The pass that nearly broke me

04 Mar 2019 14:23 #74709 by Riaang
Wasn't actually even a pass, but just a walk in to the start of a pass!

But before I continue, a quick explanation for this topic. I'm sure we all have some interesting stories to tell regarding how we suffered in the Berg, so this is your chance to tell the rest of us Berg hikers which pass you found super tough, and why.

Back to my story - this past weekend myself, Sanet and a friend decided to go to the Mnweni area for a recce hike. The plan was to go up Manxome and down Pins, both new passes for all of us. For all 3 of us it was a tough week with a lot of work stress, bad eating patterns and little sleep, which creates the perfect conditions to turn even a simple hike into a really tough excursion. So, we started hiking at just after 10am on Friday morning, and boy, was it hot. All these factors combined just simply hit us hard. We only got to Chi-Chi bushcamp at after 5pm, which must rate as one of the slowest walk-ins to the base of Mnweni pass in the history of Berg hiking. I generally don't like to take long rest breaks - a quick 5min stop to grab a bite to eat while standing is enough to get your breathing back to normal, then we're ready to go again. However, due to the super high humidity and heat (as a friend likes to say, you can drink in the humidity!) we only made it as far as the protea forest above Mlambu's kraal and the 3 of us passed out for a 30min snooze under a large protea tree.

From then on we stopped about every kilometer to cool down in the river or just to sit under the shade of a bush or rock - anything to get out of the sun and the heat :-)  We eventually made it to Chi-Chi bushcamp and set up camp in one of the flat sandy spots. Just after nightfall we were all in bed - we were bushed!! And this was supposed to be the easy day of the weekend's hiking trip!

The alarm went off at 5am - we were planning to get high up the pass before it got too hot today, and since there were no (zero) water on the whole of Manxome, we had to start early. Jislaaik, this pass was properly steep. The difficulty with this pass for us was that the sustained incline is just that - sustained. No variety in terrain or gradient, just steep upwards right to it's super unspectacular top. We went into Manxome's gully a little bit higher than on the track here on VE, and I have to confess, this was probably the scariest traverse I've done to date in the berg. Definitely rather take the lower approach as per the VE track. Where we went was super dodgy, very very steep with just berg grass to support you should your foot slip. And the drop-off below you, uhm, rather just don't look down at the rocks a good 100m or so below you. My foot actually slipped off a loose grass section and I slid about a meter down before I managed to arrest my fall by grabbing handfuls of berg grass. Wow, that was way to close!!!!! To try put it into perspective, the walk in to Rolands cave (including its exposure) is childs play compared to this traverse.

The pass itself was long and steep but we got to the top eventually. By now it was hot and our water situation was starting to become a concern. We had 2 options - either walk all the way down into Lesotho to find water in a river and climb back up the ridge and then onwards to Pins cave, or just walk around the Mnweni cutback and sleep over in Ledges cave. We chose the latter option, we were just too tired to go up and down the ridge below Pins Pass. In hindsight it turned out to be a good decision, because a thick mist covered everything from the escarpment top to right down to Chi-Chi bushcamp on Sunday morning. Descending Pins pass (which none of us had done before) in the mist and on wet grass would have been dangerous and would have made for a very long day back to Joburg.

Mnweni definitely smacked us hard this weekend. I've had issues with heat in this area before, hopefully I now remember to only come here in winter in future :-)
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Stijn, JonWells, GetaPix, ghaznavid, Andreas, WarrenM

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04 Mar 2019 16:46 #74710 by GetaPix
Which just stresses the point of that there are no easy passes in the berg. The heat (and other variables) is a huge factor lower down and I often consider this tougher on the mind than going up a steep pass..yet without your scary moments :)

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04 Mar 2019 18:21 - 04 Mar 2019 18:22 #74711 by elinda
The heat can be a killer!  In fact the time we did Manxome Pass it was an extremely hot day before on the walk in and by the time we set up our tents at Chi Chi Bush camp, I had serious doubts as to whether I would even make  Manxome the following day.  I had zero energy and felt terrible.  Fortunately I recovered overnight and the weather was slightly cooler as we climbed higher the next day.  I had looked at the higher route and was put off by the very dodgy traverse so we followed the lower route which entails climbing the steep hill further down the valley from Chi Chi Bush and then descending and crossing the river over the waterfall before starting the steep and sustained ascent of Manxome.  Your experience on the higher route confirms that we made a good decision!  But I am sure despite it all you felt the views were worth it!  I still rate Manxome as the most scenic pass I have done in the Berg.   I found Xeni Pass very tough but perhaps the wet conditions at the time did not help. Each persons experience of a pass is subjective to conditions on the day and as Getapix says, ultimately there are no easy passes in the Berg.    My absolute worst experience was up Devils Tooth Gully - this was years ago and nothing I have done since has come close to that frightening experience.
Last edit: 04 Mar 2019 18:22 by elinda.

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04 Mar 2019 21:05 - 05 Mar 2019 08:17 #74714 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic The pass that nearly broke me
Both times I have done Manxome, we used the lower approach as described by Elinda - still some steep slopes to get around the waterfall, but much less exposed than the higher approach I would imagine. I'm not sure why, but it seems to be the less-preferred option though? Either way, once you're in the main gully, definitely some of the most consistently steep grassy slopes on any pass I've done in the Berg! With the most incredible views to boot :-)
Last edit: 05 Mar 2019 08:17 by Stijn.

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05 Mar 2019 11:21 #74718 by Riaang
Elinda, as we got past the exposure section I firstly felt very relieved to still be alive and in one piece, but then started looking around to see if there isn't an easier option. Just after the first section (the first bump) and immediately before the second bump (as seen from the bottom of the pass) is the only other section where it looked passable. I was too tired to walk up to look down on the other side, but looking at some of our photos last night it would seem that it could be an easier route. Higher up is just sheer rock faces, but just below the second bump could work. It definitely goes from the Manxome gully itself, just not 100% sure if it is possible to get through the rock bands on the Pins pass side. Anyone want to go and check it out for us? :-)

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05 Mar 2019 12:51 #74719 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic The pass that nearly broke me
Riaan, the track below shows the lower Manxome Pass approach that elinda and I are referring to. Ignore the crazy sections of track higher up the pass - my watch was clearly having a field day on a lower-accuracy setting ;)

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06 Mar 2019 11:01 #74725 by Riaang
Hi Stijn,

Understood, but the route that I am referring to is a few meters higher up than what we did over the weekend. In the image below, the red line was the approach we took, basically going around the first big rocky outcrop at the lower part of Manxome's ridgeline. The yellow line is where I think another high gully entry point could be, and would be MUCH safer than our red line approach route. This point is between the two bottom rocky outcrops on Manxome's ridgeline. Any higher up and you are faced with vertical cliffs on the Pins pass side, so fore normal hikers this is a no-no. 

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn

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06 Mar 2019 11:10 #74726 by Riaang
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06 Mar 2019 11:11 #74727 by Riaang
Your tracks are looking fine Stijn, above the tracks created by my Garmin Fenix 3 in Ultratrac mode. This watch is practically useless in Drakensberg passes :-(

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06 Mar 2019 18:53 - 06 Mar 2019 18:54 #74728 by Richard Hunt
Hello Riaang. Can you see the yellow route on these photos. We are coming down Maxome Pass during Easter and can look at the yellow cross over route for you.

 

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Last edit: 06 Mar 2019 18:54 by Richard Hunt.

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