They say you should be careful what you wish for. What started as a campfire chat turned into an epic Ford Ranger Raptor adventure in picturesque Lesotho.
In the last week of January, 11 brave hearts in a convoy of six Raptor Special Editions set out from Pretoria for the landlocked mountain kingdom to cover 1,457 km in four days. The main purpose of the trip was to put the Raptor’s abilities to the test against the most extreme mountainous terrain Lesotho has to offer. And believe me, there is plenty.
Launched three years ago as the off-road performance version of the Ford Ranger, the Raptor is unlike any other production truck. Even South Africa’s most popular bakkie, the Toyota Hilux, doesn’t have a custom off-road performance model to rival the Raptor.
The Raptor has a robust chassis, custom suspension with Fox position-sensitive damping dampers, General Grabber AT3 285/70 R17 tires and Terrain Management System (TMS).
While Ford has shown the Raptor’s prowess primarily at high speeds on flat terrain, there were still a few boxes that needed to be officially checked. This sparked the conversation between motorists and Ford’s decision makers. The Raptor is ready for rallies, but how does it perform during old school rock crawling up and down mountains? Game on.
An official invitation followed which, except for me to be present at the Ford Assembly plant in Silverton with clothes for four days, a raincoat, pillow and passport, the details were sketchy.
“From Fouriesburg we will cross into Lesotho at Caledonspoort early in the afternoon and set up camp for sunset,” all our experienced expedition leader, adventurer extraordinaire Gideo Basson was willing to say on departure.
An extraordinary 80% of the height of the kingdom lies at an elevation of over 1,800 meters. And lots of mountains translates into lots of rocky trails.
As you make your way to Lesotho through the northern lowlands, it’s a fairly gentle drive until you reach the base of the Maloti Mountains. The breathtaking Mafika Lisiu pass takes you over the 3 090 m high ridge, which immediately earns respect for those who built the road.
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The six Ford Ranger Raptors went from one of Lesotho’s wonders to the next. The impressive Katse Dam started to unfold not too long after descending the incredibly steep and winding descent.
Completed in 1996, the Katse Dam is the second largest double-curvature arch dam in Africa, with a dam wall measuring a staggering 185 meters. Stretching for tens of miles through winding valleys, the reservoir seems infinite as you wind your way along the winding A25 that runs alongside it.
Just before sunset we set up camp with full view of the beautiful body of water that was full. As the tents were pitched and the campfire crackled between the Ford Ranger Raptors as night fell, the most unreal starry sky lit up. Add to that the beautiful view of the dam at sunrise and the Raptor Expedition was underway.
Besides impressing on the second morning with its handling on long stretches of wet and winding mountain roads, the Raptor’s real test lay ahead.
The plan on day two was to leave the tarmac A3 at Mantsonyane in central Lesotho and take a dirt road south to reach the eastern bank of the Senqunayane River Valley by early afternoon. From there, an arduous 500m descent could be completed before dark to set up camp next to the river.
After navigating the steadily deteriorating trail with ease and the valley already in sight, Mother Nature threw a spanner in the works. Heavy rain turned the dirt road into a black mud bath. As capable as the Raptor is, there’s very little a 2.2-ton vehicle can do once it starts to slide sideways out of slippery ruts. This was proven when the third Ford Ranger Raptor slid off the track behind the convoy and got stuck in a mess.
Pretty unbelievably, despite the limited traction in the mud, the first two Raptors were able to get it back on the track safely together.
A meticulous process followed to ensure that the convoy stayed out of the milies. Using plastic rails to travel meter by meter, the last 400 meters took four hours!
Since there was no daylight left to descend the valley, generous locals offered us shelter for the night in a two-room schoolhouse. A blessing in disguise as the sky opened in the dark.
Day three proved to be the most epic of the trip, as the mud-caked convoy had to take a rocky path through the valley, cross the low tide river and climb to the other side of the valley on an even looser rocky track. This is where the Raptors came into their own on highly technical trails that see traffic no more than twice a year, Basson says. Maybe never, judging by the excitement on the faces of the locals.
With low range engaged, TMS set to Rock mode and diff-locks engaged, the Raptors rose to the occasion in impressive fashion as Basson marked the lines over the most daunting obstacles.
During the two-hour descent, the Raptor’s Hill Descent Control did its job. On the other side of the valley, the 2.0-litre biturbo diesel engines could comfortably handle the high altitude to get the convoy back on the road in another two hours of pure adrenaline. Part of the track didn’t even offer 10cm of clearance, as you nervously stare down the cliff from your window.
This thrill was so spectacular that the few hours on muddy dirt roads and tarmac we left behind to our overnight spot in Semonkong felt like a yawn. In any case, it was worth flushing the toilets and showers for the first time in three days in preparation for the next day’s eight-hour drive via Maseru to Pretoria.
Not that there was ever any doubt about its capabilities, but this left no doubt that the Ford Ranger Raptor is the meanest off-road bakkie in South Africa. I’m not really sure what’s left to conquer for the new-generation Raptor that was showcased worldwide earlier this week.
Mount Kilimanjaro perhaps?
Click here to learn more about the new Ford Ranger Raptor coming soon.