If you’re looking for great views without too much strenuous hiking involved, Gray’s Pass is a must. This is probably the best pass to use for a weekend hike in the Drakensberg and it takes the hiker deep into the throat of the Mhlawazini Valley at the base of Cathkin, Champagne Castle and Monk’s Cowl. The pass itself is relatively short which allows for a lot of time to explore the many great escarpment features in the wide valley at the top of Gray’s Pass.
* * * * (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’s a 14 km walk-in from the Monk’s Cowl Forest Station to Keith Bush Campsite at the bottom of Gray’s Pass. You can either follow the path up the Sphinx or Keartland’s Pass and then follow the contour path all the way up into the Mhlawazini Valley itself.
The distance from Keith Bush Campsite to the top of Gray’s Pass is 2.5 km with an altitude gain of 800m.
Initially, the path is very clear and consists of a logged “staircase” which climbs up a ridge at the head of the valley. As you climb higher, the log steps disappear and the path continues its zigzag course up the ridge. A couple of rock bands are crossed and some easy scrambling must be done to pass these obstacles. After gaining about 600m in altitude, the path starts contouring to the right (north) under the huge escarpment cliffs. The path seems to disappear at one point but a short steep scramble up the rocky grass slopes to the left of the path will get you back on the path. About 500m past this scramble, there is a path forking to the left marked with a cairn. Take this path as the path going straight leads to some very exposed scrambling. The path contours right below the escarpment cliffs until the steep and rocky Gray’s gully is reached. It’s a surprisingly short (70m in altitude) climb up the scree-filled gully to the cairn marking the top of Gray’s Pass at 3000m.
Finding the pass from the top:
Gray’s Pass is well marked with a cairn and a clear path on the escarpment edge between two prominent buttresses north of Champagne Castle.
Keith Bush Campsite is a perfect campsite with plenty of space right at the base of the Gray’s Pass ridge. The Nkosazana Cave is a good shelter in winter but gets too wet to sleep in comfortably in summer. It is located on the escarpment just across the Nkosazana River in the first rock band opposite from Gray’s Pass when looking up the valley. There is lots of good camping near the Nkosazana River on the escarpment.
The Mhlawazini River provides a fairly reliable water source at the base of Gray’s Pass. In summer there is usually water gushing down the path in certain sections of the pass but at any other time of the year, the Nkosazana River on the escarpment is the only other water available.
More info on Grays Pass can be found here: