motorcyclists off a notorious mountain pass in South Africa has brought Christmas cheer to many in the country and around the world. Trygve Roberts, editor of MountainPassesSouthAfrica.co.za tells the story…
“This is Sarel Vorster and his wife Jody. They own the farm Lymore north of Elliot. Not far from the start of the notoriously difficult Bastervoetpad Pass.
“(On 19 December at) around 8.30 pm I took a phone call from my friend Geoff Russell, a well known motorcycle tour guide. He had been contacted by Okkie, a motorcyclist who, together with two other motorcyclists were in serious trouble near the summit of the pass in terrible weather – with gale force winds, hail, heavy rain and lightning.
“They had managed to contact ER in Ugie via the NAMOLA SOS App, who said they would despatch a vehicle to assist. Okkie had taken a number of falls and suspected he had cracked ribs. The ER vehicle never reached them. So whilst the app worked brilliantly, a suitable 4WD vehicle was not available.
“Okkie decided to call his friend, Geoff Russell in Cape Town, who in turn called me (MPSA) for assistance.
“Over the years we have met a number of the farmers in the area and become friends. Johan had sent Geoff a pin drop which was most fortunate as a little past the point where they got stuck, there’s no signal.
“The three bikers had no food or space blankets with them and were completely exposed to the elements and a raging storm in total darkness.
“The first thing I did was call Johan and reassured him we would get them some help. I know Bennie Venter who owns the farm Valetta at the eastern foot of the pass, so I called him first. Bennie and his wife Marjorie were on holiday in Bloemfontein, so unable to assist, but he gave me the number of Gary Foster, who was also unable to assist as he was a long way from the pass.
“I then called the owner of Mountain Shadows Hotel, Ria and asked for the number of Sarel Vorster who owns the farm near the hotel and who I had shaken hands with just a week earlier during the Ben 10 Eco Challenge Tour. The number rang unanswered. Within seconds Sarel called me back. I explained the situation to him and asked if he would be willing to collect the three guys and not worry about the bikes. Just bring the guys off the mountain and back to the hotel as they were in grave danger – all of them being older gents. Sarel didn’t hesitate for a second. I sent him the pin drop and asked him to take food, warm drinks and blankets with him.
“I asked Ria to keep the hotel open to receive the guys when they were rescued. Not only did she arrange that, but also organised that an ambulance be at the hotel to take the injured biker to hospital in Barkly East.
“Sarel got to the stranded trio about 22.30 and successfully got them back to the hotel by 00.45. The ambulance took Okkie to the hospital. By 04.00 Okkie was back at the hotel all strapped up and luckily no broken ribs but severe bruising.
“After some shuteye in the morning (Sarel only got home after 04.30) he went back up the pass to retrieve all three bikes. This was no mean feat as he had to tow a trailer up the pass and got stuck a number of times having to winch himself out.
“Our role in coordinating this rescue is small in comparison to what Sarel and Ria accomplished. Also Geoff Russell’s experience and quick thinking helped to safely get these chaps back to safety.
“When a man drops what he’s doing to rescue others he has never met, shows his character. Thank you Sarel – jou yster! We salute you.
“Ria also remained calm, helpful and professional ensuring hot showers and warm beds, food and generally made things happen. She even ensured their muddied and wet clothing was fresh and dry by the morning. Go and support that hotel (Mountain Shadows Hotel) at the top of the Barkly Pass. There are good people running that enterprise.
“And so this story has a happy ending. It could also have ended in tragedy.
“Don’t ever underestimate the Bastervoetpad Pass. If it looks like rain, don’t go. Take emergency gear with you including a space blanket and food.
“These bikers left before 10 in the morning and only covered about 10 km by nightfall. They had many falls which exhausted them. There will be lots of “should have, could have, would have” comments, but we appeal to all who want to drive or ride this pass to take it very seriously. Bikers should preferably have a 4×4 back up vehicle and 4x4s should not drive this pass alone.”
The three adventurers rested another day at the hotel before slowly making their way back to Cape Town, in time for Christmas with their families.
Trygve says they were “a bit shell-shocked but very grateful to be alive”.
Trygve, who himself was clearly a hero in the story, thanked every person involved in the rescue. “No matter what small role was played, it was the sum of all efforts which ensured a successful outcome,” said the Mountain Passes editor, who calls himself “Proudly South African”.