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.
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.