In Bill Barnes book “Giants Castle: A personal history” he described an obvious pass between Langalibalele Pass and Bannerman Pass which was used by Chief Langalibalele to move stolen cattle into Lesotho. At the time of the rebellion, the pass now known as Langalibalele Pass was called Bushman’s River Pass and this “obvious” pass was known as Langalibalele Pass. Based on the description it seems that this “obvious” pass was one or both of the Hlubi Passes. Based on Barnes describing a large cave on the pass it would appear that he was referring to the north gully, but could easily have been referring to either gully.
The name “Hlubi Pass” has assigned to this pass as a reference to the Hlubi Chief Langalibalele’s involvement in the area, and possible use of the pass.
The passes are unlikely to have had wide use in recent times – being unmarked on the maps and being very close to one of the easiest passes in the Drakensberg. They work well as a route back after ascending Langalibalele Pass and can easily be done as a day loop with an ascent of the incredible Thumb Spur Peak.
Northern variation: * * (4/10)
Southern variation: * * * (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.
These passes are most easily accessed via Langalibalele Ridge, and a short walk north on the contour path. Both the north and south Passes start on the first large river reached along the contour path.
It is roughly 6km from the Giant’s Castle car park to the junction between Langalibalele Ridge and the contour path. From here you walk roughly half a kilometre before reaching the base of the passes.
Route for northern variation:
Follow the nose of the large ridge that separates the 2 gullies until you hit are near a large rock band. Gradually move toward the river to your left (north) and follow the river bed through this difficult section. As much as possible use the grassy banks on the left (south) of the river till about half way through the rock band and then cross the river through the top half of the large rock band (more or less when you see a large cave directly above you). Climb the right hand (north) grassy bank until you are through this large rock band (the hardest part of the pass). Cross the river once more and follow the easy wide grass bank staying near to the river. If you wish to switch to the south pass you can easily cross over the nose (left – south) of the grassy ridge to the other gully.
As you near the top it will appear that the summit is blocked by a small rock band, resist the temptation to bail out of the north pass and continue toward the rock band. At the base of the rock band the gully takes a sharp turn to the left (south) and climbing this short steep grassy bank provides access to the escarpment.
Route for southern variation:
Follow the river that marks the start of the pass until it splits off into 2 directions. Take the left (south) fork. From here the pass is fairly simple – follow the grassy bank next to the riverbed until it disappears near the top. Both sides of the river are roughly the same and the river is easily crossed, so you can make a call at the time. About half way up the stream becomes a boulder bed, but there are large grassy slopes on either side, so this can be easily avoided. Near the top of the pass the boulder bed comes to an end, but the grassy bank is still easy to spot. Follow this grassy bank till you reach the escarpment. Navigation on the pass is relatively straightforward.
Finding the passes from the escarpment:
From Langalibalele Pass (south) side follow the watershed for a short distance. A small high point separates the north and south pass.
From the Thumb Spur (north) side, pass the large rocky outcrop that is Thumb Spur Peak (well worth summitting), drop down the small rock band and aim for the minor looking hill top directly in front of you.
The pass heads are on either side of this hill top. The north pass is easy to identify by the fact that its summit gully runs almost perpendicular to the escarpment edge whereas the south pass summit gully runs more or less parallel to the escarpment edge.
Bannerman Cave is not too far from the head of this pass (roughly an hour of walking), and the stream a short distance below the pass (on the Lesotho side) has plenty of good camping spots.
There is a large cave around halfway up the pass, but I have not checked this cave out and don’t know whether or not it’s any good.
There is water at the base of the passes (on the contour path), and just over the watershed at the top of the pass. For the nrothern variation there is water around half way up the pass but in the bottom section you are far from the river and near the top the river is mostly dry. Mostly the southern variation does not have water.