This pass is frequently used by hikers climbing the Rhino as it is by far the most direct (hiking) route to the top of this impressive peak. It is by no means a walk in the park though and there are some tricky sections higher up due to some heavy erosion and scree fields.

* * * (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.

This must be one of the shortest routes to the top with the access path being only 3km long from the KZN NCS Offices to Pillar Cave.

The distance from Pillar Cave to the top of Mashai Pass is 4 km with an altitude gain of 850m.

Follow the clear path from Pillar Cave which descends to the river and is marked with large, white footprints. This path continues up along the river for a short while before crossing over onto the right-hand (northern) banks and climbing up onto the grassy slopes above the river. There seem to be several deviations off the main path through this climb up the grassy section but all the paths come together again before contouring back to the river at about 2600m. Here, you need to follow the cairns up the muddy scree field along the river, eventually crossing the river to access the left-hand (southern) slopes. The path continues, steeply zig-zagging straight up to the escarpment cliffs away from the river and then finally contours to the right to get to the final grassy gully and the top of the pass at 2950m.

Finding the pass from the escarpment:
Mashai Pass is the first gully North of Mlambonja Peak. It has a clear path and some cairns marking the top.

Overnight Spots:
Pillar Cave at the bottom of the pass could sleep an army and is very well protected from the elements. There is also a collection of smaller caves about 200m upriver from Pillar Cave, to the right of the path just after crossing the river for the first time. The map marks a small dent in the rock right at the top of the passĀ  (on the left) called the Mashai Shelter but you would have to be really desperate to call this a shelter. Alternatively, just camp on top.

In summer, there are regular river crossings all the way up the pass to collect water but these may be dry in other seasons. There is also water available on the escarpment, about 500m from the top of the pass.

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intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #4617 03 Nov 2011 09:04
Full size images in the galleries. Enjoy.
Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #4608 03 Nov 2011 03:42
ST2 and slept in it when we did the pass in 98 or 04, i cant remember which year we actually slept in it. There was a fair amount of wind around, and we got a bit of snow the following morning. It is not a brilliant cave but it does the job.
ghaznavid's Avatar
ghaznavid replied to: #4604 02 Nov 2011 17:39
Lol, Mashai Shelter is classified as a 2 man cave, it could barely sleep an anorexic goldfish! There is a photo on under gallery - caves - mashai shelter.

There is an awesome cave (which I think I was the first person to consider properly, but I'm not sure) called Clam Shell Cave (named by me). I posted a thread on it a few months ago. Its 1km up the pass, got a better look at it when Mashai Pass defeated me for the second time this year last weekend (although this time the problem was more that I felt sick than the weather which was pretty bad). I don't know how well you know the pass, but after Pillar Cave Annex you cross the river to the left hand bank, you then go up a very deeply eroded path and just before you reach the sandy section and the river crossing you will see it on your left. This is a photo from around the Christmas Tree looking down at the cave (due to my sickness I didn't inspect the cave properly or get GPS co-ords):

But really, other than the high theft risk of Mashai Shelter, it is an odd cave and is of little use.

Just a note on the pass, wind is channeled down it and due to land-slides its also very dusty and dust in your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair etc is a major annoyance. I'll be surprised if the pass isn't actually closed in the next few years due to this (if the errosion doesn't just make it impassable)...

If you have any questions or want any photos of the area, please let me know, I have around 1000 of them!
Cave Man's Avatar
Cave Man replied to: #4595 02 Nov 2011 12:39
Amy pictures available of the Mashai Shelter?