When you ascend Mnweni Pass, a striking grass gully can be seen on the opposite slopes, just West (left) of Pins Pass (Rock). This gully is not marked as a pass on the official maps but we decided to go check it out in December 2004. What we found was one of the most spectacular passes in the entire Berg and it's a route that should not be missed if you're an avid berg explorer! As we were probably the first people to do this pass (correct me if I'm wrong), there is obviously no path at all but the route-finding is fairly simple and the views are mind-blowing. You get a completely new perspective of the Mnweni Cutback and it's quite interesting to look at Mnweni Pass from the other side. There's a little grassy shoudler at about 2700m which offers the most impressive views - don't miss it!
Rating: * * * * * (9/10) 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.
Access: A full day (22 km) will be required to get to the base of Manxsome Pass from the Mnweni Cultural Centre. Follow the path all the way up the Mnweni valley to the base of Mnweni Pass where the route to Manxsome Pass continues up the Mnweni River.
Details: The distance from the point where the path leaves the river to the top of Manxsome Pass is 1.4 km with an altitude gain of 860m.
Route: Follow the Mnweni Pass path all the way to where it leaves the river off to the left. Stay in the river bed at this point and boulder-hop up past Pins Pass to your right. About 200m past the base of Pins Pass (at 2250m), a steep grassy ridge leaves the river on the Southern (left) slopes and heads straight up to Ukikicane. Ascend this steep grassy ridge for 50 vertical metres and then contour back into the Mnweni River at 2300m where a steep, broad, grassy gully leaves the Mnweni River up the Northern (right) slopes with a forest on its left-hand side. This is Manxsome Pass. Cross the Mnweni River just above a series of waterfalls and head straight up the pass. The gradient is initially VERY steep at about 60 degrees (watch for berg adders when pulling up on grass tufts). After about 50m, the gradient eases off slightly to a consistent 30-40 degrees all the way up to the top of the pass at 3160m. Stick to the right-hand side of the gully all the way up to avoid the forest and scree field and to make sure that you don't miss the viewpoint at 2700m! The pass ends at a tiny cairn which we built with a view over the Mnweni Pinnacles. Climb the short grassy slopes to the left to access the escarpment.
Finding the pass from the escarpment: From the top of Pins Pass, keep a contour and head South along the edge of the escarpment, passing the Mnweni Pinnacles to your left. About 50m before you would be forced to descend to the Mnweni Cutback, a steep gully can be seen below you to the left, running parallel to your direction (South). This is Manxsome Pass. There is a small cairn on a rock at the top of the pass.
Overnight Spots: There is a very good campsite at fork of the Rwanqua and Mnweni rivers about 4 km before the base of Mnweni Pass. There is also the option of camping at the secluded Chichi Bushcamp at the base of Pins Pass. There is a small (4 persons) cave in the cliffs on the left-hand side of the pass at about 3000m but it requires a tricky scramble to get to and is also quite far from water. Pins Cave is located in the Southern cliffs of Pins Pass, about 150 vertical metres down the pass. It has running water over its lip in summer but beware, there is hardly any wind protection offered by this cave and it's also rather small (4 persons).
Water: The last water is at the point where the Mnweni River is crossed above the waterfalls to get into the pass itself. The next water is on the escarpment itself in the valley formed by the Mnweni Cutback, 1km from the top of the pass.
More info on Manxome Pass can be found on the forum here:
Here is some more pictures of the caves in Manxome pass from my recent trip. There are four caves in the main pass.
The biggest being approximately 300m from the pass summit has a low grade scramble to get into (nothing worse than the first scramble on the NHA into Corner). It will only sleep maximum 5 people, the floor is very slanted and sleeping space is minimal. The cave has been used before, note the stacked stone "wall".
Approximateley 200m below the bigger cave is a overhang and below that a small cave that will fit 3 people.
The fourth cave is situated high above the overhang cave and I could not see a possible route into it without the use of ropes.
All these caves are situated on the lefthand wall while heading up the pass and above the halfway mark of the pass. The absence of flowing water anywhere nearby makes them quite difficult to use as a overnight stop, unless you want to haul a extra 2-3kg up Manxome.........
tonymarshall wrote: Congratulations are in order; two more people have reached the noteworthy milestone of doing all the official Mnweni Passes (I was along on many of the passes with them) on this hike - well done elinda and Thora.
Impressive work ladies! Well done Elaine and Thora!
Thanks for the photos and write up Richard and elinda, I'm really pleased you guys had a great hike doing these two passes.
Congratulations are in order; two more people have reached the noteworthy milestone of doing all the official Mnweni Passes (I was along on many of the passes with them) on this hike - well done elinda and Thora.
Thanks @firepish... we wondered whether we would see you guys going up Mnweni but the entire pass was in shadow from our vantage point on Manxsome so saw nothing! Yes, that descent was pretty rough - I have holes on the back of my pants to prove it!!
7 of us (myself, Richard, Greg, Irene, Mark, Thora and Craig) set out to conquer this pass over the long weekend in September. Manxsome Pass is a very prominent steep grassy slope that is visible when ascending Mnweni Pass – not that I ever noticed it on my previous hikes up Mnweni as both of these occurred in thick mist with limited visibility. So when I saw photos and write ups of previous ascents, I was keen to give this one a go. We felt that Stijns river entry route was more within our capabilities and were not brave enough to tackle the knife edge route which is the alternative option
Day one – MCC – Chi Chi Bush camp
The forecast was for hot, sunny weather and so it was for the entire 4 days of the hike. Perfect weather for hiking but In fact, perhaps a bit too hot………. I was suffering the beginnings of heatstroke by the time we reached the Mnweni River just below Shepherds Cave at lunchtime, feeling nauseous and zero energy. I rested, drank plenty of water, downed some Ensure and managed to plod the remaining 4kms or so to Chi Chi. We enjoyed a beautiful warm evening surrounded by the mountains.
Day two – Manxsome Pass to tenting spot near Rwanqa Pass
We were on our way by 7.00am and after a bit of boulder hopping and bushwhacking past the entrance to Pins Pass found ourselves at the bottom of the ridge that rises directly in front of you towards the Ukikicane. This is exactly as Stijn describes it. I had been a bit concerned that this would be tricky to ascend as there had been reports that the area had been burnt over previous weeks. This turned out to be exactly the case and we found the climb difficult as the ground was loose and crumbly with not much to hold on to. The ridge is a lot steeper than it looks when viewed from below! We then had to contour and descend to the right, aiming to cross the river above the waterfall. This was also very steep and a tumble here could land you in big trouble. We took a break at the waterfall before starting the climb proper up Manxsome. It is a very steep climb which does not relent the entire way. The views are nothing short of spectacular and the view point at 2700m which straddles Manxsome and Pins Passes is pretty mind-blowing. From here it is more steep plodding and we eventually topped out at 12.30pm. This is an incredible pass that is long and sustained but nothing technical and totally worth doing. In my opinion the most difficult part is accessing it at the bottom.
We headed north to our campsite at Rwanqa and found water eventually at the river in the valley about 300 metres west of the top of the pass. This was the first time I have experienced warm weather on top of the escarpment and later that afternoon the skies darkened dramatically and we had lightning and thunder, but not much rain
Day three and four – Rwanqa Pass and overnight at 5 Star Cave
We again had an early start and were soon making our way down Rwanqa pass. There is no path and it is very steep, rocky and rough. We kept to the true right of the river and high on the slopes, traversing around and over rock bands with magnificent views of the Black and Tan wall towering above us. We basically followed Tony Marshall’s route from his write up (but in reverse) Again there were areas that had been burnt, which made the going slow and tricky. We eventually reached the grassy ridge (very steep) that runs down directly from the Black and Tan wall and descended/contoured this all the way to the river at the bottom. This ridge had not been burnt and the grass was thick and fairly long, so although this made it easier it was not kind to the feet and ankles. There is a lot of sharp pointy vegetation at the bottom and it was with some relief that we reached the river and stopped for some well-earned lunch. Richard had spotted a path running along the right hand bank (true right) from the top of the ridge, so we climbed out the river and soon located the path. This was easier for us to find as the grass was not long and had been burnt recently. This entire route had fields of Scilla Natalensis blooming and it was quite an experience to be walking through these beautiful blue flowers. From here it was easy walking all the way to the head of the valley and the Mnweni River. We saw quite a few dagga fields on the way, which would explain the well-used path. When passing Shepherds Cave we could see there were smugglers living in it with obvious evidence of newly planted dagga fields directly in front of the cave and even right next to the path. We continued to 5 Star Cave where we spent a relaxing afternoon and evening before the walk out the following day.
Thanks to Stijn and Tony Marshall for advice and information on these passes – much appreciated!
Another memorable hike back in the beautiful Mnweni with Manxsome Pass the absolute star of the show!
Hi Guys. A group of us ascended Manxome Pass at Mnweni this last week end. It was the most scenic pass that I have ever done. Elinda will soon post a detailed write up of this pass and also Rwanqa Pass which we went down. For tasters I have attached a link to my photos of Manxome Pass and soon also a link to photos of Rwanqa Pass. We took the route/approach that Stijn mentioned in 2004 and not the hair raising route/approach that Tony/Chris took recently. It looks like there can be an easier 3rd approach which we saw but needs to be investigated first. Enjoy......
Off topic I know, though only by a couple of pases - how was Ranqwa pass Tony? Did you check out the cave on the way up on the left? Any signs of anyone else using Ranqwa? And how bad was the bush lower down the pass?
Did you see any traffic on the big path that runs near the escarpment between Ranqwa and Rockeries?
In June when I did Rwanqa Pass, we camped overnight on the summit beneath the Black and Tan Wall and the lights of the mine were clearly visible in the distance. A lot of lights over quite a big area, and quite a surprise intrusion of civilisation at the top of the 'Berg.
I passed through Lesteng on a motorbike a few times in the early 1990s - when the mine was not operational. It was quite a sight - like it had simply been abandoned one morning. Most things were still there - fuel pumps, workshops, dorms for hundreds of people.
When news broke about the very big diamond being found there, I remember being worried about more extensive mining going on even closer to the escarpment. But several people in the mining sector that I have spoken to since have said that the big diamond may well have come from somewhere else (possibly a blood diamond). There's no way of knowing for sure, but it would be better for the Berg that way -i.e. if Letseng wasn't as productive as claimed.
That's Letseng Diamond Mine which is access by the road linking Moteng Pass to Mokhotlong. It is lit up at night. In 2007 the 493 carat diamond they recovered there made headline news.
Thanks Stijn, I can admit to secretly sharing your bias.
The Mnweni-Rockeries Passes/Ncedamabutho/Ledges Cave area is a very special place for me, this being my first Drakensberg hike some 25 years ago. Perhaps because of this, Manxome Pass also rates amongst my favourite Berg experiences, with the surrealness of being able to look across to and look down on the abovementioned areas.
I must give this one a shot some time, but its so difficult to get a group of people fit enough to do passes that deserve a difficulty rating of more than 3/10 (the group I did Langalibelele Pass with earlier this year complained so bitterly about its difficulty despite how easy it actually is)...
Thanks for all the pics tonymarshall, it all adds towards the documentation of the pass. Nice to see more folks interested in it, its a Mnweni classic that does deserve recognition, and yet it still intimidating enough to prevent it from being over-used.
Thanx for the additional images. That cave definitely needs to be checked out. I like the idea of camping on such an exposed area, kind of gives an idea of exposure when there, of course taking a pee at night would have to be done very carefully and not to far away from the tent, otherwise you might have a quick flight down.
Yes, its amazing how many coincidences there are life.If it would help you, I also have some photos of the ridge ascent from Chichi Bush Camp to the traverse from the ridge into Manxome Pass.
It is quite possible to put up several tents on the levellish grassy viewpoint area where I am standing. Although I didn't specifically photograph this area, the photo to Ncedamabutho gives a better idea of the nature of the area. The grass and soil is quite thin, so tent pegs could be a problem.
This photo looking down the pass gives an idea of the extent of the grassy area, to left of centre of the photo. It's quite a big area, virtually open on all sides, what an exposed campsite it will make!
Manxome Cave is about three quarters up the pass on the left and very obvious, I unfortunately don't have GPS info.
It is a larger cave than the impression given in the photo, and goes back quite deep into the rock. We couldn't get to look inside as it is quite a high vertical climb, about 4 m, from the grass to the cave. Certainly not easily accessible, and no water on the pass.
There is also a smaller overhang shelter slighly lower down the pass, which could probabably sleep two with a bit of rearranging of the smaller rocks, although the grass shows it gets water either dripping down the rock or directly from rain. Ruan, in photo, and myself had a rest here whilst ascending the pass.
Trust this helps you form an interesting hike/climb.
Thanx for the write up and some stunning images. It is quite bizarre, likely as you were climbing up Manxome Pass, I was busy on the other side of the world drawing up a prospective line up a ridge between Manxome and Pins Passes, and wondering what it would look like. Your images give me an idea that it would have a fair amount of exposure, but would be exhilarating to go up.
That flattish area where your friend is standing looking up the pass, do you think there would be an area flat and large enough to take a tent? You also mention Manxome Cave, do you have any images, and where about in the pass is it?
Last weekend five of us did Manxome Pass, returning via iNtonyelana Pass.
From an early start at Chichi Bush Camp we used Intrepid's alternative approach to Manxome Pass up the knife ridge separating Manxome and Pins, finding the access into Manxome from the ridge exactly as per Intrepid's photo.
We also thought we might be stuck at about 2 500 m, as the photo of Angus on the traverse from the ridge shows. Check out the vertical lines on the background peaks around Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo to get the true exposure of this ridge traverse.
This photo shows the final traverse route down the grass in the middle of the photo, over the big rock and diagonally left up the foreground grass slope into Manxome.This was indeed a steep, spectacular traverse with lots of invigorating, although fearsome, exposure. We also marvelled at the views from the 2 700 m viewpoint, although hazy weather made for disappointing photography.A view up Manxome Pass with the knife ridge separating Manxome and Pins from the grassy viewpoint.
Also saw Manxome Cave, and marvelled at an incredible pass that just carries on and on.
After summiting in sunny weather, we tented next to the Senqu River, and spent a wet morning trekking to iNtonyelana Pass in mist, subjected to rain and ice rain, to overnight at a welcome dry Waterfall Cave.
Congrats to hiking buddies John and Christine, who have now each done all the Mnweni Passes, Manxome and iNtonyelana being John's last, and Manxome being Christine's last.
Many thanks to Stijn and Intrepid especially(and everyone on VE) for their motivating and informative write ups, without which us average hikers would be a lot poorer for specialist Drakensberg information.