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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Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #53190 08 Mar 2012 21:16
Photoshop, especially the later versions CS4&5 have got very good photomerge functions and blend the images well so there is usually no problem with shadow and light areas as can be seen on the mega9 image merge.

When you are shooting across wide exposure latitudes you should keep fstop and shutter speed constant, however in the areas that are predominately darker, i do slow the shutter speed down a stop or two or open the lens up as well, as long as i don't go below 1/80 sec and f8 it just helps to prevent to much noise build up in the dark areas when post precessing. Rule of thumb if you don't want shaky blurred images, don't shoot a shutter speed any slower than the focal length of your lens. So if you have a 300mm shoot above 300 of a second or else use a tripod and cable release.

You do get fancy tripod heads that allow you to shoot with the nodal point of the lens directly over the point of swivel when shooting pans, but they are not cheap. It does however make stitching with extreme wide angle lenses easier, however it does not remove the problem of small mountains in the b/grnd.

tiska's Avatar
tiska replied to: #53187 08 Mar 2012 09:40

Serious tribe wrote: If you can use the 50-60mm range and then shoot a pan of the scene left middle and right and overlap about 20% you can stitch them together and get a scene which is more what you eye sees.

the best tip I have come across in more than 10 years. It makes every sense to solve the mess that a wide-angle makes of the landscape yet include the coverage and detail needed.
Presume light related settings (f and shutter) might get difficult in shady/sunny scenes, esp at the 'stitched' edges.
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Serious tribe replied to: #53186 08 Mar 2012 01:51
If you shoot any steep pass head on it will often look less dramatic. Try shooting it from the left or right hand banks of the pass with some prominent peaks, rock formations and a person or two nearby to give it scale. The other thing is that extreme wide angle lenses will always make distant features tiny. If you can use the 50-60mm range and then shoot a pan of the scene left middle and right and overlap about 20% you can stitch them together and get a scene which is more what you eye sees. If you really want to be extreme, shoot 9 images 3 bottom, middle and top and then stitch will give you both the vertical and horizontal depth of view. Just have a very fast machine and if you have overlapped enough, it should work.

Here is an example of 9 images stitched together from my Cockade 2011 trip using a 70mm focal length. I have added a screen grab at 100% so you can see the level of detail. The final image size is 225megs and 103x54cm in size. The 3rd image is a 17mm wide angle view from about 100m further back. You can see how the mountains are leaning backward and look a little small and insignificant. The red blob at the bottom lhs is our tent.

tiska's Avatar
tiska replied to: #53185 07 Mar 2012 16:57
not to mention mega-steep looking tents (as in Thlanyaku postings!).
tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #53184 07 Mar 2012 16:18
Thanks mnt_tiska,

Good tip, I will try it out soon. Hope I don't scare everyone with mega steep looking passes.
ghaznavid's Avatar
ghaznavid replied to: #53183 07 Mar 2012 11:18
I should post some info pics on passes ive done, i usually get roughly 400 per day of hiking, and roughly half are for me to use if i do the pass again and have issues finding the route (although you cant get lost doing Bannerman, Mashai or Langies and thats most of my pics)...
tiska's Avatar
tiska replied to: #53181 07 Mar 2012 11:04
TM - your photos are a great record of the passes and the sort of photo that I just haven't taken much over the years - not sure why. I tend to end up with the 'grand landscapes' but nothing that shows the useful bits!

On the flattening out of the terrain - the trick is to make sure the camera is level when photographing the slope. I learnt this from photos on rock climbs when we'd done something reasonably impressive only to end up with a pile of pics that make it seem like we are leopard crawling along a flat rock. If the camera gets pointed up or down that always happens. The difficulty is getting level with the action because there are normally few opportunities for this on a steep slope or on steep rock.
tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #53180 07 Mar 2012 10:54
@ ST,

Yes,sorry, they're rather obscured by the foreground, Intrepid's pic is from higher up and is better. I recall now the sun just wasn't right for photo's in the direction of the pins as we got higher. Got some better shots of the Needles though.

@ Thomas,

Thanks, glad you find my photos useful. Unfortunately I'm not much of a photographer, but the photos do at least serve as a record or reference. I just can't get my photos to reflect the actual height or slope of the passes, they always end up looking too low and flat.

I will continue to post photos and write ups as I do hikes in areas of interest that aren't already covered on the forums.
thomas's Avatar
thomas replied to: #53178 07 Mar 2012 07:18
This "picture of passes" topic is extremely wonderful to see and look at (including the fantastic previous Tlanyaku batch), both as a way of introducing the geography to the uninitiated and giving us good moments of recollection if we have done them. It is a measure of VE's growing indispensibility as it moves from strength to strength that such information can be available like nowhere else.

At the risk of intruding into Intrepid's already tight schedule :S , such photos could (should) be included in the already developing passes database: www.vertical-endeavour.com/blog/38-drakensberg/passes/64-passes-of-ukhahlamba-drakensberg-park.html (?)

I would love to set the example and provide photos of my passes, but they are all slides (remember film?) and not digitized. This seems like a worthy project however, but I defer to Intrepid and the forum collective.

At any rate, I greatly appreciate these pass photos and hope to see more.
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #53176 07 Mar 2012 06:51
This shot is from the Ridge Route on Rwanqa, fairly close to your point.

Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #53175 07 Mar 2012 06:38
@ Tony. Thanx dude. I assume those are the Pinnacles sticking out in the bgrnd? From this angle they don't appear to be pin like, more like shark fins!

If anyone has any images would appreciate having a look. Thanx.
tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #53173 07 Mar 2012 05:52
Hi ST,

I found these two, hope they are worth something to you. :unsure:

The top one is taken from the area at the bottom of the pass, the lower one from a bit higher up. :)

I also have a lot of photos of the pass if they might help you.
tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #53172 07 Mar 2012 05:28
Hi ST,

I might have some from higher up the pass, will try to find them and post later today. I know I have some pictures from the approach area you show, but I'm not sure if they include far enough to the left to include the Pinnacles.
Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #53170 07 Mar 2012 04:50
Hi forum

Does anyone have any views of the Mweni pinnacles from Rwanqa Pass, particularly the area with the question mark. But any images will be great right now.


tonymarshall's Avatar
tonymarshall replied to: #4339 13 Oct 2011 09:41
We did Rwanqa Pass over the long weekend in June, again using Stijn and Intrepid's write up as guidance.

From the confluence of the Rwanqa and Mnweni Rivers there was a fairly good path which ended just past where this photo was taken, fortunately guiding us through an area of very long grass. The top of Rwanqa Pass is the low point in the centre between Black and Tan Wall and Rwanqa. We then boulder hopped in the Rwanqa River past the two foreground ridges, which are really steep and full of bush up to the river, and left the river onto the ridge coming down from Black and Tan Wall, between the two foreground ridges. The bush surrounding the river was very thick at the lower levels and would be very difficult to hike through.

In this photo the ridge is to the left, and was followed to just above the lower prominent rock outcrop. We then followed the grass slopes diagonally up to the right above the lower rock band in the centre of the photo, into the snow lined gully to the top of the pass. On the grass slopes there was a bottleneck at a steep section with a rock slope and a narrow ledge, which had a distinct path through this difficult spot, showing definate signs of use.

This is a view down the ridge from the rock outcrop, showing the bush surrounding the river between the lower ridges and necessitating the boulder hopping in the river, which was actually quite easy.

This is near the top of the pass looking down, the snow on the left was about a metre thick and full of unidentifiable antelope tracks. Rwanqa Cave? is at about this height on the left of the pass (right of this photo) and is a large opening accessed with difficulty by a high vertical section of rock, well described and good photos of it on the forums.

Three of us that did Rwanqa Pass also did Manxome two weeks ago, and strangely enough we all concurred that we had all found Rwanqa more difficult. On both occasions we started at 07h00, and Rwanqa was summited at 15h00, while Manxome was summited at 12h00, although Rwanqa included an hour lunch stop and several 'detours' towards the bottom whilst Manxome didn't.

The summit of the 'Berg looked like this

so we didn't see another soul on the summit.

The snow made it quite difficult to even find the big path "highway" between Rwanqa and Rockeries, although we managed to follow it in places. There were two other parties up ahead of us who did Mnweni Pass (we saw the guys from Pretoria at Shepherds Cave in the morning we did the pass) and we saw their footprints in the snow around the top of Rockeries Pass, the only other signs of people on the summit.
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.
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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.
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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
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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.