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 pass  (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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Serious tribe's Avatar
Serious tribe replied to: #76165 05 Oct 2020 10:35
Doh...!!! Of course it is. Total disconnect!
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Smurfatefrog replied to: #76162 05 Oct 2020 09:32

Thanks Tony. I enjoy this pass, and the overhang at the top is not to shabby as overhangs go. Have slept it in once before and we had a smattering of snow which dandy sea to come into he cave. You mention hermit's wood camp site, where about is this?

Hermit's Wood is the informal (no idea where it came from?) name for the Garden Castle campsite
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Serious tribe replied to: #76161 05 Oct 2020 09:16
Thanks Tony. I enjoy this pass, and the overhang at the top is not to shabby as overhangs go. Have slept it in once before and we had a smattering of snow which dandy sea to come into he cave. You mention hermit's wood camp site, where about is this?
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tonymarshall replied to: #76157 04 Oct 2020 10:22
A view back up the boulder bed section of Mashai Pass.

Another view of the typical trail in the boulder bed of Mashai Pass.

A view down the lower section of Mashai Pass, where the trail alternates between the boulder bed and grass slope on the side of the boulder bed.

A view back up the lower section of Mashai Pass.

The view down the bottom grass slope section of the pass.

A view back up into the boulder bed section near the bottom of Mashai Pass, where the trail leaves the boulder bed to the adjacent grass slope.

I continued back to Hermit’s Wood Campsite on the good trail from the campsite to the pass, stopping along the way to have a look at Pillar Cave Annex and Pillar Cave.
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tonymarshall replied to: #76156 04 Oct 2020 10:14
In July 2019 I did a three day hike at Garden Castle, going up Rhino Pass on the first day, exploring Khulus and summiting the Lesotho peak Tsepeng on the second day and returning down Mashai Pass on the third day.

At the top of Mashai Pass, I visited the small Mashai Shelter, right at the top of the pass.

The view at the top of Mashai Pass, with the long ridge going out to Rhino Peak in the background.

Mashai Pass has a good trail the entire way, although there did seem to be some confusing short cuts and dead end trails along the way. The photo below shows the view back up the trail at the grass slope at the top of the pass.

A view down the upper section of Mashai Pass, where the trail was on the grass slope on the true right.

Another view up the pass, before the trail went into the boulder bed. There were quite a lot of small patches of ice on the pass.

In the middle section of the pass, the trail is in the boulder bed.

Smurfatefrog's Avatar
Smurfatefrog replied to: #75541 11 Dec 2019 21:25
There has never been much smuggler traffic, however Basothos do hangout near the top of the pass, especially over weekends or holiday season.
Some beg for sweets or other items and can be a bit harassing at times.

A female friend this last weekend was approached inappropriately, so I'd advise to go in larger groups if possible, and to stick together around the pass summit and Rhino peak
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petroengel replied to: #75539 11 Dec 2019 15:30
Hello all Berg lovers!
I see the latest reply to the Mashai topic was in 2011. Has anyone hiked there more recently? Is there still lots of smuggler traffic on this pass? 
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #4617 03 Nov 2011 09:04
Full size images in the galleries. Enjoy.
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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.
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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!
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Cave Man replied to: #4595 02 Nov 2011 12:39
Amy pictures available of the Mashai Shelter?
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Stijn replied to: #4594 11 Apr 2011 10:36

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.

intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #2657 05 Apr 2011 18:54
Thanks for the update. By traffic I am still assuming hikers? From the reports on this forum, I gather that the pass is (thankfully) still not a smuggling route.

I was reading some literature on the Berg dated from the 70's, or early 80's I think. It mentioned the litter problems at Pillar Cave even then!
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MK9 replied to: #2644 04 Apr 2011 08:22
Just returned from a visit to the Rhino.

The heavy rains in Jan/Dec have washed away a few small sections of the path after Pillar Cave - but this is really minor. The top of the pass is still a little vague but a few path "options" over the steep grassed section seem to have developed. I think there has been a lot of traffic up/down there: pieces of shoe and a balaclava are hints at that.

In front of Pillar Cave are some big boulders - there was a massive amount of rubbish (old cans and plastic mostly) in and amongst them :sick:

Otherwise, this is still a great place.
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MK9 replied to: #892 14 Jan 2010 16:02
On the topic of the Mashai Pass...

A pair of us went up there to visit the Rhino Peak on the 30thDec 09.
The pass was in good shape, however there was a rock fall near the very top.
The path went left of this and was a little vague at times.

We met a small pose of Basutho who seemed happy to play their 5L oil can guitar and watch their cattle. We met another 2 on the way down, they were heading back to Lesotho...I wonder what they were up to... :unsure:

I took 4hrs up and 3,5hrs down so we were back in time for lunch :cheer:
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domsmooth replied to: #868 07 Jan 2010 21:18
Thanks for the feedback Plouw. I agree that (from the pics anyway) the path is in a shocking state! It is always a concern in high rainfall areas such as the Berg, that the erosion you are seeing may be from a couple of summer storm events, and possibly long term neglect. This is part of the reason EKZNW emplore hikers to stay on the existing paths and not create new ones. Try get that into the Basotho's heads though, who just make new paths wherever suits them....
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plouw replied to: #854 07 Jan 2010 08:45
Klipspringer, here's some photos of the Amphitheatre hut:

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Something else that concerned me on this hike to the Amphitheatre was how badly the paths are maintained! The stream is basically flowing down the pathway and eroding about half a meter deep in places. This is a very popular route and should be maintained!(even the erosion on the gravel road to the parking is shocking, with deep trenches forming on the inside edge of the road)
The local tribal authority could send one person up there with a shovel on a daily basis to build little bumps and outlets similar to that of a well maintaned gravel road.

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domsmooth replied to: #842 06 Jan 2010 22:36
With regards maintenance of huts (from an EKZNW perspective), I have been asked to return to Giants hut to revisit (some will remember the story I posted about the hut having burnt down and the pictures posted here )the hut. As the authority mandated to manage the World Heritage Site, EKZNW are trying to maintain structures within the area. However, doing it correctly, within the ambit of being an Authority is trying. The thought is to withdraw all unnecessary infrastructure from the WHS. This would include things like the border post at Sani (currently undergoing a massive EIA, and causing grey hair for all those involved!), associated with the upgrade of the road itself of course.... as well as other unnecessary infrastructures.

The hut at the amphitheater itself is an interesting case since both governments are prone to claim responsibility of the land (RSA claims all land eastwards of the watershed, and Lesotho all areas westwards of the escarpment), but when it comes down to maintenance each are happy enough to pass the buck... I will enquire as to the responsibility for the hut in the amphitheater, but am not convinced that much will happen in a hurry, as per the Sani Pass rubbish dump (Another area where both Govts want the land but not the issues...). This should soon be resolved, but until the 2 Govts resolve the MDTP (Maloti Drakensberg Transfontier Park) and WHS issues, and give EKZNW authority to handle non-compliance with the IDP (Integrated Development Plan), this will remain an issue as to mandate and compliance. For those concerned about it, rest assured that things are afoot, as fast as politics allow and as fast as we can push them, although we are under constant scrutiny from the public. We are trying to get things going!

I will however enquire about the Amphitheater hut and post back here with the outcome...
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intrepid replied to: #841 06 Jan 2010 21:47
Ever since the QwaQwa guards left the Amphitheatre hut it has always had rubbish left in it by hikers - its been like that for years. Sad indeed, but a common problem with popular areas of the Berg. Numerous clean-ups have been done over the years. I've also cleaned out large amounts of trash from Sentinel Cave more than once. The hut has been there for quite some time and was originally fully furnished and equipped for hikers. There was also a steel cable guiding hikers from the chain ladder to the hut (in bad weather). This of course was stolen by the shepherds. This hut falls under RNNP and is thus KZN Wildlife's responsibility. The one at Sentinel Car Park falls under a local tribal authority and the money collected from visitors should be going towards maintenance.

As for rubbish left by hikers on Mashai Pass - that is very wrong indeed, but again, something not uncommon in popular parts of the Berg. My friends and I always collect rubbish on our trips to the Berg. We've literally had big bags full strapped to our packs before. If you encounter rubbish like this I encourage everyone to do 2 things: 1) pick it up and carry it out, and 2) report it to the authorities (and even show it to them) and in this way maintain an active interest and support from hikers for them to keep addressing the problem.
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plouw replied to: #840 06 Jan 2010 16:58
klipspringer, i took quite a few photos of the hut, will post it soon.
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Klipspringer replied to: #836 06 Jan 2010 16:19
plouw, what was the state of the hut apart from the rubbish? Are there any window panes that need repair etc?

It struck me at Sentinel hut, that even though it is occupied and regularly serviced (Coal for the watchmen, water etc) nobody bothers to arrange that the window panes are repaired, some cardboard has to do...

Furthermore, who is the body in charge of maintenance for these huts on the mountain, I take it they rely a lot on volunteers?
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plouw replied to: #830 05 Jan 2010 16:25
Two of us did Mashai pass about 2 weeks ago. What a pleasant pass, started at 5am and was back in camp at Garden Castle at 12am in perfect weather. The path was fairly straight forward, and we only encountered one Basotho with his hunting dogs. He was waiving and screaming at us from the cliffs, seemed like a bit of a lunatic. And for the baboons at the campsite, there was a guard on duty to chase them away. :P So I guess sometimes people just have bad luck. :(
I was disgusted though to find about three empty gas canisters and lots of empty packets (hiking food) at the rock slide close to the top of the pass. I’m starting to wonder if we’re not unfairly always blaming the Basotho’s for the litter on the Berg?
Two days before this, we also happened to spend two nights on the Amphitheater about 100m from the hut. (with no Basotho incident at all, lucky again) ;)
The state of the hut is disgusting, and all the wrappers and rubbish are from hikers! I will post some photos soon!
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zen101 replied to: #808 02 Jan 2010 11:25
I know this is not related to Mashai pass , but our party went up from sani pass to Thabana Ntlenyana peak on the 30th Dec , encountered several bashuto groups each following us for at least and hour or so each, Most of the time they wanted clothing and cigarettes. I must say the most discomfort was to slog up those final grass slopes whilst trying to maintain conversation/hand gestures.

Reached the peak at 14:30 , set up camp 40 meters below the summit at 3442m . Then two bashuto parked themselves in front of our tent and continued to watch in amazement into one of the two tents. Swinging their sticks in intimidation efforts , my brother and I got out of our tents to negotiate with them, leaving the 2 girls in the tents.

We found the yin yang approach to be quite effective, when they show aggression/imtimidation you make jokes and laugh at EVERYTHING they say.

one of the bashuto pointed at my borther's pocket and asked what that silver thing was and my brother swiftly unflicked his flick knife with a massive quick flick , they 2 bashunto's jumped with fright, but all this happened in good spirit. however subconciously i think they realised that an ambush that night might result in some sort of injury to at least of of them :-)

Now this might sound terrible but it wasn't really all that bad.

In my opinion /my advice is not to argue with them(bashuto), to show friendly nature at all times and to entertain their basic requests even though its irritating, when they step over the line its important to react in an unpredictable way so that they start questioning their own safety, now this must be subtle and non threatening - like removal of some sort of weapon from your pack and placing it into another pack.. just something subtle. Anyways this worked very well for us in a almost unpleasant situation.

We slept up top without any hassles... and then the mountain is also there to protect one.. raiding a campsite at 3440m at 3 in the morning is going to be very unpleasant.

My point i guess is, sleep as high and as cold as possible, this is natures defense against intruders :-)
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intrepid replied to: #807 01 Jan 2010 11:52
Thanks for the update Jon, I'll get this through to the authorities concerned. Anyone that does encounter this kind of thing should ask to speak to the Officer in Charge at the KZN Wildlife offices and give them a report. This kind of feedback helps them a lot and it also creates pressure from the hiking community to get something done about it.

Certainly this is not a pleasant situation at all. I've been watched and even yelled at on various other passes, but I get the feeling that the guys around Mashai Pass are getting a little rowdy due to the popularity among hikers. Lets hope this doesn't become like The Amphitheatre and Giants Castle.
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JonWells replied to: #806 31 Dec 2009 14:49
Just came back from a another trip where we planned to camp on the escarpment above Mashai Pass. As it is peak season there were lots of people going up on day trips, and as we neared the top some of them coming down warned us of a number of Basothos that were being troublesome. Obviously this was the worst news we could possibly hear having just about completed the exhausting climb with heavy packs. We decided to press on and see the situation for ourselves.
As we approached the final 100m we could see a whole group of Basothos sitting on the cliffs and watching the people climbing up. One of them was screaming like a mad man which was quite intimidating! As we arrived we were swarmed by the group, as they pestered us to give them things ranging from cash to food to cigarettes. The one youngster even asked me if I could bring him a gun next time so that he could kill one of his neighbours who had stolen his cattle! We finally got rid of them and set off to climb the Rhino whilst we assessed the situation. A few minutes later, 2 of the Basothos were following us, and they again asked us for money, and asked us where we were sleeping etc, whilst eying out our belongings. Convinced that we would be attacked or robbed if we camped up there, we had to make the disheartening choice to lug our packs and ourselves all the way back down the pass, so please be wary if you are planning a trip in this area.