This is the easiest pass in the entire Mnweni area. It has probably got some great views of the Cathedral Range as it ascends to the escarpment just on the other side of the range. When we did this pass, however, it was very misty and we couldn’t see a thing. The path is very clear due to the use of this pass as a dagga-smuggling route between Lesotho and South Africa.
* * (4/10)
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.
It is a relatively short (13 km) and easy walk-in from the Mnweni Cultural Centre. Instead of heading up the Mnweni valley as usual, follow the path to Hlongwane’s Kraal up the Ntonjelana valley. Head up the left-hand (eastern) fork of the valley, following the Ntonjelana Ephumalanga River. The path heads straight to the escarpment and becomes Ntonjelana Pass from there.
The distance from the campsite near the river to the top of Ntonjelana Pass is 4 km with an altitude gain of 1100m.
From the river crossing, the path heads up towards the escarpment by climbing up a long ridge. Higher up this ridge, the path starts zigzagging before crossing over right to another ridge about halfway up the pass. It continues zigzagging up this second ridge and eventually levels out when it contours along the base of the escarpment cliffs to the left. Just after crossing over a small saddle, the path heads straight up the final rock-strewn gully of the Ntonjelana Pass. The gully is fairly wide and gains about 100m towards the top of the pass. Make your own zigzag route up to the cairns at the top of Ntonjelana Pass at 2900m.
Finding the pass from the escarpment:
The pass is clearly marked with a couple of cairns. The gully leaves off a high point on the ridge leading up to the South Saddle on the edge of the escarpment.
Waterfall Cave, situated high up a side gully right (west) of the Ntonjelana valley near the base of the pass, is a great cave to stay in even though it is rather dirty. As the name suggests, it has a waterfall cascading over the lip of the cave and it sleeps 12 people. There is a reasonable campsite about 500m further on. There is, as always, lots of camping on the escarpment.
There is a small stream at the base of the pass and another one where the path crosses over to the next ridge, about halfway up the pass. The next water is available from the Kwakwatsi River on the escarpment, about 500m from the top of Ntonjelana Pass.