The toughest pass in the Berg

14 Sep 2016 09:49 #69767 by Dillon
In my limited experience, Injisuthi Pass has been the hardest to date. A very steep average gradient, combined with the lack of path and general scrambling up and over quite a few technical sections make this pass a serious challenge. I definitely need to make the time to try and have a go at Hilton Pass soon!

"Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous."

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14 Sep 2016 10:02 - 14 Sep 2016 10:24 #69768 by tonymarshall
I agree with Andrew's summation of either of Ships Prow Passes, Icidi and Pins being the hardest non technical passes, although I haven't done some of the other candidates mentioned, like Minaret Pass.

On the first weekend of September I did Xeni Pass variation solo, and found it easier than Xeni Pass, even with snow and ice at the top. Although I didn't take my pack off anywhere (except to have a tea break), I can appreciate that most people probably would take packs off at some of the scrambles, and that both Xeni Passes may thus be technical.

Probably the hardest pass I have done is False Tseketseke Pass. which most people would never consider doing, and although I didn't need to take my pack off anywhere, I consider that most people would regard False Tseketseke Pass as a technical pass. Not having done Hanging Valley, Hilton or Injisuthi Passes, I can't comment on these.

Interesting to see Ghaz has changed his opinion on Mnweni (area) Passes, from arguing a few years ago with Geordie about Mnweni Passes being easy, to now having two Mnweni Passes topping his list of hardest passes.:laugh: :laugh: With Ifidi and Icidi still to come.

And 4 years on I still haven't been up (or down) Inner Tower Gully with my camera.....
Last edit: 14 Sep 2016 10:24 by tonymarshall.

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14 Sep 2016 11:13 #69769 by elinda
Well done Tony on doing the Xeni Pass variation - dare I hope we will be treated to a write up soon? :)

For me, Xeni Pass North has been the toughest pass I have done - but perhaps this is because I suffer from short leg syndrome and we did not have a rope to make hauling backpacks up easier. Followed by Icidi, then Ifidi , Pins, then Ships Prow. Note that my most recent experience ( Xeni North) is rated as being the toughest, but I am wondering whether this is because its a bit like giving birth...........the earlier passes efforts seem to fade and the memories become a little less traumatic with time!

Most scenic pass? Manxsome a clear winner by a long way in my book

I did Tooth Gully several years ago but never made it to Tooth Cave - now that's a frightening route with more than a few heart stopping moments - my most scariest moment in the Berg. This is one spot where the memories have not faded with time.

I would love to do Injasuti Pass someday but would only consider it with someone who was very comfortable and experienced with rock scrambling. Hilton Pass just looks downright crazy and totally out the question for the likes of me!
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14 Sep 2016 11:38 #69772 by ghaznavid

Interesting to see Ghaz has changed his opinion on Mnweni (area) Passes, from arguing a few years ago with Geordie about Mnweni Passes being easy, to now having two Mnweni Passes topping his list of hardest passes.:laugh: :laugh: With Ifidi and Icidi still to come.

I think what I was saying at the time was quite badly misinterpreted. From how the Mnweni passes had been described, the pictures of Mnweni Passes in my head looked like Hanging Valley Pass, not like the various wide grassy gullies in the area.

I rate Mashai Pass and Mnweni Pass as basically equals for difficulty - aside from the considerably longer walkin on the latter. I was going to say that I am unlikely to do Cutback Highway as part of a day hike, but, come to think of it, maybe I need to drop Hobbit a message with a hike plan...

My thoughts on Mnweni Passes I have done to date - all ratings according to what I have done, not accounting for passes like Nguza that I haven't:
- Mbundini - not a fun pass. Everything is loose. Great views, though. The difficulty is from the unstable ground more than anything else. Now to carry Intrepid's pack up it :lol:
- Fangs - a very pleasant pass, not particularly hard. I often read about its difficulty and scenery, and I rate both are overstated. Don't get me wrong, the views are great, but no better than Mashai Pass and the likes, and passes like Grays or Organ Pipes slaughters it for views. For a non-trailed non-rock pass, it isn't the easiest, but it is no harder than Tseke or Cockade.
- Pins - by far the most scenic pass I have done in the Mnweni area, and one of the best I have ever done. Actually very similar to Grays in terms of the views. By far the hardest pass I have done as well. Nothing technical, just very long and very steep - something like 1.2km vertical in 4.2km - mostly very sustained.
- Mnweni - aside from the excessively long walking, a great pass. Not as hard as people make it out to be. The views of the Pins are probably the most notable feature of the pass.
- Rockeries - the only pass in the area that I have done in the mist. Standard easy trailed pass, the views right at the top are worth it.
- South Saddle - the worst pass I have ever done, Andrew's line looks great, and the views were amazing, but the overgrowth makes me want to repeat this pass even less than South Jarding Pass (the latter getting my vote for most boring Berg Pass)

This photo best sums up Pins for me - the river is right there, yet very far below.

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14 Sep 2016 18:52 #69777 by Richard Hunt
A pass is a pass and for some folk coming down a rocky place like Judge Pass is technical and each pass will be different on any given day accordingly to circumstances and especially weather. I found Pins Pass easy even though the weather was foul.....for me the hardest pass would be Xeni as the weather was misty and wet, plus I had to help up two ladies and their packs without a rope...mentally exhausting! For me the hardest pass would be totally based on the danger/safety aspect and all the other things would fade into insignificance.

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14 Sep 2016 18:56 - 14 Sep 2016 19:53 #69778 by intrepid
Ratings and assessments of Berg passes will never be easy to agree on because they are best understood within a matrix of various factors, and because we as humans will always be subject to the limitations of our own perceptions and experiences. I also find that my assessment and even memories of the passes changes over time and as I do more of them. Perceptions will also be shaped by experience in other mountains and how they compare to the Berg. The bundu-bashing I've done in Canada in the last while (bush-whacking as it is called here) has left me feeling very different about what I've done in the Berg so far - I don't think Ill be complaining about the bushes in the Berg too quickly again. And while Berg rock is certainly quite loose and brittle, and should be respected, it actually isn't too bad either. What I've experienced here on Alpine climbs and scrambles I think has been worse - you definitely want to put on a helmet here. It is very easy to lose rocks onto your buddies, I've taken more than one minor hit in the last few weeks. Also what we commonly call "scree" in the Berg is referred to as "talus" here. Scree here is much finer - dirt and small pebbles kind of thing, whereas talus is more coarse, anything from small rocks to large boulders. Talus can be fairly secure, or it can be treacherous to walk over, it just depends. Scree is incredibly loose, the kind of stuff you can even foot-ski on sometimes, but often it has to be very carefully negotiated as it can be extremely treacherous. I don't recall that the Berg has much in the way of scree in that definition of the word, seems to mostly have talus. It will be interesting for me to return to the Berg to confirm or contradict my own current perceptions.

I propose that at some point we attempt to tackle the question of how to describe and rate Berg passes since it comes up periodically. No doubt this will open up a good can of worms, and its a longer-term project for sure. Ideally we need to establish the "multi-dimensional" matrix within which the assessment can be made, as I think one single description or rating will simply not cut it. This can be even be coupled with a voting system whereby members can give various aspects their own rating. It may not necessarily give us a clear answer about which pass is THE toughest at the end of the day, if that even really matters, but it will be handy reference and resource for trip-planning and will help people choose the pass which is right for them according to their owns tastes and capabilities.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 14 Sep 2016 19:53 by intrepid.
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09 Oct 2017 14:03 #72243 by AndrewP
Well, I have now done Inner Tower gully. It takes first place as hardest technical pass I have done
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16 Oct 2017 13:14 - 16 Oct 2017 13:18 #72259 by Viking

Well, I have now done Inner Tower gully. It takes first place as hardest technical pass I have done


From which side Andrew?

**Edit - never mind I've just seen the write-up.

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”
Last edit: 16 Oct 2017 13:18 by Viking.

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17 Oct 2017 08:26 #72261 by Riaang
And on a lighter note, I've found from personal experience that the hardest pass for me was the one I attempted when completely unfit :-)
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02 Jan 2018 07:28 #72536 by ghaznavid
So I have finally done Icidi Pass, and have to say that there is nothing particularly difficult about the pass itself. It is yet another typical Drakensberg wide grass gully. It is barely steeper than KaNtuba Pass, and only has a small slightly overgrown section just before the river. To clarify, in the following photo, red is what I consider the pass and yellow is what I consider the approach:

There are various reasons why a comparison like this is tricky:
1) Most people don't do the harder passes more than once. Difficulty can change dramatically based on conditions, overgrowth isn't so bad during a drought or when the route has just been burned, scrambling and rock hopping is much easier when rivers are low, doing a complicated pass in the mist is considerably harder etc.
2) What constitutes the pass vs the approach, and how much of the approach must be considered?
3) A pass is completely different with a light pack vs a heavy pack
4) Fitness levels are not necessarily consistent across all the trips.
5) Going up vs going down make comparison tricky.
6) Timing of conditions. When I did Ships Prow Pass, they had just cut the vegetation back and the walkout was fairly simple, but when I did Cathkin Mountain Pass, it was extremely overgrown.
7) Where is the threshold for a rock pass?

If we compare passes only in terms of the pass itself - the hardest non-rock pass that I have done is unquestionably Pins. The pass is long, steep and very sustained.

If we include the entire walk-in from the car to the top, it would be a tough call between Pins Pass and Mohlesi Pass (Vergelegen). The walk-in to Mohlesi is very far, and the section from Birds Nest Cave to the bottom of the pass is very slow. The pass itself is incredibly sustained and relentless.

If we take unpleasantness as the main factor, South Saddle Pass would take it - the overgrowth is in a league of its own. Ships Prow/Cathkin Mountain Pass would also beat Icidi for this.

I'll post a story some time soon with my thoughts on Icidi, but overall, I rate the walkout as very unpleasant, but I don't think it is the hardest non-rock pass in the Berg.

Hardest rock pass I have done is Injisuthi Pass - no question there. Ifidi was much more fun, though.

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