On the official Drakensberg maps, Rwanqua Pass does not have a marked route at all. There is a very good reason for this as Rwanqua Pass is probably one of the most overgrown passes with no obvious route past all the rock bands, waterfalls and scree-filled gullies. That said, the pass does have some very beautiful scenery with great views of the Black and Tan Wall and the Mnweni Needles.

* * (8/10)
Difficulty of the pass is rated from 1-10 (10 being very difficult, only to be attempted by the fit and experienced). A subjective quality rating is indicated by the number of stars (1 being low, 5 being the highest). Factors such as scenic beauty and overall experience come into play here, which may differ from person to person.

The walk-in from the Mnweni Cultural Centre to the bottom of Rwanqua pass is a very long slog (21 km). Follow the path up the Mnweni valley and turn right into the remote valley coming from under the Black and Tan Wall about 1 km after Shepherd’s Cave. Rwanqua Pass itself starts up a ridge about 3 km up this valley.

The distance from the start of the Rwanqua valley to the top of Rwanqua Pass is 4 km with an altitude gain of 1300m.

When we came down this pass, we stuck to the river and were eventually forced onto the very steep grass slopes to avoid the numerous waterfalls in the river valley. This route is definitely not the best way to tackle Rwanqua Pass. The route of least resistance would probably be to climb up the overgrown ridge which leaves the Rwanqua valley directly below the Black and Tan Wall on the left-hand (south) side. There are several rock bands on this ridge but all seem passable from below. Just before you reach the cliffs of the Black and Tan Wall, contour out right and diagonally upwards to the upper grassy slopes which are littered with huge rocks. Slog up the incredibly steep inclines to the top of the right-hand (north) fork of the pass at 3100m.

Finding the pass from the escarpment:
There is a small plateau on the northern slopes of the Black and Tan Wall. There are two smallish gullies leaving this plateau down the escarpment edge. The most northerly one is marked with a white cairn. This is the top of Rwanqua Pass.

Overnight Spots:
There is a very nice campsite at the intersection of the Rwanqua and Mnweni valleys. Not much can be found in the Rwanqua valley itself but there is a small cave sleeping about 4 people which can be found about 50m in altitude below the top of the escarpment in the left-hand (south) fork of Rwanqua Pass. This cave has a very low roof and is also quite dirty. It is therefore not recommended. There are lots of good camping places on the escarpment itself.

There is a big river at the base of the ridge at the bottom of the pass. There is no other water further up the pass until a river on the escarpment about 500m from the top of Rwanqua Pass.


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intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #715 21 Oct 2009 20:47
In my mind, Rwanqa Cave is in the category of little known Berg caves that are typically not documented properly. I particularly enjoy looking for them. I've had one of the older Mweni Guides explain to me that, even after doing Rwanqa Pass several times, he had never come across the cave.

What I believe to be Rwanqa Cave is exactly the one that you have described, mnt_tiska. I did fine-comb the area and am fairly confident that its the one. My own measurements indicate its altitude to be 2741m, with the top of the pass being 3088m. It certainly is a deep, well-sheltered tunnel, and pretty big. The big pity is that in its current state it can only sleep an estimated 3 people. The first half is sloping ground, and after that one would have to move big boulders out the way. So while it certainly has the potential to accommodate several people, it would require some labour. While its location roughly corresponds with what is suggested on the maps, it cannot accommodate 12 people as indicated. Not sure if that error originates from an intention to convey the size of the cave.

Picture of the cave in the galleries:

I have also come across a second shelter, some 50m lower in altitude, a short distance out of the main gully, below the Black-And-Tan face. Its an overhang, which, thanks to a flat shelf below it, can accommodate 3-4 people.

GPS data is available in the article listing caves (which I see is due for an update), and can be downloaded in the downloads section.
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #714 21 Oct 2009 20:12
Great to get your report-back Magan. It seems you have a knack for finding trails that no-one else sees :laugh: . Rwanqa definitely has 2 route variations, but it seems the gully route has exposure too, and I've stories of people clambering up rocky sections, probably around that second waterfall. Granted, the Black-And-Tan Ridge is steep, but it is clean in that it's all grassy - no bushes. The traverse across below the Black-And-Tan face is steep and exposed, but pretty manageable nonetheless. Its all a question of what you fancy. And yes, one should remember that, while its not a technical pass, it is a true Mweni classic that ranks with Icidi Pass.
tiska's Avatar
tiska replied to: #713 21 Oct 2009 14:55
I'm curious about Rwanqa cave. We found a HUGE cave quite far down the pass (400m or so) - one of those igneous blow-holes like Upper Injesuthi and Crows Nest. Getting in was OK, but downclimbing took some doing what with the 10m or so grade 13 or so. So my question is whether this HUGE cave with the tricky approach is Rwanqa cave. We ended up sleeping under a v.v.small overhang further up the pass instead.
Magan's Avatar
Magan replied to: #712 21 Oct 2009 11:43
Yes, that Langalibalele Pass incident is worthy of mention in "funniest Berg incidents" :laugh:

But thanks to Stijn shouting out directions from way down the riverbed, I navigated ok thro the rockbands... amusing now .. :laugh:

Seriously, there's a warning there : on a descent of Langalibelele Pass there's a clear path off right ... Dont take this !!!
Stijn's Avatar
Stijn replied to: #711 21 Oct 2009 08:08
Magan wrote:

I didnt fancy the exposure using the steep middle Ridge.

This coming from a man who even managed to turn Langalibalele into a rock pass :P

Your route sounds like the route we used in descent, back in 2002. Quite hairy and I think I'd take that Black & Tan ridge over the gully any day...
Magan's Avatar
Magan replied to: #710 20 Oct 2009 16:10
Thanks for the advice Intrepid.
I didnt fancy the exposure using the steep middle Ridge. From my overnight at the junction I made my way up river : 2 waterfalls to navigate, the 1st I scrambled up the RHS but the 2nd was impassable so I made my way thro the thick bush on the RHS.
Just after a little cleft on the LHS banks I made my way directly up the left slopes, away from the riverbed : pretty steep !! Thro thick bushes again to just below the rock-band that runs left to right (obvious in pics). I contoured along the steep slopes into the Pass itself (avoiding a pretty large waterfall).
Then I kept mostly on the RHS boulderbed, 1 or 2 minor scrambles ... and very steep ... until I could no more and then navigated into middle and then back again on RHS onto very steep grassy slopes crossing one rock fall .... then its just a slog onto the summit.
I'd rate it right up there with Icidi ito difficulty.
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #674 22 Sep 2009 18:47
On the hiking map you'll see 2 annual rivers, one originating directly from the summit of the pass, the other from the southern part of the Black and Tan Wall. The ridge I'm talking about lies exactly in the middle of these and sticks out 90 degress from the wall. It's a steep slog up the southern flank of this ridge, a short scramble through a small rock band, onto the crest of the ridge (a knife-ridge of sorts). You continue up this ridge directly towards the wall until it's almost on top of you. From there you traverse towards the main gully.
Magan's Avatar
Magan replied to: #673 22 Sep 2009 07:23
There's a rock-band that runs across the Southern slope about 1/2way up to the Black & Tan wall. Are you saying use the ridge to go above this rock-band and then traverse into the Pass ?

sorry, could not view on Google Earth
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #671 21 Sep 2009 17:52
The trick with Rwanqa is exactly that: avoid the gully and the waterfalls. For the most part it's a steep, grassy pass - no need to clamber up boulders. I've heard about people needing ropes to pull up packs, but that can be avoided.

The grassy ridge coming down directly below the Black and Tan Wall is your salvation on Rwanqa. Be alert for a small trail which will guide you onto the southern flank, where it starts disappearing, but where you simply ramp onto the crest of this ridge. Follow the crest up as far as reasonably possible, directly below the Black And Tan Wall. From there it's a steep, grassy traverse across to the main gully from where the going becomes easier (no trail).

If you download the GPX file from the downloads section and open it in Google Earth, you will clearly see how the track avoids the main gully. Hope this helps.