Although the Bell Traverse is not technically a pass, it gives access to the escarpment and I have therefore included it in this list. In my opinion, the Bell Traverse has the most spectacular route of any pass in the Drakensberg. Contouring just below the famous peaks of the Cathedral Range, it offers the hiker awe-inspiring views of both the Mnweni and Cathedral Peak areas. There are huge drops on the side of the narrow path all along the traverse but this exposure just adds to the fun of the route. The path is fairly clear but it should be avoided in misty weather.
* * * * * (5/10)
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.
To get to the Bell Traverse, follow the well-trodden Cathedral Peak path through Orange Peel Gap and up through Bugger Gulch Gully. Follow the gully all the way to the top and go down the other side, where the Bell Traverse Path starts on the slopes of Cathedral Peak to the right (north) of the gully.
The distance from the Cathedral Peak Hotel to the top of Mlambonja Pass via the Bell Traverse is 16 km with an altitude gain of 1600m.
Follow the narrow path which starts on the other side of Bugger Gulch Gully. The path contours around the slopes of Cathedral Peak and passes Bell Cave on the way. It then contours below the Bell and the Three Sisters before zigzagging higher up the northern slopes of the Outer Horn. The path becomes very vague at this point but there are a couple of cairns marking the way. Once the cliffs of the Outer Horn have been reached, the path becomes clear again, crosses over to the northern slopes of the Cathedral Range and contours below the Outer Horn, Inner Horn, Chessmen and Mitre. The path then climbs up the gully between the Mitre and the Twins right to the saddle between these two peaks. It then continues contouring on the northern slopes of the Twins until Twins cave is reached. From the cave, follow the clear path up and over the saddle between the Twins and the escarpment, into Mlambonja Pass. Follow the final 500m of the well-defined Mlambonja Pass path up to the top of the pass at 3000m.
Finding the pass from the top:
The top of Mlambonja Pass is well-marked by 3 cairns and is situated at a high point on the edge of the escarpment, just south of where the Cathedral Range joins the escarpment. To get to the Bell Traverse from here, descend the pass for about 100m in altitude and take the clear path to the left (north) over the saddle between the Twins and the escarpment. This path will take you to Twins cave and the start of the Bell Traverse.
There are 4 caves on this route which can be used to overnight in: Sherman’s cave and Barker’s Chalet sleep 12 and 10 people respectively but are too close to the hotel to serve as any useful shelter. Bell cave is a small cave sleeping 5 people on the slopes of Cathedral Peak, right along the Bell Traverse path. Twins cave is a very large and good shelter sleeping 12 people near the top of the pass just before the Bell Traverse joins with Mlambonja Pass. There is lots of camping on the escarpment itself.
The main problem with the Bell Traverse is the lack of reliable water. There are a few trickles crossing the path in summer but otherwise, it is completely dry from the Mlambonja River just past the hotel to the Kwakwatsi River on the escarpment, 500m from the top of Mlambonja Pass.
More info can be found on the forum at: