Four Seasons in the Mnweni

07 Oct 2013 08:52 - 07 Oct 2013 09:17 #58720 by Jax
On Friday afternoon 20 September 2013, 12 of us left Jhb in 3 cars and headed for Bergville, where we had secured the last available accommodation to hikers for the night. Our group met up at Bingelela restaurant later for a good supper and introduction session. Despite the threat of a cold front the weather remained summery warm that evening.
Our group was a mixed bunch, 4 or 5 hard core hikers out for their berg fix, mixed with a couple of older more experienced but slower folks and then a bunch of ‘newbies’. Berg virgins we call them, and hope to entice them to become as hopelessly addicted as we are.



This was payback time for us too. The JHC has given us a lot of experience and opportunities, so Geordie agreed to lead this hike in the club’s name, and accept the group that had booked. We usually take a much smaller group of mostly strong hikers so this was going to be a change.
Saturday morning everyone was ready on time and we headed the 33km to the Mnweni Cultural Centre to pay the mountain fees, register and get transport to the start of the trail. It was busy at the cultural centre, with several groups and forum members arriving and booking in. It was nice to put some faces to names – Elinda, tonymarshall, ccjoubert and a couple more.




12 of us and backpacks into 1 taxi was a squash, but part of the fun.



We started walking in cool overcast weather at 9am.
We spread out along the long gradual walk with the river on our left towards Ntonjelana Pass. 14km was on the map for day 1, including a mountain pass and aprox 1500m gain in altitude. Every now and then we regrouped for short breaks and photo stops. Cameras were aplenty and ready to catch your every move. I secretly wondered if we had bitten off more than we can chew. Susanne had decided to walk in trainers, as her new hiking boots gave her blisters. One of the older members had had a mild stroke a few months before and an eager youngster, Rachel, was not quite sure of her own capabilities. Just a note – Penny & I had removed at least 2kg excess weight from each of a few of the bags beforehand, with the owners permissions!



By mid morning we were at the base of the ridge that signals the start of the pass and all was well. Last water fill up as we were unsure of any more until over the top. No going back now, all 12 of us headed up into the mist. Although we spread out over about half a km, all went well. Mist turned to drizzle and the higher we got the colder it got. The wind increased steadily as we rose. Lunch was halfway up the pass and everyone fine. By 4.30pm everyone topped out with whoops of excitement and relief. It was freezing cold and drizzling in the mist so we headed out to find a campsite. Around the hill to the left was our intention, good water and off the local highway into Lesotho. A spot was identified and tents erected and weary hikers escaped the cold and wet. Sounds of cooking and some chatter quickly faded as it got dark and we fell asleep with the sound of soft rain on the tent.
At about 1.30am Geordie & I stirred and I was surprised when I opened my eyes to see it was quite light in the tent. A quick hand on the roof met with thunk! Frozen solid layer? We struggled to get a zip open to inspect what had happened – a winter wonderland.



Rain had turned into silent snowfall, just a few centimetres but enough to make everything white. The snow had frozen on the tent and we had our own personal igloos which were warm inside due to the insulating effect.


The group stirred gradually the next morning with exclamations of surprise at our landscape. Cameras came out in force. We started walking at about 8am.



No moans or complaints of stiffness or pain from the hard day before. Today we had about 10km to traverse across to the top of Mnweni and Rockeries Passes. George led us the scenic route along the sharp edge as much as possible. The mist was lifting quickly and the views over the edge just got better and better. Adrenalin junkies posed for pics on precarious looking rocks overlooking the vastness below. One wrong step could mean a 1000m plunge to the foothills below.




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Last edit: 07 Oct 2013 09:17 by Jax.
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07 Oct 2013 09:00 #58721 by Jax
Replied by Jax on topic Four Seasone in the Mnweni
Tea time brought the first worry, Neil’s tent had gone awol from the back of his pack. As we had covered quite a few km by then, visions of who would be obliged to share sleeping space arose in peoples minds. But George decided to set the GPS to backtrack, and him and Neil set off without packs to see if it could be found. About 20 minutes later They returned triumphant, tent in hand. George showed him how to tie it on so even if it slipped out again it would dangle and whack him in the legs.
We passed by the South and North Saddle, Nquza Pass and then the vulture colony.











The trail went gradually down into the upper Mnweni area, the birthplace of the mighty Senqu (Orange) River. Camp was at the trickle of water that was available at the mighty river’s source. The valley looked like tent city with at least 6 groups of hikers plonked over the 5km2.



Our groups spirits were high with everyone having enjoyed the views and easier terrain than the previous day.
George decided to split the group the next morning. He sent Roger, an experienced hiker with his own GPS, to the head of the pass and asked him to oversee a nice slow descent of the pass while the stronger hikers did a cave exploration.



Mponjwane and Ledgers caves were enjoyed by the stronger group who then began to descend Mnweni Pass about 2 hours later. We passed by Ruth’s group who were enjoying the view while on this cave hunt.



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07 Oct 2013 09:13 #58722 by Jax
Replied by Jax on topic Four Seasone in the Mnweni










2 Hours later we rejoined the rest who were waiting as instructed at the river at the base of the pass. This spot could easily house 4-5 tents if necessary, it’s just very close to the path. The weather had warmed up and everyone was down to shorts and tshirts. Rachel had tired feet in the icy river and I could see she was wearing a knee guard, but no complaints. After lunch we continued down along the river. As the afternoon wore on I was keen to get to the Mnweni marble pools to cool my feet. They took forever to appear and I felt quite grumpy by then and took myself off for a cool bath away from the group.



The bath did me good and I rejoined the group feeling somewhat better. As a regular berg hiker, I wondered how some of the others were feeling if i felt that tired and sore.....
Supper was in the riverbed in our communal dining area, because camp was in the tall dry grass bordering the river.





A nice campsite with sand and level areas for tents, but a fire risk. A balmy evening led into a lovely warm night.

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07 Oct 2013 09:16 #58723 by Jax
Replied by Jax on topic Four Seasone in the Mnweni
The next morning everyone was ready early, so George pointed Roger off in the right direction while we waited for last few to pack up but by 7.30am everyone was walking.



About 20 minutes later no one had seen Roger, who had taken the low path, but we found him about an hour later walking along the river, and waited about 10 minutes for a catch up.



We got to the new bridge on The Mnweni River by 10am much to Agrippa’s surprise and waited for his bakkie to arrive.



All 12 of us and packs jumped onto the back of the bakkie for a slow drive back to the cultural centre.

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07 Oct 2013 09:22 #58724 by ruthtbl
Replied by ruthtbl on topic Four Seasons in the Mnweni
Thanks Jax! Great report :thumbsup:
How do-able would this route be in 3 days/2 nights? For example could we do the following without killing ourselves:

Up Ntonjelana Pass and and far as we could across the escarpment on day 1; camp on the escarpment.
Rest of the way across the escapment to Mnweni Pass and down the pass on day 2; camp at ChiChi's bush camp.
Hike out to the Cultural Centre on day 3.

Is the above overly ambitious?

'Please accept the stimulation'

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07 Oct 2013 09:49 #58726 by Jax
Replied by Jax on topic Four Seasons in the Mnweni
Ruth it would be doable with a strong and willing group, good weather conditions and a couple of long days. The attached track imposed on Google earth shows our hike. Without the cave jaunt and taxi rides we hiked a total of 45km. Keep in mind we went LEFT at the top of Ntonjelana to sleep, as the nearest water after turning right at the top is a good couple of km and at least another 200m in altitude gain to clear the ridge, further.

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07 Oct 2013 14:21 #58730 by ruthtbl
Replied by ruthtbl on topic Four Seasons in the Mnweni
Thanks for that! This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for :) Any chance that I could get the GPX data for that route?

George led us the scenic route along the sharp edge as much as possible


Would you say the route you took across the escarpment was the fastest (it looks fairly straight on your map), or could one save a bit of time somewhere?

Keep in mind we went LEFT at the top of Ntonjelana to sleep, as the nearest water after turning right at the top is a good couple of km and at least another 200m in altitude gain to clear the ridge


Any idea how many km to water after turning right at the top of the pass? Obviously I would be keen to get some of the escarpment trip done on day one, but this would depend on how far we had to go to reach water.

'Please accept the stimulation'

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08 Oct 2013 02:38 #58741 by Serious tribe
Some really nice images. The one with the griffon looks good, also seems to be quite sharp.

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