Mponjwane Pass

05 Oct 2016 11:45 #69953 by tonymarshall
Mponjwane Pass was created by tonymarshall
On the last weekend of September Biomech, Dominique, ghaznavid and tonymarshall ascended Mponjwane Pass via the Nceda River. Mponjwane Pass tops out on the summit near Mponjwane Cave, and the top portion of the pass is the route used by climbers to and from the climb of Mponjwane Peak. The pass could also be done via two of the tributaries of the Ntonjelana eshonalanga River from the Rockeries Pass route, with the top portion being the same as via the Nceda River.

On the Friday night we had tented next to the Nceda River near it’s junction with the Mnweni River at the base of the Dassie. On Saturday morning we headed up the Dassie to Mlambu’s Kraal and followed a path into the Nceda Valley. The terrain was very rugged and with early morning mist we couldn’t see very far up the slope of the Dassie on our right. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

The path we were following kept mainly to the left (true right) of the valley, and made navigating in the rough terrain and bushy areas a lot easier. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

This is an area hikers seldom visit, and we enjoyed the remoteness. Several caves were visible and a follow up exploration will be in order sometime. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

A view back down the Nceda Valley upsteam of where the path ended, with the Dassie in the background. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

A spectacular waterfall in the Nceda River. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

Just upstream of the waterfall in the photo above, the valley straightened and the mist lifted, giving us a view up the pass and of Mponjwane dominating the skyline to the left. We would follow the river bed quite far along the flatter section, sometimes boulder hopping, sometimes on grass, doing whatever was necessary to avoid the bush. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

Higher up the valley we went out onto the grass slope on the right (true left) to bypass some waterfalls, and had the view back down the valley with the Dassie now far below. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

As the valley got steeper, it also got narrower and we were back into the boulder bed. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

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05 Oct 2016 11:46 - 05 Oct 2016 12:01 #69954 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic Mponjwane Pass
We collected water and had lunch near the base of the final gully to the nek at Mponjwane before ascending the gully. Mponjwane was on our left and we took the opportunity to touch the base of this impressive peak, something very few hikers get to do, and a small consolation for us who will probably never get to touch the top of the peak. Note the spire on the right of the nek, which will feature later in photos from the other side as we neared the summit. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

There were several scrambles in the gully, tony scrambles up the steps while ghaznavid looks on, and the wormhole at the top of the nek was becoming more visible the closer we got. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

We were now at the point in the gully where the Mponjwane climb starts, and saw several pieces of aluminium scaffolding which we think was left behind after Robert Dalgleish was rescued after a dramatic climbing accident. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

A view back down the gully. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

Higher up there was still some snow in the gully, and more pieces of aluminium. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

Another scramble near the top of the gully. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

The final section up to the wormhole at the nek was quite steep and on loose gravel. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

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Last edit: 05 Oct 2016 12:01 by tonymarshall.
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05 Oct 2016 11:49 - 05 Oct 2016 12:16 #69955 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic Mponjwane Pass
The final scramble up to and through the wormhole at the nek. The large loose boulders on the left was quite scary, and the whole wormhole section felt like it could collapse at any time. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

A view back down the gully from above the wormhole. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

From the nek we descended a short steep gully with a small patch of snow still in it, and had this view back to the nek, with the spire at the nek now on the left looking back. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

Devils Tooth in the background. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

After descending the short steep gully from the nek, we could look up the final steep gully to the summit. We weren’t sure if this was the correct gully to use to the summit, and partially ascended another gully to the right, before being blocked by a chockstone, and descending back try the correct gully. The base of this gully is where the route via the tributaries of the Ntonjelana eshonalanga River from the Rockeries Pass side would join the Nceda River route. At the top of this gully you head right up a short slope towards the summit. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

At the top of the short slope, there is a final awkward scramble onto the summit. This was the only place where we used a rope to assist with the ascent and to haul packs up. (photo courtesy of Biomech.)

Biomech hauled the packs up which tony had tied on below, while Dominique prepares to take a pack and pass it up to ghaznavid. (photo courtesy of ghaznavid.)

A tired and relieved group settled in at Mponjwane Cave, a short way from the summit, where we overnighted before descending Nguza Pass on the Sunday.

Special thanks and appreciation to Biomech and ghaznavid for allowing me to use their photos for this write up, after my camera malfunctioned early on in the hike.

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Last edit: 05 Oct 2016 12:16 by tonymarshall.

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05 Oct 2016 12:42 #69956 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic Mponjwane Pass
Thanks for the write up and photos Tony - Well done everybody!- this looks like a real adventure and one to add to the list ! :P

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05 Oct 2016 13:37 #69957 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Mponjwane Pass

Thanks for the write up and photos Tony - Well done everybody!- this looks like a real adventure and one to add to the list ! :P

Thanks to the combined efforts of our VE pass scouts, that list is never going to end! :thumbsup:
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05 Oct 2016 18:50 #69959 by Richard Hunt
Replied by Richard Hunt on topic Mponjwane Pass
Hi Tony: is this the accident on Mponjwane you mentioned?
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05 Oct 2016 19:51 - 05 Oct 2016 19:55 #69960 by Biomech
Replied by Biomech on topic Mponjwane Pass
Hi Richard. That's the one we were thinking of. But there is no mention of scaffolding in the write up! I suppose it could have been a separate rescue or some other sort of freak reason why the scaffolding landed up in the gully.
Last edit: 05 Oct 2016 19:55 by Biomech.

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06 Oct 2016 08:51 #69961 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Mponjwane Pass
Thanks for the writeup Tony, and thanks to the team for an awesome weekend out!

For the absolute top of the pass - the trick is to hit the next nek up from the workhole (as Tony mentioned, from the wormhole you go straight down a bit and climb up the gully in front of you), and then traverse below the cliffs to what is scramblable. The other 3 went up in the lineTony posted - with the top move being slightly overhanging, with only Dom managing to do it without ropes to pull on (she came slightly down the rock to avoid the bulge - i.e. using more friction footholds). If you go about 5m to the right, there is a crack that doesn't look like it goes at first - well, for a non-climber anyway. The trick is to get your left foot into the off-width crack on a large chock-stone, stand up on it, and wiggle it higher till you get can your right foot into the massive hold that is at head height when you arrive at the scramble. Once your right foot is in, stand up on it and get your left foot into the hold by pulling on some grass (the hold is big enough for both feet). You then simply swing your right foot around onto the grass ledge to your right and walk up to the top. It took me a solid 30 minutes to figure this sequence out, but I eventually clicked when I remembered that I had sat on the ledge immediately above it before chickening out in April this year (I wanted to summit that scrambling peak in front of Mponjwane Cave - Hobbit ended up climbing it on his own). If you know the sequence, it is a very easy scramble.

The route the others took is something like: step up on the hold on the left, use a stemming move to get up below the bulge, there is a hold deep in the overhang that you can use to pull on. Wriggle up and pull through to the large boulder on the right. Resist the temptation to stay high on the final traverse along this boulder as the bulge will push you back, so bring your feet down a bit and rely on friction to walk around to the top. Note: while I talked Dom through these moves, I wasn't able to do them myself, so this description of the scramble may not be entirely accurate.

In wet or icy conditions, my scramble would be the only way up.

Only Biomech managed to get up the scramble with his pack on, and only Dom and I got up without pulling on ropes - so I am going to suggest that this pass is a Rock pass (note: not rock or ROCK). I passed my pack up on various of the lower scrambles, but with a light pack I would have been fine. No one else passed packs on the pass (iirc), but I think the degree of the final moves to get up justify Rock pass status.

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06 Oct 2016 09:54 #69962 by Viking
Replied by Viking on topic Mponjwane Pass
If I am correct, what Ghaz is describing above is the route we took as it seems like the easier option from above. I think its just to the right of the people in the second to last photo. It is not super easy and requires a committing move as described, that is slightly trickier on the way down.

I made light earlier in the thread or on another thread about the one hiker "going the wrong way" near the wormhole but I know why he is headed that way - it's to avoid the loose stuff. We did the same thing. That gully and the one leading up to the scramble is really loose, like surfing on scree loose. We did it in the dark and I remember being quite anxious on a few occasions. I can also echo the sentiments re: the worm-hole. It is pretty dodgy - lots of loose rock and more scree!

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”
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19 Dec 2016 20:55 - 29 Dec 2016 12:35 #70406 by elinda
Replied by elinda on topic Mponjwane Pass
After reading Tony Marshall's write up some time ago on his trip up Mponjwane Pass, I was pretty keen to try this out, so over this last long weekend, the ‘Ballies Brigade’ consisting of myself, Farouk, Greg, Papa Dragon ( Roger) and Thora set off knowing we had an adventure on our hands. We were not to be disappointed!

Day one - We got going just after 9.30 and headed up to Mlambu's Kraal where the Nqueda River joins the Mnweni River. The day was very hot and humid and the escarpment had a lot of cloud coming and going. As we hiked in to the Nqueda Valley I started feeling nauseous with little energy. With a bit of vasbyt a lot of water, and frequent rests in the shade, we continued on. We were able to stay on a path for much of the way and I wondered who actually uses this path as it was fairly strong and obviously frequently used ? This valley is pretty wild and rugged and the vegetation was lush. Our aim was to get as high up the valley as we could and find a flattish camping spot. The clouds were gathering and looking ominous so we eventually called it a day just before the valley makes a bend and you get your first glimpse of Mponjwane. We settled in for the evening after fetching water and having a wash in the river which was flowing quite strongly. The rain held off until early evening and then came down steadily for a while, thereafter the mist came down for the night.

Day two - Today was our big day! We awoke early and our first adrenaline rush for the day was when Thora's gas canister misbehaved and caught fire - Roger hurled it away from the tent and then poured water on it -a few anxious moments there……..We were on our way by 6.30am and shortly thereafter our second incident of the day occurred . A boulder dislodged itself in the river whilst boulder hopping and fell on Rogers foot. ( Roger had an extremely eventful day as will be seen later…..) He could not move and was pinned down. I was able to get to him and somehow lift it just enough so that he could move his foot. Although painful he was able to wiggle his toes, and after resting, declared that he would be able to carry on. Luckily it never got any worse, but hats off to Roger for persevering and soldiering on ! The mist cleared and it looked to be a clear day which is what we wanted for the gully section………what you want and what you get are not always the same however!
The hike up the valley was long and tedious - we alternated between boulder hopping in the river bed and traversing out higher on the grass slopes. At one waterfall we had to haul packs up the bank and use a belay system to get the less strong members of the party up - this all took time and we reached the gully proper at midday. We had a break to have lunch and then continued upwards. By now the mist was forming and the upper reaches of the gully was looking ominous. We had a couple of obstacles to overcome, often taking backpacks off and pulling them up with a rope. The men could often climb up with their packs on but Thora and I felt more confident without our packs. The wormhole came into sight and we eventually reached it. Tony mentioned that the ground is very loose here and indeed it was almost impossible to get up - its very steep ( far deeper than the photos indicate) and with the recent rains, the area was very wet and slippery. Thora headed up first without her pack with Roger following close behind. She managed to get up to the wormhole but as |Roger was climbing up, the rock he was holding on to moved and instinctively he turned around and braced his arms and legs, holding the boulder against his back. What a disaster it would have been if he hadn’t done this as Greg, myself and Farouk were all waiting in the narrow section directly below and I don't even want to think what could have happened had Roger and the boulders tumbled on to us……..After some very anxious moments moments Greg managed to climb up and move the boulders around Roger and we eased them down the slope past ourselves until they were out of harms way. Greg then climbed up, followed by myself and then Farouk. We were all extremely grateful to survive this frightening experience. From here you head directly down the grassy gully which is very steep to the nek and the base of the gully where the route from the Rockeries side comes in at the left. By now the mist was very thick and we could only see a little way ahead of us so unfortunately we could not see the towering walls on either side of us. We reached the very top of this gully and looked to the right where the final slope was to the summit. All we could see was an abyss directly below us! Unbeknownst to us at the time and because the mist was so thick, we could not see the short traverse across to the right ( just before the top of the gully) and the steep slope upwards to the final obstacle. With no way forward we climbed out on the left, up a tricky scramble. Once we got to the top of this we were on a slope which looked a bit like the photo from Tonys write up, except the rock scramble ahead did not match up. Confused and tired we headed upwards in the hope that we would find the elusive final scramble to the summit. It was close to 5.00pm at this stage and we only had another hour or so’s daylight left. The mist was as thick as ever and Farouk and Greg went ahead to the flat area up ahead while the rest of us waited against a rock face. We were trying to figure out what went wrong and when they returned they gave us the news that Mponjwane Cave was actually directly ahead of us. We were totally disorientated! We made a decision to stay put, put up our tents and tough it out for the night, wait for morning and then see where we had actually ended up. We had little water left at this stage so we were in for a long night with no cooking of supper etc. There was a fairly large area on top with two cairns - according to the guys we were on top of Rockeries Tower. The mist cleared a bit just then to allow us the view of Mponjwane cave on the other side of the drop off and Mponjwane towering on the other side. We could also see where we should have gone up the slope on the right hand side of the gully. We were all exhausted after the exertions and adrenaline of the day, so settled in for the night. The soil is thin and we could not secure the tents properly with tentpegs so we hoped the rumbling of thunder and black skies would not develop into anything more serious. Apart from a shower of rain, we were spared. Thank goodness as we were pretty exposed and vulnerable up there.

Day three - we awoke bright and early to a clear day although KZN was blanketed under cloud. We packed up and then headed downwards towards the nek - not without a great deal of trepidation on my behalf I might add - its one thing to climb up in the mist, but when it is clear and you can see the drop-offs down below you, its another thing entirely! Unbelievable to think we had climbed up this the evening before. We managed to get down to the nek and then across to the other side. Now we could see our final obstacle and after a bit of investigation, Farouk chose the route to the right with the crack and handhold at head height. He managed to get up with assistance from Greg and then hauled the packs up and the rest of us up to safety. It must be mentioned here that the ground below this slopes away steeply towards the gully and a fall here could be fatal. We were all very relieved to reach the escarpment safely. From here we made our way down to the nearest water just above Rockeries Pass and filled up with some much needed water. After some breakfast to replenish our energy levels we headed down Rockeries Pass and back towards the MCC.

My personal thoughts on this trip is that this is not for the average hiker - we found it pretty tough and very challenging and it is not without its risks! But……..not bad for a bunch of old ballies who are in their mid to late fifties………….and, who knows we may be the first to have tented on top of the Rockeries Tower and bagged a khulu ( unknowingly) to boot!

Photos to follow shortly.......
Last edit: 29 Dec 2016 12:35 by elinda.
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