Black and Tan Wall Passes

08 Aug 2020 13:36 - 19 Aug 2020 18:05 #75913 by tonymarshall
A few years before I did the Black and Tan Wall Passes, Bobby Stanton had brought these passes to the attention of several of his friends. He had been studying satellite imagery of the area, and spotted the two gullies south of the Black and Tan Wall, which looked doable as passes. Andrew P and I were duly informed of two possible new passes, but our schedules just never worked out to try to do them together. We planned to do one of them over the 2018 Easter weekend as the ascent to the summit for a climbing trip some of the good climbers had planned to climb the Pinnacles, but damp and misty weather changed our plans. Andrew and intrepid also thought about doing one of them later in 2018 when they went back to climb the Inner Mnweni Pinnacle, but again changed plans because of the uncertainty of whether these passes were doable, especially with heavy packs full of climbing gear.

So on the 2018 December long weekend, I had a solo attempt on both passes on the same day. I had walked in from MCC the previous day, and overnighted in Shepherds Cave 3, a small cave south of the Rwanqa River about 800 m upstream from the confluence of the Rwanqa and Mnweni Rivers, and right next to the path going up the Rwanqa valley. It’s not a wonderful cave, but being alone I could fit in comfortably, and it was the closest I could get to the base of the passes.



The next morning, I continued upstream on the path to the Rwanqa River crossing, and then followed the river to the left (southeast) continuing upstream, taking the sidestream coming into the main river from the southeast, and not the main river going up Rwanqa Pass. Soon I was passing the ridge exit to Rwanqa Pass below the Black and Tan Wall as seen in the photo below, with the top of Rwanqa Pass the low point on the horizon to the right of the Black and Tan Wall.



Continuing upstream I followed the boulder bed of the stream, much easier walking than the steeply sloping sides.



There was a large waterfall in the river, but it was easily bypassed on a convenient grass slope on the left (true right).



This grass slope also helped to avoid the thick bush immediately downstream of the waterfall.



Above this large waterfall, there were another two waterfalls, next to each other in the same rock band. These were the streams coming down from the two Black and Tan Wall Passes, and I was now approaching the base of the passes. In the photo below, the North Black and Tan Wall Pass turns to the right in front of the prominent free standing pillars (the valley is partially obscured by the ridge in the right foreground), and the South Black and Tan Wall Pass goes to the right behind the prominent free standing pillars, between them and the major rock band in the background.



The next photo is similar, but shows more of the valley of the North Pass, which I had decided that I would go up. I cannot identify all the pillars and spires in these photos, but it was really captivating to be among them. The spires Unkhulunkhulu and Inkhulu and are this area, but I am not sure which they are.



I had a morning break above the waterfall of the South Pass stream, and then prepared to go up the North Pass.

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Last edit: 19 Aug 2020 18:05 by tonymarshall. Reason: spelling
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08 Aug 2020 13:41 - 08 Aug 2020 13:52 #75914 by tonymarshall
North Black and Tan Wall Pass

A view up the lower section of the North Black and Tan Wall Pass.



The lower section had a lot of boulders and bush, but was not difficult to move in.



A view back down the north stream to just above the waterfalls, with the south stream visible in the background.



A view back to the Mnweni Pinnacles on the left, and the spire between the two passes on the right.



Higher up the terrain alternated between boulder bed and grass slopes with scrub.



Higher up I took another morning break while there was still plenty of water. The North pass had water up to about 2800 m. I took my pack up with me, as I wasn’t sure if I would get up either of the passes, or if I did, where I would be able to come down, or whether I would have to spend the night on top. Note the two open pouches on my shoulder straps which I carry my gps and camera in. The gps is on a long lanyard and cannot get loose, but the camera isn’t, otherwise it restricts movement taking photos, and this would cause me a lot of distress over the next few weeks!



Another view up the North Pass.



A view down the North Pass with the Mnweni Needles and Ledges Cave area in the background.

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Last edit: 08 Aug 2020 13:52 by tonymarshall.

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08 Aug 2020 13:46 - 08 Aug 2020 13:55 #75915 by tonymarshall
Quite high up the North Pass there was a piece of a smugglers bag caught between two rocks. This could be evidence that the pass is used by locals, or could just be a coincidence, and the bag could have blown into the pass from the summit and got washed down by rainwater.



Another view down the pass, I just was in constant awe of the amazing scenery.



The top section of the pass was the typical grass slope, although with quite a lot of rocks still present.



Two more views down the pass from near the top.




My summit photo at the top of the North Black and Tan Wall Pass.



There was a variation gully out of the North Pass, going out to the right (north) as I went up, but with very restricted space I couldn’t get a photo to show this. The top of the North variation of the North Pass was visible a few hundred metres away on the summit, and I went to have a look down it, and it certainly looked doable. With hindsight I should have just gone down and back up it there and then, but there were a million other thoughts in my mind. The photo below shows the North variation gully as I walked towards the top of it from the top of the North Pass, with the top of the main gully I had ascended out of the photo to the right.



A view down into the North variation gully from the south side.



The tops of both Black and Tan Wall Passes are close to the Mnweni Highway Path, so I followed this path south for about 600 m to the top of the South Black and Tan Wall Pass, and had lunch at the top of the South Pass before descending it.

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Last edit: 08 Aug 2020 13:55 by tonymarshall.
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08 Aug 2020 13:47 - 08 Aug 2020 14:18 #75916 by tonymarshall
South Black and Tan Wall Pass

A photo at the top of the South Black and Tan Wall Pass before I commenced my descent.



A view down the top section of the South Black and Tan Wall Pass. Very similar to the North Pass, but perhaps a bit steeper.



A view up the top section of the South Pass, showing the typical grass slope with boulders.



Lower down the awesome views of the spires were again visible, and I came to a chockstone, which from above looked like a very significant obstacle, and I wonderd if my descent of the South Pass had ended. In the photo below, taken from the top of the chockstone in the pass, the lower slopes of the South Pass can be seen, and this gave me confidence that if I down climbed the chockstone, I would be able to complete the descent, as no other obstacles were visible. In the morning I had also been able to see up the lower section of the South Pass, the bit obscured where the pass turns to the left in the photo below, and I had not seen any obstacles then.



I had no climbing gear with me, but did have a nylon rope, which I used to lower my pack down the obstacle, which was about 4 m high. I took care to secure the top of the rope on some small stones in case I couldn’t get down the obstacle, and would need to pull my pack back up (although I was backing myself to get down. I then down climbed the chockstone, directly above my pack, and after hanging on my handholds for a few seconds I was able to feel a foothold and complete getting down the obstacle.



A view back to the chockstone from below. I had down climbed the crack between the two boulders, but from below it looked like it would have also been possible to down climb the right (true left) of the higher boulder, although from above this did not look possible.



A view down the South Pass, with typical boulder bed terrain.



A view back up the South Pass, as for the North Pass there was flowing water below about 2800 m.

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Last edit: 08 Aug 2020 14:18 by tonymarshall. Reason: add photos

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08 Aug 2020 13:47 - 08 Aug 2020 14:21 #75917 by tonymarshall
A view of the spire between the two passes on the left and the Outer Mnweni Pinnacle on the right.



A view of the Mnweni Pinnacles.



The lower section of the South Pass had some low waterfalls, and wet slopes, and I chose to descend out of the boulder bed on the grass slopes to the right, to avoid these obstacles.



A view up the South Black and Tan Wall Pass.



A view up the lower section of the South Pass, and final photo of the spire that had dominated the view for most of the day.



A view down the lower section of the South Pass to the top of the waterfalls (where the large boulder is).



An extract of the Mnweni Geomap showing the location of the Black and Tan Wall Passes to the south of the Black and Tan Wall.



A satellite image with my gps tracks and waypoints of the passes, which Bobby Stanton kindly did. The red lines are the gps tracks.



Special thanks to Bobby for alerting me to these new passes, and for the satellite image.

After descending the South Pass, I walked out the same way I had walked in that morning, continuing past Shepherds Cave 3 to the area of the confluence of the Rwanqa and Mnweni Rivers, and then heading up the ridge to the west to overnight in another small cave, Shepherds Cave 2, north of the Rwanqa River. Just before I got to the cave, I realised my camera was missing, the camera pouch was open and empty. I had used the camera about 300 m from the cave, so I knew more or less where I had lost it. I did a quick search that afternoon, and a longer search the next morning, without finding the camera, mainly because it was probably in a thick bushy area I had passed through and I didn’t have the means to search thoroughly. It was definitely worthwhile to return in January 2019, and do a more thorough search and find the camera. Although I could have done the Black and Tan Wall Passes again and got new photos, it just wouldn’t have been the same as doing them the first time.

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Last edit: 08 Aug 2020 14:21 by tonymarshall. Reason: add photos

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04 Oct 2020 15:28 #76159 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Black and Tan Wall Passes
Based on Tony's writeup, when deciding which Black and Tan Pass to take, we opted for the north one. Sounded like the easier of the two. It is possible that my fitness isn't where it needs to be due to insufficient properly hard hiking (I have been clocking up kms, but getting sufficient vertical and continuous steep ground is proving tricky) - but this pass seemed to be one of the hardest passes I've ever done.

We left the Centre just before sunrise, hitting the junction of Rwanqa and Mnweni around 10AM. Not express pace by any means, but not terrible.

The slog up to the bottom of Rwanqa Pass was very hot. The river was low, so higher up when we were in the riverbed, rock hopping wasn't too bad.

Where you would normally start climbing the ridge for Rwanqa Pass, we stayed in the river.



There is a bit of scrambling in the riverbed, but nothing too serious.

As Tony mentioned, you eventually hit a series of waterfalls, which are bypassed on the grass to the true right. Because of how dry the ground is right now, this bypass proved quite difficult. There are also a number of spots where a fall would be bad - it is a really exposed line in places.


We stopped for lunch at the top of the second waterfall, filling up our bottles from the very low stream. We then resumed on the true right bank to skip the third waterfall before turning into the gully.



The lower section of the main gully (be aware that you have already put on about 500m by this point) is very overgrown. I think Tony followed the river to avoid this, but we opted for right next to the cliff on the left (true right). Once you start a line, you are stuck with it as the overgrowth between the river and the side is really bad.



What followed was a steep bank, followed by a lot of steep scrambling that was occasionally fairly difficult and exposed. At least once it included proper climbing moves, with a foot on a good hold above a big drop.

I got less photos than I would have liked on this section - partly because I was really struggling, and partly because Dave had disappeared into the distance - I would next see him at the top. So the entire time it was playing in my mind that I was effectively solo. Also that if something happened to him, I may not hear it, so I need to keep an eye out. There was no discussion before he disappeared - so he also could have taken a different line, and have been waiting for me somewhere. The psychological aspect of hiking when you don't know what your team mate is doing, or where they are, is always tricky.



The views from the pass were great the entire way up, with an interesting angle of the Pins from the north.

The rocky section eventually relented to what we would subsequently call the burned section, or the never-ending gully. Whereas an average pass at Giants Castle may start at 2200m and top out at 3000m, this pass starts around 2000m and tops out at about 3150m - which means that the final gully that starts at about 2800m is almost half the height of Bannerman Pass even after having already done a full Bannerman Pass in vertical!



I was really struggling by now, and eventually realised that if I didn't do something about it, I wouldn't be up before dark. So I sat for about 20 minutes, put on some warmer clothes and forced down some sweets. It was as if the day suddenly became brighter and I was able to keep moving.

I had found water at 2850m, which was lucky - I filled my bottle, the last water I would see until the bottom of Manxome Pass the next morning. Dave missed this water, but fortunately had been carrying much more than I had at the start.



The gully occasionally gets rocky, with the odd scramble - but the primary issue is that the gully is relentless, all technical difficulty was over long before this point.

We topped out about 20 minutes before sunset.

As I say - this pass felt super-hard, at least an 8/10 difficulty on Stijn's scale, probably a 9. It is hard for me to refer to relative fitness, I have been training a lot recently, but there is a notable lack of elevation in my training. And not visiting the mountains frequently enough this year doesn't help.

The one interesting aspect of the pass is that it is probably the most varied terrain on any pass I have ever done. It starts with boulder hopping, then goes to grassy side-slope, followed by overgrowth, then difficult scrambling followed by a long steep summit gully. I can't think of any Drakensberg pass I have done that is nearly as multi-dimensional as this one.

Overall - a hard scenic pass. I rate it warrants a *** quality rating. Worth doing if you are running out of passes to do, or want something really hard to train on. But comparatively, Pins Pass has better views for similar effort. Ifidi and Manxome both have a much better effort to quality ratio. I seriously doubt I will do this pass again - although I kind of have to go back to do the south gully at some point.

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06 Oct 2020 08:28 - 06 Oct 2020 08:38 #76169 by tonymarshall
I certainly didn't go through that patch of bush in your photo, and went up the stream bed there, which was much easier. In fact the worst bush I had on the route was just upstream of where the path up the Rwanqa valley crosses the stream.

I also didn't have any scrambles worth mentioning, or exposure, on the north pass, but that may just be subjective because my tolerance for these is unusually high.

I am reluctant to give passes ratings, but would agree that North Black and Tan Wall Pass is about an 8, the same as neighbour Rwanqa Pass.

I would consider planning to ascend Black and Tan Wall Pass in one day from MCC as ambitious, so take my hat off to you for doing that.

The South Black and Tan Wall Pass is steeper than the north one, and has a lot more steep sideslopes, as can be seen in my photos, so please just bear this in mind if anyone wants to ascend the south pass.
Last edit: 06 Oct 2020 08:38 by tonymarshall.
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06 Oct 2020 09:33 #76171 by Serious tribe
Just using Ghaz's image to show our route down here in September.

We followed the yellow line which is similar to what Ghaz used. The red circled area is the very sandy slope above the bushy area, it is very steep and relatively unstable. When coming down, we followed it down its ridge apex and the traversed into small gully and the crossed through the bushes onto the true right under the cliff line. Once there it was way easier and you weren't fighting the bushes. For me this sandy slope/bushy traverse was the worst part of coming down the pass. We avoided the stream bed as dropping down off boulders onto lower boulders always seems more risky and tireing to me than claiming up the same boulders.

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06 Oct 2020 09:35 #76172 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Black and Tan Wall Passes

I certainly didn't go through that patch of bush in your photo, and went up the stream bed there, which was much easier. In fact the worst bush I had on the route was just upstream of where the path up the Rwanqa valley crosses the stream.

I also didn't have any scrambles worth mentioning, or exposure, on the north pass, but that may just be subjective because my tolerance for these is unusually high.

I thought so - in retrospect the riverbed would have been much better. We were worried it might be loose. Just a case of once we had committed to the left (true right) side of the vegetation, we were stuck with it. I didn't get any photos of the scrambles, unfortunately - but you can see the top of the left line in the photos, just before the burned bit, is very steep and rocky.

I am reluctant to give passes ratings, but would agree that North Black and Tan Wall Pass is about an 8, the same as neighbour Rwanqa Pass.

My difficulty rating will definitely need a grain of salt on this occasion. While I'm not technically unfit right now, my training hasn't had nearly enough vertical since the start of lockdown - with my focus being on speed and total distance, not vertical (mostly due to the lack of nearby vertical in my area). So it is hard to differentiate between lack of mountain fitness and actual difficulty. 5 Jan 2019 to 4 Jan 2020 was one of only three periods of 365 days where I did 1000+kms in the Drakensberg (2015 and 2016 being the other two), and I did Rwanwa Pass on 4 Jan 2020, so I was probably about as mountain fit as I have ever been at the time.

I know Rwanqa has a bad reputation, but I actually thought it was a really enjoyable pass.

I would consider planning to ascend Black and Tan Wall Pass in one day from MCC as ambitious, so take my hat off to you for doing that.

Thanks. Although, to be fair - I would say doing both in a day is far harder than MCC to the top in a day.
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06 Oct 2020 09:43 #76173 by ghaznavid
Replied by ghaznavid on topic Black and Tan Wall Passes

We followed the yellow line which is similar to what Ghaz used.

We stayed on the left longer than that. I tried to break right when the scrambling was getting harder, but couldn't find a line that didn't go through bad overgrowth.

To clarify, the scrambling wasn't bad enough to need a rope - and I think my concern around big drops is well documented - but it wasn't trivial and careful route finding was required on the line I took. But my line definitely wasn't the best line available.

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