5 Star Passes

30 Jul 2018 20:54 - 31 Jul 2018 14:28 #73753 by ghaznavid
5 Star Passes was created by ghaznavid
AndrewP's writeup regarding Tata Ma Chance Pass/North Rwanqa Pass (not sure of the name yet) raises an interesting point regarding 5 star passes. I was recently discussing which passes I rate as genuine 5 star passes.

In my mind, one would have to consider the following in evaluating a pass rating:
1) Route quality: a pass can have amazing views but not be enjoyable, e.g. South Saddle Pass.
2) A route can be difficult in a good way (lots of enjoyable scrambling) or a bad way (lots of loose rock)
3) Views are subjective and doing a pass in mist vs good weather, just after burning vs a clear summers day etc
4) Conditions at the time of doing the pass can make a huge difference
5) The line you pick impacts on vegetation, scenery etc

Overall - the key feature of a 5 star pass, in my opinion, is that it would be a route that you would be quite happy to do again in the future, and not just because it is conveniently placed (cough, cough, Langies).

Nonetheless - there are 7 passes I can think of that stand out well above the rest that I have done as the top picks. And I do note 4 of these are next to each other. Photos included to make my point :D

I think Cockade Pass warrants a special 6 star rating. I have done it 3 times, and have done the Elephant Gully numerous times just because of how amazing that cutback is. To me, this is unquestionably the most scenic spot in the entire Drakensberg - and Cockade Pass is a nice balance of steep but solid. I'm not entirely sure what the general complaint about the vegetation is - it has never really been a problem when I've done it. Maybe I'm just very lucky - having done that approach 4 times (the 4th for Xeni Pass).


The remainder are ordered north to south. No attempt is made to rank them. So Ifidi can be next. Funny enough - I really didn't enjoy Icidi, but I rate Ifidi was genuinely one of the most enjoyable passes I've ever done.


IMO, Pins is the hardest non-rock pass I have done. And by a long way. It is relentless and steep, but it is difficult in a good way.


I expected Xeni Pass to be rather unpleasant - but was pleasantly surprised. Most of the rock in the gully was very stable, the scrambles generally didn't feel like they would kill you, and the wormhole might have been the coolest part of a pass I've ever done. Not to mention the exceptional views.


Camel Pass is another one I have done very recently. I was expecting a lot from this pass, and I was not disappointed. Annoyingly my photo of the best view spot on the pass didn't come out very well, but John Hone's much more epic shot is on page 63 of Encounters with the Dragon


My sequence of 4 consecutive passes is completed with Organ Pipes (Thuthumi ridge route) - a pass I have done many times and one that remains probably the most scenic route suitable for beginners. It was the 4th pass I ever did, and first pass I ever did as part of a 30+km day.


And rounding out my list is Leslies Pass. The views from this pass are epic, and the trail is generally good. Probably a bit of a surprisingly one to include on my list - but it does stand out to me as one of the most worthwhile passes I've ever done.


Special mentions to Lammergeier (Free State), Fangs, Mnweni, Thlanyako, Judge, Gypaetus, Giants, Uklebe, Mohlesi, Mashai, Bollard, North Mzimude Pass (DaveG's pass, not on the map), Mzimude South gully (the one on the map) and Walkers Ridge Pass which are all narrowly miss the cut on my list.

There are also plenty of passes that have amazing scenery but miss the cut on my list on account of being too loose or eroded, or some other aspect that I didn't enjoy. Icidi (unpleasant lower section and overgrown), Nguza (too loose), Ntonjelana (too eroded), Cathkin Mountain Pass and Ships Prow (overgrowth lower down), Gray's (too eroded lower down and too loose higher up), Injisuthi (amazing scenery but that scramble near the top kills the pass), Minaret (too loose).

I'm curious of what passes everyone else out the rate as standing out above the rest.

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Last edit: 31 Jul 2018 14:28 by ghaznavid. Reason: Thuthumi Gully route on Organ Pipes Pass - lol, that is a bit of a contradiction!
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, pfoj, Dave, Christinejvr

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31 Jul 2018 13:48 #73760 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic 5 Star Passes
Great post! Agreed on all the above. The major ommission is Manxome Pass - go do it!!

I also think Rockeries Pass is spectacular. Unpleasant path but the views coming down blow me away every time.

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31 Jul 2018 13:51 #73761 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic 5 Star Passes
Also, I think most people love Ifidi & hate Icidi...

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31 Jul 2018 14:25 #73763 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic 5 Star Passes

Stijn wrote: The major ommission is Manxome Pass - go do it!!


It looks like an awesome pass. The downside is that you have to joyfully chortle "coolah, coolay" upon reaching the top...

I still need Rwanqa and most of the unmarked passes at Mnweni - so still plenty to do around there.

Rockeries is great, the views towards Rockeries and North Saddle are spectacular. For some reason it has never struck me as one of my favourites - possibly the condition of the trail has something to do with that. Mponjwane Pass is one of the most spectacular routes I've done, but once you are past the start of the standard route, that loose rock kills the route (and hopefully not the individual ascending the route). Nguza and Minaret are also ones I really enjoyed from a scenery point of view, but didn't enjoy the loose rock.

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01 Aug 2018 14:17 #73770 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic 5 Star Passes
Mnweni Buttress Pass goes past a lot of really cool pinnacles. Which counts for a lot of points in my book.

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02 Aug 2018 12:49 #73774 by Dave
Replied by Dave on topic 5 Star Passes
I don't have a photo on hand, and I'm not sure photos can really convey the scale, but the prow towering above you on Ship's Prow, especially with some low cloud swirling about, I found utterly majestic. Perhaps a descent of Ship's could be five star; I don't know about an ascent. As with Cockade, the river-bush didn't seem too bad to me - though it wasn't high summer.

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02 Aug 2018 20:58 #73778 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic 5 Star Passes
Some good passes already mentioned. Personally I really like Ntonjelana Pass and Mlambona Pass via Bell Traverse. Fangs Pass and Gray's Pass I'd also consider classics.

The way we describe, rate and categorise passes comes up periodically and in different ways. It has come up many times on this forum and in conversations I've had with members. The star/quality rating in discussion on this thread could be dealt with through a voting system whereby each member can give their vote to produce and average result. The same can be done for a difficulty rating. Naturally a proper technical description and categorisations of the passes should be done too, but the voting system would address the the personal taste and subjectivity challenges. This is nothing new, just mentioning it again. This is being looked into.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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03 Nov 2018 17:21 #74161 by caveman
Replied by caveman on topic 5 Star Passes
myself i’m not too big on turning our personal experiences into generalisations about difficulty, the star feeling etc. i’d prefer a shstem whereby we all get to say 5 things about each pass. was it up or down? any tips to recommend it to others? name one super exciting feature. what were the two most important technical challenges you had? keeping it anecdotal i think can work.

i have done grays with young kids [aged 8 and 9] and tseketseke when they were 7 & 8. we went up the camel with a 18month old and down the tseketseke - that was fun, and camped near mount oompie with them when they were 1 & a half and three (one in a backpack, the 3 yr old walked up yhe chain ladder...). subjective is subjective.

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05 Nov 2018 09:01 #74169 by Macc
Replied by Macc on topic 5 Star Passes

caveman wrote: myself i’m not too big on turning our personal experiences into generalisations about difficulty, the star feeling etc. i’d prefer a shstem whereby we all get to say 5 things about each pass. was it up or down? any tips to recommend it to others? name one super exciting feature. what were the two most important technical challenges you had? keeping it anecdotal i think can work.

i have done grays with young kids [aged 8 and 9] and tseketseke when they were 7 & 8. we went up the camel with a 18month old and down the tseketseke - that was fun, and camped near mount oompie with them when they were 1 & a half and three (one in a backpack, the 3 yr old walked up yhe chain ladder...). subjective is subjective.


I think you need to write a book on hiking with kids, you are doing a lot better than most

"The three rules of mountaineering: It’s always further, taller and harder than it looks."

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