Halfway between the more popular routes of Mlambonja Pass and Organ Pipes Pass lies the Xeni Cutback, a steep river valley with dramatic cliffs towering in all directions. There are two passes which climb up to the escarpment via this cutback. Xeni Pass, however, looks pretty mean and unlike Cockade Pass, probably deserves its "rock" affix. Cockade Pass is one of the most direct routes to the escarpment in the Cathedral Peak area and with its spectacular views and enclosure, one wonders why so few hikers see this secluded part of the Berg.
* * * * (6/10)
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 base of Cockade Pass can be reached from the Cathedral Peak Hotel by heading up the Mlambonja valley and climbing up the ridge which gets you to the contour path. The Xeni Cutback starts 2 km to the left along the contour path at the first major river crossing.
The distance from the contour path at the base of the Xeni Cutback to the Cockade Pass summit is 2.5 km with an altitude gain of 950m.
From the contour path, start boulder-hopping up the Xeni River and you should soon (within 200m) find a vague path which crisscrosses the river up the valley. There are some cairns marking the path but there are several sections where it can easily be missed. In this case, just continue up along the river. There are some dodgy little rock scrambles in the river bed but still not enough to call this a rock pass in my opinion. After about 1.5 km at 2500m, another steep river valley joins the Xeni river from the left. Turn left up this valley and a clear path can be found at a large cairn. To be sure you've taken the correct turnoff, the Plume should be on your left as you climb higher. The path stays on the right-hand (Western) banks of this river valley, climbing steeply up through a scree field and then a ridge before contouring towards the river at the point where the pass narrows to 10m wide. Head straight up the steep gully now, tending to your left until you get to a series of gullies in the final escarpment wall. The clear path heads up the gully on the right to top out next to the Cockade at 2950m.
Finding the pass from the escarpment: Cockade Pass descends from the saddle between The Cockade and the ridge coming down from The Elephant. It is quite narrow near the top but a small cairn and a path will indicate the correct gully.
There is a small campsite (2 tents), where the vague path starts, about 150m up from the contour path in the boulder bed of the river. Otherwise there are loads of flat spaces on the escarpment after you top out.
In Summer, there is water in the river all the way up the pass until the point where the pass narrows to 10m wide. The next water can be found on the escarpment, about 500m from the top of Cockade Pass.
You can find more info about Cockade Pass at this forum post: