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Stuck in snow at the top of the Sani Pass

I’ve just returned to Melbourne after taking dad home to the Clare Valley and, as is usual, dad and I whiled away some time doing some dictation for his memoirs.

As this story was pivotal to my existence here today, in a broad sort of way, I thought it would be fun to post this memory with some pictures of the Sani Pass in winter.


In August 1965 on a Sunday afternoon, Gail and I were on our way home to Mokhotlong after spending a few days in Himeville with friends. To get home, we had to get up the Sani Pass with many sharp bends and some gradients as sharp as 1:3. After successfully reaching the top we crossed the Sani Flats at a height of 10,500 ft and then we were set to get over the Kotisapholo Mountain Range with the road rising to 10,000 feet. (Note that Mt Kosciuszko, at 7,310 ft above sea level, is the highest mount in Australia.)

Once over Kotisapholo the track was all downhill to Mokhotlong and a nice warm house – but this last bit would entail another 2 ½ hours driving to cover 35 miles.

On our last steep slope up the Kotisapholo, the Land Rover was unable to get traction. The wheels simply spun and there we were on a Sunday afternoon stuck at a height of about 11,000 feet and with Beverley, a 4-month-old baby, on Gail’s lap well shrouded in blankets.

We had about two hours of daylight left and it was not a pleasant predicament to find ourselves in. In fact, it was highly irresponsible on my part to have undertaken the trip in the circumstances as they were and which I should easily have predicted as foreseeable.

What I ultimately did was to walk up the frozen strip of road with a 4-gallon jerry can of petrol, pour the petrol into one track of the road and then put a match to it. The petrol trickled down a good length of the track and the flame followed it down. The burning petrol did its job by melting the snow in that track. Then, by taking a high speed run at the track, we got enough traction on the melted side of the track to get ourselves up and over.

The overnight temperature, if stuck where we were, would have gone down to minus ten degrees.

It was a big relief and a lesson to me well learned that I was now a father with a gorgeous wife, a gorgeous baby and they had to be looked after appropriately. The gung-ho bachelor days were over.

Dad’s settled into his cottage amidst the trees in South Australia and I’m back writing Diamond Mountain and another story set in Botswana and South Australia in 1989. In this one, my main couple is forced to leave Australia due to the Australian Pilot’s Dispute, weeks before my hero is due to get his 737 endorsement, and they find themselves in the midst of Maun society and a mystery dating back to 1969 – a hunting accident in the Kalahari in which the wrong person has been convicted and the motive of the real culprit who’s still at large is unexpected.

This story is about a third of the way towards completion while Diamond Mountain is on track for a May release.

Meanwhile, the weather here is Melbourne is warm and January, so far, has been lovely. I hope you’re all enjoying the summer holidays if you live in the southern hemisphere.

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