Hanging Valleys Pass

06 Dec 2015 21:29 #66061 by AndrewP
Hanging Valleys Pass was created by AndrewP
Stijn and I first met online about a decade ago in the days when the Raubenheimers still held the record for the GT. We have met in person many times since, but strangely enough have never hiked or run together.

About 2 weeks ago, while exploring the peaks in the vicinity of the Mnweni cutback, I noticed a long, steep, boulder strewn gully heading up into the hanging valleys. It looked like it would go. A few minutes thought about it suggested that I should recruit a suitably minded person to help try this gully out. Stijn was hooked after the first WhatsApp message.

He suggested we spend Friday night in 5 Star Cave, and we agreed that I would bring a rope and he would bring a harness (read: ambitious plans to try open up a new pass for the descent as well). Somehow, without actually saying as much, we each managed to work out the rest, namely that we should each bring a bag that was light enough to push the whole thing in a day if required, but also to allow a night out in one of the escarpment caves if needed.

The drive down to Mnweni Visitor Center went smoothly and we set off for the cave about 20h30. It was a lovely approach hike. The air was cool and although we took the wrong cattle track on occasion, we still made good time to the cave.

We got about 5 hours sleep, and had both awoken at first light, a few minutes before the alarm was due to go off. We packed up quickly, and set off for the Rwanqwa stream for breakfast. Steady hiking with minimal stoppage time quickly got us to the base of Mnweni Pass. Here, we broke off the path and headed up the river leading into the heart of the cutback. Stijn had of course done this stretch before when he did Manxome Pass, but it was new ground for me. The view into the heart of the cutback


Simple but fun boulder hoping took us up the valley to a point where we needed to break out left to dodge a waterfall. We dropped back into the river at the point you would break out for Manxome Pass and headed up into unknown territory.

At first, it was fairly easy. We could often walk along slabs of rock and the ground was steady but not steep.


After a while we hit some really dense bush. Fortunately it did not last too long although we did cheat by crawling though a tiny hole under a large boulder to escape.


Soon, we reached a large chockstone and waterfall that blocked our way. This was about 100m before the point we had planned to turn off.


I had a swim in the (cold) pool and Stijn used the time to scout out a bushy exit on our right that would lead us past the waterfall and hopefully gain access to the side gully we were planning to use to take to the escarpment.


The bushes were not as bad as they looked, but somehow I doubt anyone will believe that comment. In due course we made it into our gully via a sneaky and steep downclimb.

The valley we planned to take was dry so we ditched our packs to fetch water from the main river heading right up to the back of the cutback itself.

At first, the going was really easy. Gentle angled boulder hopping. This of course was a little worrying as it hinted that it could get steeper later on. And, it did. At about 2700m, I scrambled up a rocky ramp to scope out the next waterfall while Stijn looked after the packs. I needed only about 1 second to see that the waterfall was not going. It was about 20m high, vertical and a pile of ugly looking chockstones. I would hate to climb it with a rope and trad rack.


We back tracked a bit and worked our way onto a grass slope to the right of the gully (looking up) that Stijn had spotted.


A dodgy bush guarded a short chimney. We each fought our way up that with varying degrees of elegance. Neither of us wanted to have to descend that again and we turned upwards in hope.


The grass slope had some exposure and a few more short chimneys but nothing desperate.


Fortunately, just as the ledge cliffed out above us, it also provided a 1m wide ledge leading back into the main gully. Just above a waterfall neither of us would have wanted to climb!

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06 Dec 2015 21:37 #66062 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
We still had a few more short scrambles up grass or rock to go.


Some typical boulder hopping finally took us to the summit at just over 3000m. We had done it!


It took us about 6 hours to get to the summit from 5 Star Cave, which included a bit of navigation time. We did not build a summit cairn. I suppose that what goes up can go down but I feel it would be pretty ballsy to try descent this one without having come up it first.

From there, we headed off around the back of the cutback for a long night in Ledgers Cave. All thoughts of heroics for another new pass were abandoned in favour of a simple and quick descent down Rockeries the next morning.

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06 Dec 2015 21:51 #66064 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
Thanks Andrew! (for the awesome hike and write-up)

All I'd add is that this pass felt right on the edge of being doable with scrambling only - we got very lucky with some of the grassy ledges bypassing the chockstones in the gully and it was a great relief to get to the top without an unclimbable obstacle right at the top of the pass. I'd rate it as on par or slightly harder than Xeni Pass with the scrambling on this one being a little more challenging.

Fantastic views and a really wild feeling being in the heart of the Cutback!

Lastly, here's a photo of Mr Porter, in his sleeping bag at 2pm, tea on the brew... a rare sight indeed! :laugh:

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06 Dec 2015 22:41 #66065 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
Nicely done guys! Those views do look rather epic.

Stijn wrote: lastly, here's a photo of Mr Porter, in his sleeping bag at 2pm, tea on the brew... a rare sight indeed! :laugh:

my guess is that this rare sighting of Hikerus Runalaotus at rest during the day while in his natural habitat has something to do with there not being any unclaimed khulus on his list within about 10km of there. Either that or there is a new hardest pass in the Berg :lol:

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07 Dec 2015 02:11 #66066 by Serious tribe
Replied by Serious tribe on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
So good to see new routes being pioneered that are not purely of a mountaineering variety.

It is an amazing feeling to be in the guts of the mountains, Looking down at the space below you while being channelled upwards by dizzying walls of rock. LOVE IT!!!!

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07 Dec 2015 10:12 - 07 Dec 2015 10:15 #66069 by Coeta
Replied by Coeta on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
Really enjoyed reading this and those pictures, thanks guys.
Last edit: 07 Dec 2015 10:15 by Coeta.

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07 Dec 2015 11:09 #66072 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
GPS map of exactly where this pass is (red arrow marks the top):

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07 Dec 2015 11:39 - 07 Dec 2015 11:41 #66073 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Hanging Valleys Pass

AndrewP wrote:

The other side of the fissure looks like it might also go. Any plans?

Also - does the Mnweni river start at a cliff/waterfall, or is there also potential up that way?

Ps. the absence of a name is noteworthy. I imagine you guys can "grovel" one out :laugh:

My prediction would be Hanging Valley Pass.
Last edit: 07 Dec 2015 11:41 by ghaznavid.

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07 Dec 2015 11:53 #66076 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Hanging Valleys Pass
If you're referring to the gully on the opposite side of the Mnweni river, then yes, it looks like it would go at about the same difficulty - the tricky blocked-gully bits are closer to the bottom (near the confluence with the Mnweni) and then it's a narrow steep grassy gully all the way up.

The source of the Mnweni is a fearsome-looking narrow gully, which would likely need trad gear at some point. We'd only know for sure if somebody checked it out up-close though... hint hint!

And yes, my final suggestion was Hanging Valley Pass and if there are no objections from Andrew, I'm happy to go with that one.

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07 Dec 2015 11:59 #66077 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Hanging Valleys Pass

Stijn wrote: The source of the Mnweni is a fearsome-looking narrow gully, which would likely need trad gear at some point. We'd only know for sure if somebody checked it out up-close though... hint hint!

That would be one sure way of annoying lots of people - if I was to lead a group on a trip opening up a new pass at Mnweni :laugh:

That being said, I do enjoy annoying people by doing stuff like that, now where's my pack...

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