An interesting alternative route if you've done the Organ Pipes thing too often. This route is well used by Basothos as can be seen by the eroded path but don't let this keep you away from checking it out. There are some impressive views of the Ndumeni Dome cliffs and the back of the Organ Pipes on offer and it is a very direct route to (or from) the Didima Gorge.
Rating: * * * (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.
Access: Thuthumi Pass is most directly accessed from the top of Mike’s Pass. Follow the contour path to the Organ Pipes Pass junction (The Nek) and the Thuthumi Pass path branches off to the right, about 50m further on.
Details: The distance from the contour path to the top of Thuthumi Pass is 7 km with an altitude gain of 1000m.
Route: Note that the route marked on the official Natal Drakensberg Park Map No. 2 is incorrect. From just past "The Nek" on the contour path, the well-defined path contours towards the Thuthumi River for 4km at an altitude of 2100m. Cross the river and then climb up the left-hand banks for most of the way up. Just after a small waterfall, the path veers back towards the river and then you'll find a maze of erosion heading upwards. The clear path heads off to the left at about 3000m. This route takes you to the escarpment South of Ndumeni Dome. If the top of Thuthumi Pass is your goal, aim directly for the grassy saddle between the Organ Pipes and Ndumeni Dome. Once this saddle is reached, you will see a descent, followed by a steep climb to the final saddle and the top of the pass. There is a vague path heading all the way through this dip, past the Ndumeni Caves to top out high on the slopes of Ndumeni Dome at 3100m.
Finding the pass from the escarpment: From the river valley on the escarpment between Cleft Peak and Ndumeni Dome, you will see a smaller tributary coming from the escarpment edge, high up on the Ndumeni Dome, south of Windy Gap. Follow this tributary to the edge of the escarpment, where some cairns and a clear path will point you in the right direction.
Overnight Spots: There are 3 caves near the top of the pass which offer good shelter. The best one by far is Roland's Cave which sleeps 8 and has a sunrise view which rivals Mponjwane Cave in the Mnweni Area. To find this cave, head straight up the slopes of Ndumeni Dome from the top of the pass, staying close to the edge of the escarpment. About 50 vertical metres above the top of the pass, there is a small ledge with a path heading off the escarpment edge. Follow this ledge (with care!) for about 50m to this perfect cave. If you fail to locate Roland's Cave, there are the Ndumeni Caves on the Thuthumi Pass Path, 50m before you reach the top. These are far smaller (sleeping 3 and 4 respectively) and can be quite exposed to the elements. Otherwise, just camp on the escarpment.
Water: The path crosses the main river and some tributaries at regular intervals on the way up (up to 2700m in Summer) but these may be dry in other seasons. Water can also be found in the large river behind Windy Gap, 500m from the top of Thuthumi Pass.
Yes I see now that you mention it, and i peer very carefully through the my mist defeating x-ray glasses that what i took for the summit of Thuthumi, could likely be the false summit. Ok so definitely to far from the caves to be a useable source of water. Just have to fill up in Lesotho an walk back to one of the sets of caves.
Will just keep a weather eye open for anyone in the vicinity. if anyone has got any views looking north/NW from either sets of caves that would be useful.
That little pool in the photo is more or less where the Thuthumi stream starts flowing. It is a long way from the caves, quite a way down from the false summit on the main pass (not between the false summit and summit), where the path linking Thuthumi Pass to Organ Pipes Pass branches off, visible in the same photo.
I can remember some trickles around the Lower Ndumemi Caves in summer, but unless you get lucky with a lot of snow melt water in winter there will not be any water nearby.
Very unlikely to have water near the lower or upper caves, definitely nothing reliable.
So yes, the closest would be slightly into Lesotho from the top of Organ Pipes, generally not very far in.
Security wise, the smugglers normally use a variation which tops out south of Ndumeni dome so doesn't pass either set of caves.
If someone did head down Thuthumi pass proper then they would pass right next to the lower caves. The upper caves are more out of the way
I have looked at the cave info on Berg.co.za, but there might be later information on water points on the forum.
What is the possibility of there being water in Thuthumi Pass near to the one of the Lower Ndumeni Caves (LNC)? I noticed in one of Tony's pics that there was a small pool of water in the saddle between the false summit and the actual summit. This was summer, so it may have just been rain that filled up a puddle? Any trickles near there?
I did see that Riaang mentioned water about 250m from the top of Organ Pipes Pass, would this be the headwaters of the Kakoatsan River heading into Lesotho?
Given that there is the Smugglers variation that links further down Thuthumi Pass, any idea of the security risk in one of these LNC? Would they bypass these caves by using the variation. How about the UNC, these would still be on-route from a security threat
A view up a misty Thuthumi Pass, the path on Thuthumi Pass alternates between flattish, contouring sections and zigzags on the steeper sections which enable the path gradient to stay relatively flat.
Once we emerged below the cloud, visibility ahead improved, although by then we were on the lower section of the pass following the flatter path along the stream.
The route crosses the Thuthumi stream and contours along the valley slopes to join the Contour Path at The Nek. For some reason the new hiking maps show the route following the true right of the Thuthumi stream all the way to the junction with the Didima River, at the bottom of Phillip’s Folly, but this is incorrect (the older Slingsby map shows the correct route) and I am not sure that this path even exists. The photo below shows the Thuthumi stream crossing in an overgrown area.
We had our lunch break at the stream crossing, tonymarshall, Sabine, John and Neil.
The route after the stream crossing contours gradually upwards to The Nek, crossing several side streams and passing through vast areas of blue wild agapanthus.
A view back up the Thuthumi valley. The Organ Pipes route follows the ridge above to the right of the photo below, and at the times the mist would clear enough for us to glimpse the Thuthumi Hut (Old fire lookout) high above to our left, although it was too indistinct to photograph.
There were several bushy areas around the side stream crossings on the path to the Nek.
Unfortunately the cloud prevented photographing Thuthumi Pass from a distance, so I have included this photo below of Thuthumi Pass, taken in September 2012 from near the bottom of Phillip’s Folly.
We used the Vertical Endeavour Thuthumi Pass gps track to aid with navigation, but it should be noted that the track from the top of the false summit to the Thuthumi stream crossing is not totally accurate and can be used as a rough route guide, but not as a detailed step by step route.
Last weekend, Sabine, John, Neil and tonymarshall did a hike up Organ Pipes Pass and down Thuthumi Pass, overnighting in Roland’s Cave with it’s view over the upper section of Thuthumi Pass. The ledge on the left of the photo below is the approach to Roland’s Cave, with the peaks of the Cathedral Range just visible above the clouds in the background and the path at the top of Thuthumi Pass at the centre of the photo.
A similar view after the clouds had dropped to reveal the Cathedral Range, and the area south of the Amphitheatre in the far distance. Cleft Peak is the high point on the horizon.
Thuthumi Pass has a false summit, seen in the photo below taken from near the top of the Pass looking down the pass, with one of the Lower Ndumeni Caves at the right of the photo.
The photo below is taken from near the top of the false summit looking up to the grass sloped top of Thuthumi Pass, with Organ Pipes Pass visible to the right and Cleft Peak and Castle Buttress the peaks on the right skyline.
After cresting the false summit we descended the other side and were soon at the level of the cloud. The photo below shows the Smugglers Pass route path going over the ridge to Organ Pipes Pass, and Thuthumi Pass goes down the misty gully to the right. The path follows the true right side of the stream the whole way down the pass.
A view back up the pass during a rare moment of the cloud and mist clearing.
Most of Thuthumi Pass has a path, but in places it is quite eroded,
and in other places easy to lose on overgrown sections.