Mnweni Pass to Rockeries Pass Round Trip

04 Oct 2013 21:54 - 07 Oct 2013 11:46 #58694 by ruthtbl
Ralph (pfoj), Taryn, Celma, Thomas and I (ruthtbl) decided to hike the Mnweni Pass/Rockeries Pass route over 3 days during the September 2013 long weekend. We decided to stay over at the Mnweni Cultural Centre on Friday night (20 September 2013) so that we could get an early start on Saturday morning.
We arranged for the bakkie to give us a lift down the road at 6:30 am on Saturday morning. This would cut about 5 km off our trip. The bakkie driver initially wanted to drop us off about 3.5 km down the road (he insisted that this was the point hikers usually started from to get to Mnweni Pass), but the route we had planned started near the school further down the road. After some confusion the bakkie driver happily took us all the way to the end of the road, near the school. We headed off up a well-defined path past some houses away from the road at about 7 am.

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School can be seen on the left hand side

Ralph had hiked some of this route coming down from Fangs Pass during his Ifidi/Fangs trip , so the route finding was easy and there was a well-defined path to follow.

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Walking on the true left of the Mnweni River

We reached the junction of the Mnweni and Icidi Rivers 2 hours ahead of schedule and we were all feeling quite good about life.

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Some pools at the junction of the Mnweni and Icidi Rivers (these pools are often mistaken for the Mnweni Pools. The actual Mnweni Pools are further downstream along the Mnweni River)

We had a brief rest and decided to push on and eat lunch around Five Star Cave/Shepherds Cave. We again made such good time that we arrived at our lunch spot too early and carried on up the Mnweni River a good way before stopping to eat.
We knew from reading the forum that the turn off for Chichi's Bush Camp was difficult to spot. The weather was still very misty most of the time, which made things even harder. At some point the path began climbing away from the river and we realised that we had missed the turn off to the Bush camp and were starting up Mnweni Pass. We turned back and still couldn't find a definite turn off, but made our way down into the river bed by following sporadic cairns. We still had lots of daylight left to find the Bush Camp (it was about 3 pm), but the weather was getting more and more misty and starting to look like rain. Boulder-hopping up the river also slowed us down considerably.

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Looking back down Mnweni River

None of us had been to Chichi's Bush Camp before and we were all wondering whether it actually existed at this point I think :P Visibility had deteriorated to a few metres from the thick mist and a light drizzle was falling every now and then. We eventually stopped and took shelter under some sorry-looking bushes while Ralph dumped his pack and went searching ahead for the Camp. Ralph returned after about 20 minutes of scouring the valley, having seen no sign of any places to pitch tents. Some choice words were muttered about ChiChi! :evil:
We decided that with the impending rain, we had to find a campsite somewhere soon. The area we had been sitting in was about the closest thing to flat that we could find, and none of us were keen to wonder around in the thick mist looking for a better spot. There were some slightly flatter areas actually in the river bed, but with the threat of rain no one wanted to sleep in the middle of the river. We decided we would remove the worst of the rocks and try to make a flattish area just big enough to set up Ralph's 3-man tent. That way all 5 of us could huddle inside if we had to.
We’d been working on the campsite for about an hour when we heard some disembodied voices through the mist. It was another group of hikers, also heading to Chichi's Bush Camp! They had a GPS, and had been there before! According to the other groups' GPS we were only 100m away from it. One of the hikers in the other group explained that Chichi's Bush Camp is quite sloped, which may have been why we didn't recognise it as a place to pitch our tents. That same hiker took a look at our (now more or less flat) campsite and told us we were actually better off staying where we were. We knew that Chichi's Bush camp wasn't very large anyway, so we decided to stay at the site we had just created instead of trying to squash in with the other group of hikers.

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Our site near ChiChi's Bush camp (christened "ChiChi's Mom" :D)

As soon as we started to set up the tents it began to rain. By using our Tetris skills, we managed to set up both the 3-man and the 2-man tent practically on top of each other. My husband and I were in our new Black Diamond 2-man tent and we initially had some problems with minor leakage and wind because the flysheet wasn't tensioned properly (there wasn't a lot of space to put the tent pegs in, and we had been too cold to bother setting everything up perfectly). After we had warmed up some, my husband slogged back out into the rain heroically and fixed the problem.
By morning the rain had stopped but the mist was still obscuring every feature of the land around us. We optimistically draped our wet gear and clothing over the bushes in the hopes that it would dry while we packed up.

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Misty morning - day 2

The mist would clear for a second or two every now and then and give us a glimpse of the surrounding cliffs and the start of the path up Mnweni Pass.

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Mnweni Pass from our campsite, zig-zag path can be seen on the right

We forced our soggy gear back into our packs at about 9 am and retraced our path down the river and back to the trail leading up Mnweni Pass. During sporadic breaks in the mist we could look back and see Chichi's Bush Camp, where the other group of hikers was still camped. From our vantage point the grassy slopes of the campsite did look pretty steep.

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ChiChi Bush Camp

Before long we started encountering ice. Most of the vegetation in the pass was encased in the stuff.

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Icy grass

The mist was extremely thick and visibility poor, but the path was well-defined and not very treacherous beyond a few loose rocks. Perhaps if visibility had been better some sections would have been scarier, but as it was we could see little of the landscape.

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Mist on the way up Mnweni Pass

Because of the mist we found it difficult to assess our progress up the pass, and only broke for lunch after 1 pm because we were worried that we were going too slowly. Turns out that when we stopped for lunch we were only about 1 hour from the top! We broke free of the mist and hit the escarpment at about 2:30 pm.

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Near the top of Mnweni Pass

There were numerous different hiking groups camping on the escarpment between Mnweni Pass and Rockeries Pass. Luckily there were also numerous fantastic campsites to choose from. There was also great weather up on the escarpment, with only the occasional wisp of mist blowing up from one of the Passes. We gratefully spread out all of our wet gear to dry in the sun. The water in the river was pretty low and not really flowing strongly, but we cooked with it and nobody got sick.

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Our campsite on the escarpment

The next morning both tents were encrusted with ice, but on the positive side the mist seemed to finally have dispersed. We all made a pilgrimage back to the top of Mnweni Pass to see what we hadn't been able to see the day before.

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Looking back down Mnweni Pass

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Can you spot the man?

We had quite a slow start on the morning of this final day. Perhaps being ahead of schedule the first two days made us a bit complacent. We took a leisurely stroll to the edge of the escarpment near Ledgers Cave to take photographs before setting off for Rockeries Pass.

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The leisurely stroll towards the escarpment edge

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Looking towards the Mnweni river from the escarpment edge

We only started the actual Pass at about 10 am.

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Top of Rockeries Pass

I personally found Rockeries Pass far harder than Mnweni Pass, and this was entirely due to the very bad erosion and loose rocks in the top section. As has been mentioned by others, there are multiple donkey paths to follow, but they do all seem to ultimately go in the same direction.

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Top section of Rockeries pass looking down

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On the way down Rockeries Pass

Our pace was much, much slower in an effort to be safe, and we were shocked to find that we had only covered 3 km when we stopped at a river for lunch just before 1 pm! We did move much faster once we were past the worst of the erosion and loose rocks. Ralph was leading and always took the path that led towards the valley and lower ground, so we were constantly drifting towards the left.

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Heading out of the valley after descending Rockeries Pass

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Heading out

We eventually crossed the river and continued along the opposite bank (true left). We could see that there was also another path on the side of the river we had originally been walking on (true right) that was at a slightly higher elevation. The path we used was pretty easy to walk on and more or less flat with some downhill, and we made great time. We eventually crossed the river again near Hlongwane's Kraal and got to the road at about 5:30 pm.
We had planned to call The Mnweni Cultural Centre when we got to the road to arrange for the bakkie to pick us up again, but unfortunately there was no cellphone reception on the road! We met two other hikers (brothers Michael and Andrew) as we were walking down the road that had also been caught out by the lack of cellphone reception. Luckily a little way down the road we met a local with a car and Michael helpfully negotiated with him to give us a lift back to the Cultural Centre. We were seven people in total, so the poor guy had to make two trips. We eventually arrived back at the Cultural Centre at about 6 pm.
Everything went exactly to plan and it was a great hike! :D

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In our rondavel at the Cultural Centre after arriving back

'Please accept the stimulation'
Last edit: 07 Oct 2013 11:46 by ruthtbl.

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05 Oct 2013 11:55 #58695 by Stijn
Looks like you had a great hike - thanks for sharing!

I've got a question (to the forum) about where the actual Mnweni Pools are. It seems from your photo above that those are the pools at the junction of the Icidi and Mnweni Rivers. I know many other hikers refer to those as the Mnweni Pools, but I have always thought them to be further downstream along the Mnweni River, directly opposite the first kraal you get to after leaving the road, when following the normal approach to Mnweni Pass on the true right of the river. There used to be a small concrete pedestrian bridge over the gorge at this point, which seems to have been washed away and replaced with a few logs these days.



They're in the background of the photo below (in the centre, right of the bush) and that's the main Mnweni gravel road in the distance.



So I'm not sure whether these are the Mnweni Pools or not, but they're certainly worth a visit either way!

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05 Oct 2013 15:07 - 06 Oct 2013 11:00 #58697 by ruthtbl
@Stijn

The picture labelled 'Mnweni Pools' in my hike report is indeed of the pools at the junction of the Icidi and Mnweni Rivers. I could be wrong about this area being the Mnweni Pools, and will change the caption and details of the hike report if someone can confirm that the Mnweni Pools are in fact further downstream. Sorry about the confusion if I have mis-labelled this picture :)

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Last edit: 06 Oct 2013 11:00 by ruthtbl.

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05 Oct 2013 16:50 #58698 by Stijn
No worries Ruth - I didn't mean to criticise your captions, just trying to solve a "berg mystery" that I've wondered about every time I'm in that area... :thumbsup:

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05 Oct 2013 16:55 - 05 Oct 2013 17:34 #58699 by ruthtbl
@Stijn
No problem, I would also like to know for sure where all these things are :)

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Last edit: 05 Oct 2013 17:34 by ruthtbl.

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06 Oct 2013 15:35 #58708 by Geordie
Hi all
Yes be nice to clear this one up. We stopped and camped very close to the Icidi pools the same weekend. they were a welcome site after walking down from Mnweni top.

Stijn:: One more time, just for the rcord: which is the true right and left of a river???
Look out for a report from JAX on our hike.
G

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06 Oct 2013 18:31 #58709 by firephish
Thanks for the report, seems like a great hike. It was good to meet you guys (i'm Michael btw) B)

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06 Oct 2013 20:51 - 06 Oct 2013 20:52 #58712 by ruthtbl
Hi firephish/Michael! Thanks so much for the excellent negotiating you did regarding a lift back to the Cultural Centre, you saved all of us from a boring slog down the road! Seems like you guys had a good hike too - I saw the pictures you posted of your tents covered in snow . It's great to meet people from this forum in the real world :)

@Geordie
As far as I understand, if you had to stand in the middle of the river looking downstream, your right hand would be on the 'true right' of the river and your left hand would be on the 'true left' of the river. If this is incorrect, someone please yell at me since this is the method I used to figure out true right and left in my hike report :)

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Last edit: 06 Oct 2013 20:52 by ruthtbl.

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07 Oct 2013 07:43 #58715 by tiska
Thanks for the report. This format (text and photos) of trip reports and passes is a really good one.

About the Mnweni Pools location, Stijn's photo of the pools near the Kraals is correct- no question. They have to be the best set of pools in the Berg.
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07 Oct 2013 08:26 #58717 by ruthtbl
Thanks mnt_tiska!
Great to have some clarity :thumbsup:
I have changed the caption of the relevant photo in my report to: "Some pools at the junction of the Mnweni and Icidi Rivers (these pools are often mistaken for the Mnweni Pools. The actual Mnweni Pools are further downstream along the Mnweni River)"

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