Corner Pass / Judge Pass, Mafadi, Leslie's Pass Loop

19 Aug 2019 20:26 #75265 by Smurfatefrog

wildingo wrote: Hi VE Community,

I'm planning a hike in mid/late September and I'd like some feedback on the my proposed route.

The plan is to do a circular hike, starting from Injisuthi camp.  Day one to Marble Baths or surrounds.  Day two hike up Leslie's Pass and camp one night at the top, then descend via Corner pass, camp at Centenary hut, and then Day 4 hike back to Injisuthi.

A couple of questions:
1) Are there better variations on this hike--in terms of places to camp overnight--proximity to water, scenery, spreading the effort over the 4 days etc? 
2) Will water be readily available at the top of Leslie's pass in mid September?
3) Would it be better to do the route clockwise--up Corner pass, and down Leslies?
4)I've read a bit on the forums and it seems their is a need in places at Leslie's pass for a bit of bushwhacking. How bad is this and should I consider another pass for my circular hike, for example up Judges Pass and down Corner Path?
5) Are there any suitable caves to camp in at the top of Leslie's pass, or Corner pass if going clockwise?
6) I'm also not great with exposure (I found the route to the top via The Camel a bit daunting)--are the above routes better, in terms of exposure?

We are reasonably fit--we recently did a 25km circular day hike in the little Berg, starting at Injisuthi, up Catharact valley and then back to Injisuthi via Grindstone caves.  Will the hike up to Marble Baths be similar to hiking up and out of Catharact valley?

Thanks in advance!

Chris

 

Welcome Chris

This is a good thread to read which will answer a lot of your info:  www.vertical-endeavour.com/forum/drakenberg-hiking-injisuthi/53639-corner-pass-judge-pass,-mafadi,-leslie-s-pass-loop.html

1 + 3) Better to do up Corner and down Leslies, with nights at Centenary hut, Upper Injisuthi cave and base of Leslies / Marble Baths. Corner pass is much easier to go up than down
2) Yes, in the valley behind the pass
4) It shouldn't be too bad in September, and if you get a track you can get most of the way with minimal bushwacking
6) Read up on Corner pass, it has a few scrambles where rope is normally used, for packs at least

Fitness, a 25km little berg day hike is completely different to a 4 day escarpment hike. If you haven't done any Drakensberg passes before I'd advise doing something easier first.

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20 Aug 2019 06:46 #75266 by wildingo
Thanks very much for this sage advice.

Chris

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21 Aug 2019 10:37 #75271 by Riaang
Hi Chris,

Welcome to VE :-)

Your route is entirely doable over 4 days - in fact, 2 years ago we did nearly the exact route with my kids (then aged 12 and 10). We just went a little bit further, up to Bannermans cave for night 3 and then down Langies pass. Couple of things to take note of, then I'll get into more detail.
  • Whichever way you go, break the ascent up into 2 days. Day 1 to somewhere on the lower berg, day 2 push to the top. I've taken couch potatoes up to the escarpment this way. Granted, it took forever, but then you have the whole day to get to the top.
  • Group size matters. You didn't specify the number of hikers in your group, note that caves have size limitations. If you take a group of 30 hikers up no cave will be suitable.
  • End of Sep is often very dry if it hasn't started raining yet, but most prominent rivers on the escarpment will have water. However, ascending the passes you will probably find the last bit of water before you start at the foot of the pass, only to find water on the escarpment again. You might also have to walk into Lesotho a bit for water if it is really dry. When in doubt, rather fill up and carry water. i've had hikes where we only found water at the end of the day, which wasn't fun. Had I known the situation I would have carried enough water even though it is heavier. You know what they say - hindsight is the perfect science :-)
If you have an issue with heights then Corner pass might be a challenge for you. Especially going down the pass. There are 3 scrambles on the chimney section, none too difficult and no serious exposure risks either, but Judges pass has no such issues. In any event, Corner up is way better than down. I prefer going up Leslies, it is covered with loose rock end pebbles, resulting in lots of bum slides if you don't concentrate. I did Leslies 3 days ago (i.e. this past Saturday) and landed on my behind 3 times. It's steep in places, but going up you can pull on small shrubs etc.

I would rather go up Leslies and down Judges than the other way around. For a typical 4 day hike (ours was 3 days) I would do the following:
D1 - Injasuthi camp to Marble baths or the campsite at the bottom of Leslies.
D2 - Start as early as possible. The first part of the trek up the riverbed is ok, mild bundubashing (if Ships could be like this it would be heaven!). Stay on the right as you ascend, there is a decent path for a good 1km or so. Then the flat riverbank on the right disappears and you are forced into the riverbed. Following cairns is actually useless at this point, as people seem to have packed them all along the riverbed. We eventually gave up trying to find the path and just followed the river. A bit of rock-hopping but the water level was low so easy. Another 1km upwards and you should find a section of nice flat riverbank on your right again, and here you can pick up the path again. The path is close to the edge of the side on the right. Lots of water up to the base of the ridge at the bottom of Leslies, then nothing till we got off the ridge and into the pass. Soon after this section the water dried up completely till you get to the top of Leslies.
We found lost of water all the way along the escarpment in the valleys, right from the top of Leslies and then as you travel south quite far up towards the ridge coming down Mafadi. If your legs still has enough strength then climb up the ridge and check out the view from Mafadi. Else, follow the valley floor south and stay low, climbing up to Upper Injasuthi Cave (which is still high at around 3350m ASL, but about 100m ASL below the top of Mafadi). Note there is a river flowing down from Injasuthi dome's side to the Eastern Buttress, where it drops off the escarpment. If you come in low, go to it first, else you will have to climb down from the cave to fetch water.

If you have any concern about D2 then rather sleep at the bottom of the ridge coming of Leslies. It's 3,4km closer to the start of the pass, and about 150m ASL higher than Marble bath cave. D2 will be the tough day of your adventure. 

D3 - You might want to sleep in till the sun wakes you up after D2, which involved a lot of climbing. D3 is a much easier day on the lungs, but your legs will feel it at the end of the day. You just need to hop over the Trojan wall, drop down into the valley and top up with water before you start the descent down Judges pass. Be careful at the bottom of Judges as there is no cairn or discernible path (nothing noticeable last time I was there, could be different now) to indicate that you need to turn left onto the contour path. If I remember correctly, the turning point is at around 2200m ASL (check your map to make 100% sure). If you miss it you will continue walking down the ridge wondering when you will ever reach the bottom of the pass. Yo uwill pick up the contour path a couple of hundred meters after you get off the ridge if I remember correctly.

From the contour path it's fairly easy walking to Centenary hut. It's not flat though, the path climbs and drops more than you would like it to. Centenary dump, I mean hut, is starting to become more dilapidated by the day. The place is falling apart, so don't bank on using it as a shelter. We saw some pieces of the roof a couple of hundred meters down the valley towards Corner pass when we ascended the Northern High Approach (and before you ask, this route has a rather serious scramble 3/4 of the way up, so if you have issues with exposure on scrambles don't consider it, especially descending it). You can find a reliable stream of water close to the hut. Actually, there are 2 places to fetch waterfrom, I'll advise on both. The one I regularly use is the one towards Corner pass. When you stand in front of the hut, looking at the escarpment, you will notice a path going up to the hill directly in front of you. Follow this path for about 20m from the hut, then you need to get off it onto another faint path branching out to the left at an angle, basically staying on the same level as the hut. Follow it for about 250m till you cross the stream. The other option is to stand at the back of the hut, on the rocky outcrop, facing away from the escarpment. If you look down and to your left you will see a couple of streams below you. Slightly closer to the hut but it involves some steep climbing, which I rarely have the willpower to do once I've settled in at the hut. 

D4 - An easy hike back down to Injasuthi camp. Just Heartbreak hill that will give your legs a nice warmup. Lots of water from it's bottom all the way to camp.

Enjoy!!!
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26 Aug 2019 15:04 #75283 by wildingo
Thank you very much for this information.  VE is such a wonderful resource--people like yourself take the time to give advice!

I think it will be up Leslie's and down Judges (to avoid too much exposure).

I will write up the hike and post photos once done.

Chris

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29 Sep 2019 13:14 #75356 by Vishant
Hi, thank you for the above info. My buddy and I are planning clockwise route of Mafadi via Judes pass... down Leslie's pass... back to Injisuthi office, in late October. Just a couple of follow up questions:

1. On day 2, upon leaving Centenary hut, is there any route advice on finding and ascending the pass up to the escarpment (ie. Markers and landmarks to lookout for on the route).

2. Water situation. What to expect (this time of year in Oct)... and which are the recommended water sources on the escarpment from Judge's pass all the way to Leslie's pass.

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24 Feb 2020 14:51 #75717 by boots
Hi All

I am also planning in doing the circular rout, but at the end of April/beginning May.

Would there still be water at this time? And what is the weather generally like at that time of year?

Thanks so much!

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24 Feb 2020 15:53 - 24 Feb 2020 15:58 #75718 by MarleyB
"My 2cents on Corner pass. I did it twice - a rope saves time at "Shunt" rock and the rest of the pass is doable in the rain but its a whole different story when it had lots of snow that partially melted and froze thereafter. We had the experience of climbing up corner  pass on ice in July 2011 (at night). We made (read broke) steps in the ice with our hiking sticks and poles and climbed Corner pass like a ladder. (Crampons would have helped alot)..We never set foot on any rock.   Let me say this as it is - that was the most unforgettable experience of my life (Imade the decision to ask my girlfriend of then to be my wife (if i lived) - somewhere in that gully cause I thought that I would regret not taking the chance if that was my last night...my friend Herbert was with me so he was first to know because I asked him to be my best  man)...Nadia said yes a and we were married almost exactly a year later in 2012...its almost 7 years since and  i am still very happy that Cornerpass helped me to make the best decision of my life. But i will never EVER do that again...if  that place has snow in then ill turn around.

So, if you get to cornerpass and there is snow in the pass at the bottom...then know that the snow may be ice  sewhere up...and by that time it will be too late to turn around.

About fitness -- if you cannot run  a 21 now...then it will be difficult...if you cannot run a 10...well...you'll be able to do a 21 by the time you get back home or you'll probably never hike in the berg again."

@abrahamvlok
Your comment on the fitness level made my day, our first hike in the Berg was Mafadi,, totally naive and ignorant and very unprepared. We felt the same way after completing the 4 day hike as our first Berg hike (we were on a fitness level of only being able to do 10km's), after the hike some of us were definitely able to do 21km and the other half of the group decided that they will never hike in the Berg again. 
Last edit: 24 Feb 2020 15:58 by MarleyB. Reason: Referencing to certain comment

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25 Feb 2020 10:43 #75720 by Riaang
@MarleyB,

I've also done Corner in the snow, and also when it was iced up. Any snow that melted and became ice is super slippery and yes, crampons would definitely help. Or an ice axe. Carried mine up twice but haven't yet had the chance to use it. That being said, it is only really the bottom of the 3 scrambling sections that can be tricky, and then also only the bottom third of this obstacle as it has a large step up. Once over this step, you can pull yourself up with your arms. Your other alternative is around the corner pass. At the base of the chimney section of Corner pass, Around the Corner pass goes out to your left (i.e. South) as you are ascending the pass. It is more exposed to sunlight, so the rock plates shouldn't be iced up.

Regarding fitness, you don't have to be able to run a 21km to be able to do this route. I only do 3 runs a week, max 5km's distance and the terrain is relatively flat and I am ok in the berg. It's not purely about fitness (i.e. running), it is very much about the combination of fitness and STRENGTH. I manage to outperform guys in the berg that can outrun me any day because I do a lot of repetitive strength training. Things like one-legged squats and weighted lunges really pays off in the mountains. Lots and lots of them. 

I read a very interesting article a friend sent me last week on www.athlete.com/goettlersteckkhumbutraining/ . These guys have formulated specific training routines for mountaineers, and their findings make for some very thought-provoking reading. Basically, what they say is that training in your aerobic HR zones is a waste of time for higher altitude training. Not as applicable to the Berg as say Everest, but the findings will still apply, although to a lesser degree. Why? Due to altitude there is less oxygen available at higher altitudes, so even if you wanted to go harder and faster, your body can't. This has been my personal experience at altitudes above 4000m. 
They also say that you predominantly use your slow-twitch muscle fibers on higher mountains, and they mainly use fat for energy. Your body can't break fat down as fast as it can use glucose, resulting in lower speeds and HR. These two factors combined will result in you moving slower, and your HR dropping. So, after arriving back from our Giants Castle hike last weekend we looked at my wife's HR numbers for the 3 days (on her Suunto 9, my Fenix 3 doesn't have HR), and the results were exactly what this study found. The bulk of her HR percentage was in the zone below the aerobic range. Ascending the pass on Friday had her on about 56% in the green zone (40% - 60% of HR Max), while walking on the escarpment on Saturday saw this number increase to 66%. It's not that she was walking slowly (you can ask the other members on the hike  ;-) ). Only about 4% - 6% of the entire time was spent in the anaerobic HR zone, and the rest in the aerobic range (say on average 30%).

From practical experience I've found that fitness obviously helps, but it is the combination of fitness and strength that really makes the difference. You can be super fit, but if your muscles can't handle hoisting your combined body and pack weight with one leg at a time over rocks, you will eventually run out of strength, while having tons of fitness in reserve that doesn't help you much at this stage. Breaking the ascent into 2 days will get completely unfit novices on the escarpment. I've taken this approach with many newbies and it's never failed. Quick disclaimer - when I say unfit novices, I am referring to people in good health and not overweight. Obviously an overweight person will struggle much more than somebody not carrying a ton of fat around their waist. So let me revise my initial statement. You need a combination of fitness, strength and lower weight to perform better in the mountains :-)

Hope you guys have a super hike.
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26 Feb 2020 08:22 #75721 by MarleyB
Thanks @Riaang,

We did Mafadi via Judges Pass in 2017 for the first time, the group was too big and too unprepared. :( 
After that we did Mnweni-Rockeries, Cathedral Peak via Camel and Amphitheatre.
This year April we're doing Mafadi again with just 4 people so it should be more fun. We'll definitely do more strength training as well, thanks.
How does Corner Pass as well as Around the Corner Pass compare to the exposed sections on Camel and Windy Gap?

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26 Feb 2020 10:33 #75723 by Riaang
Corner pass itself doesn't have high exposure risk. The lowest scramble is probably the most dangerous part of Corner pass itself, but even if you come off on the lowest section of the scramble, the chances of falling further are highly unlikely. For Around the Corner pass you zig-zag up the side of the mountain. You do go through 3 rock plate sections, and if wet you would have to watch your footing carefully. Your exposure risk on this pass, especially on these sections, is definitely high. It is a long way down to the valley floor below. 

That being said, I didn't find it any riskier than the Camel. That one section on the Camel, as you are ascending, before Windy Gap, is very dodgy in the wet. The riskiest section on Around the Corner pass is less risky than this section on the Camel. Windy Gap isn't too risky, just the top part can be a slippery slide in the wet, but again, it's not very high and you can arrest your fall on the first flat spot below the top section should you slide or tumble. I've seen somebody take a head over heels tumble in the wet down this section, and he came to a sliding halt at the bottom, with the only damage suffered being scratched clothing.

As with all things mountain-related, take it slow and steady on the dangerous sections, make sure of your footing and keep your balance and you'll be fine. In my experience, simply stopping and studying a difficult section usually gives you enough time to see a safe route. If you are overwhelmed by the danger, it is easy to make rash and possibly costly decisions.

Enjoy!!!
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