Mlambonja Buttress South Pass

02 Dec 2018 11:14 - 02 Dec 2018 11:17 #74306 by tonymarshall
Riaang has done a fantastic write up on this pass on his topic Teseke-Cockade-MlambonjaButtress-Pineapple hike.  

I first noticed this possible route when AndrewP, Neil Margetts and I ascended Xeni Pass on our way to climbing Xeni Peak in March 2016. In the photo below Neil sits where we had a break after ascending the steep grass slopes to get to the base of the final gully of Xeni Pass, behind him to the left is the gully of Xeni Pass, and to the right is the gully of Mlambonja Buttress South Pass. 


In September 2016 I ascended Xeni Pass variation, and did some of the khulus in the area. From the summit of Leopard I could see the top section of the pass, and it looked doable, although the middle section wasn’t visible and remained doubtful. The photo below shows the top section of Mlambonja Buttress South Pass viewed from the summit of Leopard, with the Cathedral Range in the background. Xeni Pass is in the foreground between the peak and Mlambonja Buttress South Pass, and Xeni Pass variation is behind me where I took the photo. 


As I headed south to summit the Elephant, I recall seeing some more of the pass, and from the summit of Elephant I had this view, with the pass nicely defined with the line of snow. 


So this gully looked like a good option for a new pass, and remained in the back of my mind as something that should get on to my to do list sometime. I had another look up it when I ascended Xeni Pass in June 2017 with Harry and Ruan, but it didn’t get on the to do list yet.


Several months ago, Riaang posted a write up of Xeni Pass, mentioning looking up the (as yet unnamed) Mlambonja Buttress South Pass gully and expressing an interest to try it, and it finally came onto my to do list. Much to my surprise, Riaan, Sanet, Nico and Ian did Mlambonja Buttress South Pass in September, and Riaan posted his write up mentioned above, which I quote from in the three following posts, as it really captures the excitement of doing an unknown new route so well.  

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Last edit: 02 Dec 2018 11:17 by tonymarshall.

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02 Dec 2018 11:29 - 02 Dec 2018 11:39 #74308 by tonymarshall
Riaang wrote:

We got back down to the base of Xeni where we collected our heavy packs again and the 4 of us set off to conquer Xeni extreme north gully. Except that I found out yesterday that it couldn’t be Xeni extreme north gully as this gully isn’t next to Xeni but is on the side of the Mlambonja buttress. So, off we set to conquer Mlambonja Buttress south pass. The initial 100m ASL is over large rocks and was easily dispatched with. The first notable obstacle is a steep and sloping grass bank on the right of the gully. It’s basically just a scramble but slightly technical, especially if you are short. Not too much exposure risk, but enough to be a problem should you come off here. We all made it safely up this scramble. Immediately after the grassy bank is a climbing obstacle. Two large rocks block your progress. There is a gap between the two and we managed to squeeze in between them, but you can’t do it with your pack on your back as there isn’t enough space for pack and person to fit in this gap. We handed up packs and poles and made it easily enough to the top. Even in the wet this rock wouldn’t be too much of a problem. The grass gully would be scary in the wet or if there was a lot of wind.
Last edit: 02 Dec 2018 11:39 by tonymarshall.

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02 Dec 2018 11:31 - 02 Dec 2018 11:40 #74309 by tonymarshall
Riaang wrote:

Carrying on you will soon arrive at a spot where you are forced to decide as to where you want to go. It is about 60m or so from the previous rock obstacle. We kept to the far right and then climbed up a steep grassy slope, basically traversing in a “Z” pattern. We got to the side gully,climbed to the right but backwards (towards Cockade side) and when high enough to see the golden grassy gully ahead proceeded forward (north) again. The climb up to where you can see the grass gully is very steep and over a bit of loose sand but quite manageable. However, the grassy side slope is steep with a huge amount of exposure risk. We all got off this section as fast as we could. The photos below shows the more “manageable” section of this grassy slope. If you slip here, you would fall I don’t know how far as I couldn’t see the bottom of the abyss below. Do not attempt this section in the wet or in high winds unless you are a very confident and capable hiker. I wouldn’t do it with snow and ice around either.

Nico and myself had gotten up to this point earlier when we gave the pass a quick glance over without our packs, and we couldn’t see the last obstacle in our way from this point. We walked another 50m or so and came face to face with a showstopper. That is, if the rock was wet. And today it wasn’t. You have a slick piece of rock at a 70-degree angle about 3m high to get over. Fortunately, at about 1,8m high there is a super comfy hand hold that you can grab to pull yourself up, and if you get up to this point and can split well you can anchor yourself easily enough to reach the handhold higher up to climb above the rock. We all made it up this rock obstacle, but Sanet (at 1,6m high) had to use a different technique to the taller hikers in the group. She wedged her back against the sloping rock and kept her legs pressed horizontally against the other rocks until she got to the 1,8m high handhold. She then turned sideways and wedged her one arm under the rock and pulled herself up sideways. She then had to switch arms and use her left arm to grab hold of the top of the rock and pull herself up. Quite a
lot of effort but it worked, and she emerged victorious. The ice queen had beaten the rock!
Last edit: 02 Dec 2018 11:40 by tonymarshall.

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02 Dec 2018 11:33 - 02 Dec 2018 11:34 #74310 by tonymarshall
Riaang wrote:

From here it was only another 150m ASL to the top of the passover an easily traversable grass gully. By 15:21 we were all assembled at the top. What a view! What a day! Mlambonja Buttress south gully wasfinally conquered. This gully doesn’t get much sun and it was so nice tosit and bask at the top in the sun. We hoisted our packs again and made our way down to the river. Filled up with water and then headed up over the top of Mlambonja pass and down to Twins cave. It was a relief to finally take our packs off and rest properly. It had been a tough but super rewarding day. It was time for dinner. However, before touching
food or drink we had to change into warmer clothes as a freezing wind was blowing. There was no visible snow around in the area, but I knew the weather forecast was for temps down to -5 deg tonight. We changed into warm clothes and then had a nice warm cup of soup. By now it was dark when I saw a headlamp approach. None other than Gaz and Ross arrived to share the cave for the night. We finished up with dinner and then got into bed. By 8pm only Gaz and Ross were still chatting, and the Ice Queen told them to go to bed as she wanted to sleep. 
Last edit: 02 Dec 2018 11:34 by tonymarshall.

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02 Dec 2018 11:47 - 30 Jul 2020 19:31 #74311 by tonymarshall
Thanks again Riaan. 

So having recently read Riaang’s write up, while planning my end of September South Mnweni Passes hike involving the Bell Traverse via Scramble Kop Ridge and Twins Pass, I was pleased to see I had time to fit in a detour to descend Xeni Pass and ascend Mlambonja Buttress South Pass from where it joins into Xeni Pass. After ascending the Bell traverse in the morning, hiding a lot of my gear near Twins Cave, and having lunch at the Kwakwatsi River, I headed towards the top of Xeni Pass on the afternoon of the second day with a light pack. Descending Xeni Pass I was soon at the junction with Mlambonja Buttress South Pass, and had this view up the bottom section. 


The first section was rocky, following the boulder bed. 


A view down the lower rocky section, back to the junction with Xeni Pass. 


Soon I was below the two rock obstacle Riaang described. As expected, I could fit between the two boulders, without my pack on, and had to make a plan with the pack, which was simply to push my pack between the boulders ahead of me, get behind and onto the lower boulder, pick my pack up
and put it on and scramble up the higher boulder. The photo below shows the obstacle, with the narrow gap to the right of and behind the round boulder at the centre of the photo. Once on top of this round boulder I scrambled up the boulder behind it on the left. 


A view back down the lower boulder bed section from above the two rock obstacle. 


Above this obstacle, the boulders were bigger, and several rock bands characterised the ascent. Approaching an unusual rock outcrop, shown in the photo below, it looked like I was heading into a dead end, but as I got nearer to it, I could see up to the grass slopes to the top of the pass, which could be accessed by going around the outcrop on the right. 


This involved scrambling up a steep grass and rock slope around to the right of the outcrop, up the centre of the photo below, and then towards the left near the top. The views out from the pass were also becoming good, but would be even better from higher up. 


The view back down the middle boulder section from just below the scramble. 

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Last edit: 30 Jul 2020 19:31 by tonymarshall. Reason: Correct formatting

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02 Dec 2018 11:58 - 02 Dec 2018 12:01 #74312 by tonymarshall
The boulder bed was slowly giving way to grass slopes, and I had just one more rock band to ascend through, the one Riaang called the “show stopper”. Looking up from below, it appeared quite daunting, but I knew it was doable so wasn’t too concerned. It is the near vertical section below the vee of light in the view up in the photo below. 


Once I got to the obstacle, it was apparent that it would be difficult, with few holds, but would be doable by stemming (the splits as Riaang referred to it) with a foot on either of the steeply sloping sides. The obstacle is quite a bit bigger than it appears in the photo below, and the lower boulder also hides the extent of the slope behind it, and is too far in front of the rock band to use in any way. So using my hands to balance only, with my weight on my feet pressed hard against either side, I went up until the handholds got better and was soon on top. 


From above this upper obstacle was a typical grass slope up to the top of Mlambonja Buttress South Pass. The photo below shows a view down the grass slope once I had ascended some of it, with the upper obstacle visible as the drop off just above the centre of the photo (just in front of the vee of light). 


The pass has spectacular views to the Elephant (the reverse of the view of the pass from the summit of the Elephant in my first post). In the photo below the elephant head and ear is the main feature at the middle of the photo, with the elephant tusk in shadow to the left of the rock face which forms the head. 


The grass slope up to the top of the pass. 


My summit photo at the top of Mlambonja Buttress South Pass, with the Elephant in the background (and some irritating grass in the


Heading south east from the top of the pass, towards the south end of Mlambonja Buttress, I had an awesome google earth type view down the cliffs into the gullies of Xeni Pass variation, Xeni Pass and Mlambonja Buttress South Pass below. 


In the late afternoon I returned back to the top of Mlambonja Pass, descending to overnight in Twins Cave, and the next day I would descend Twins Pass.

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Last edit: 02 Dec 2018 12:01 by tonymarshall.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, elinda, jamcligeo, Riaang, TheRealDave, GriffBaker, WarrenM

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