Fangs/Mbundini Loop: The Dragon’s Teeth

03 May 2015 20:12 - 03 May 2015 20:27 #63601 by ghaznavid
Fangs/Mbundini Loop: The Dragon’s Teeth

I have said for a while that I have 6 passes on my Mnweni to-do list. Having done Mnweni/Rockeries in November 2013 I thought the May Day long weekend would be a good time to go and do the second instalment – Fangs/Mbundini.

I posted an invite on VE, and about a week later I found myself walking into Mnweni Cultural Centre only to see a familiar face at the door. I was asked “what are you doing here” by a rather Intrepid character. He gave me some valuable data on the passes, which did a great job of supplementing what Tony Marshall had already given me. One nice thing about Mnweni is that the most knowledgeable and helpful guys on the forum have all done most or all of the passes at Mnweni.

By 11PM my teammates had still not arrived, so I decided to get some sleep. When I woke up the next morning they had miraculously appeared. They arrived at around 1AM. Our team was made up of RiaanG, ASL, Nico and Sanet (Riaan’s wife).

Our plan had been to do the walk-in on Friday, up Fangs on Saturday and down Mbundini and back to the car on Sunday. Looking at distances, this would give the Gauteng guys a very late night – we knew we needed to alter our plans.

We had considered trying to push for Fangs Cave on Friday, but Intrepid pointed out that this wasn’t wise. So we agreed that we would take our full packs to the escarpment on Saturday, in case we took too long to get up Fangs or someone wasn’t feeling well – but we agreed that we would push for doing both passes in a day.

Agrippa arranged for us to get taken roughly 3km down the road to the start of the high walkin. Without including a long overly detailed account of the walkin – it was boiling hot and took ages to get through the overgrown bits. Sanet wasn’t feeling too well after eating some dodgy food, so we ended up ditching the high route and following the river. This resulted in us ending up in some thick overgrown and rocky terrain. We eventually gave up this ploy and headed for the low approach.

The walk to the Fangs/Mbundini split took a while, and by around 3PM we had our tents set up.

Saturday morning – a big day. Nico and Ian/ASL decided to sleep in and meet up with us on the pass. The other 3 of us were off at 6:15 – we took Tony’s advice quite literally. This was, stay in the riverbed until it runs out, then follow the grass slope to the top. I had read that this pass was arguably the most scenic pass in the Berg, so my expectations were high.

The lower rocky section was not too bad at all, it was not particularly loose and navigation was mostly simple. It took us about 3h30 to get through the rocky section. At the start of the grassy section, in beautiful clear weather, we agreed that I would push ahead so that I could take my lunch at the top while I waited for the others – this would allow the others to take lunch on the river while I shot up Mbundini Abbey.

The grass gully of the pass is good and solid – I stayed on the north (true left) and this worked out quite well. I topped out at 11:15 – so exactly 5 hours to get up. Riaan and Sanet topped out 15 minutes later, Ian and Nico toped out 25 minutes after the other 2.

Having had a 40 minute break on top, I felt strong. We walked down to the river in the valley below – Riaan and myself walked past Rat Hole Cave while the others took the shorter line.

Regarding the rating – Stijn had rated it a 7/10***** - ratings are always very subjective, and I have to disagree with this one. I rate Fangs is easier than, say Tseketseke Pass. I also don’t rate its quality that highly. The pass is good a solid – worth doing for someone looking for a nice Berg pass with a long walkin – but the view is not even on par with Mashai or Mnweni Pass. Don’t get me wrong, the view of this cutback from Rwanqa Peak is one of the most spectacular views of a cutback, but the pass doesn’t give you these spectacular views. I would call it a 6/10 ****.

The river in the valley was quite dry, with only a small trickle of water. I left the others at 12:25, and (after summiting 2 false tops), stood on top of Mbundini Abbey at roughly 12:50. This brought my Mnweni Khulu count to 15 – more than I have anywhere else (ironic isn’t it). I knew time was tight, so I got some summit shots, and then briskly walked back to the others. Around 1:10 we set off for Mbundini Pass (for those who don’t know, this is quite a climb from the river below).

I left my pack at the top of the pass to run up Mbundini Buttress – this khulu also had a great view over the Fangs cutback. It also looked straight at Stimela Peak – perhaps too close to meet the strict definition of a khulu, but I doubt you could take a sub-1km line between the peaks.

The team had begun down the pass already, so I largely ran down the summit section. My progress rapidly came to a halt when I hit the first very loose section. The team was waiting for me just below this. When I caught up we began again.

We did our best to follow Tony’s GPS track through the top section – with how steep the pass is, you can’t see the best line below you. This made the track very helpful, I imagine this is less of a problem when coming up the pass. We eventually got through the hectic top sections and from there kind of made up our own line.

We pulled into camp about 20 minutes after sunset, as it was getting dark. It was almost full moon, so all was good. 2 passes, 2 khulus, 16km total – quite a hectic day!

My rating of Mbundini Pass – it is long and loose. As far as scenery goes I rate it as far superior to Fangs Pass. The loose grass slopes make it a tricky pass – actually probably better described as a less enjoyable pass. It is tricky to rate harder passes as I haven’t done enough of these – but I would say this pass deserves 8/10**. I would most certainly not expect do it again (but stranger things have happened).

On Sunday we walked out on the full high route – this was scenic. Not much to say about today – we didn’t manage to get a lift up the road, so we walked the entire final section.

All in all a good productive weekend. This drops my Mnweni list to “just” the Ifidi/Icidi loop – which can wait for a while.

My thoughts on Mnweni as it currently stands from my experience so far:

The walkins are very far, this makes it difficult to hike there unless you have a lot of time available. Having now done both the full low walkin (in 2013) and the full high walkin (this trip), this section, while scenic, doesn’t hold massive appeal to me from a repetition point of view. Mnweni’s passes are yet to capture my imagination, but this area has some really incredible khulus. Mnweni/Rockeries/Fangs are all good passes – but the overgrown areas are rather annoying. Really it is a matter of opinion - and for me, Didima and Garden Castle still hold the greatest appeal for me.

Don't get me wrong - Mnweni is beautiful, but I am yet to find a part of this mountain range that is not beautiful.

Anyway – stats for this weekend:
Day 1: 18km
Day 2: 15km (including roughly 4km for bagging khulus)
Day 3: 21km

Photos taken: 322

Ps. Sorry Intrepid – I forgot to take your pack back up Mbundini Pass. Sadly I don’t plan on going back to that pass, so I’ll have to pass on that promise :p

Photos to follow soon...
Last edit: 03 May 2015 20:27 by ghaznavid.
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03 May 2015 20:42 #63602 by ghaznavid

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03 May 2015 20:47 #63603 by ghaznavid

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03 May 2015 20:49 #63604 by ghaznavid

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04 May 2015 00:45 #63605 by Serious tribe
Hi Ghaz

Thanx for the good, and as always in depth write up. Images were good.

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04 May 2015 17:53 #63619 by ghaznavid
Just to add to what I wrote in conclusion - MCC is a great and commendable community project. I know that I can arrive there late at night and all will be fine, the local community is incredibly friendly - it is worth visiting. In my mind, every area of the Berg has a standout feature - everything at Garden Castle is massive, Giants Castle has lots of easy passes and is well set for day trips, Didima is very dramatic and has 24 hour gate times. For Mnweni I find the standout feature to be the town and the centre.

For me it is the longest drive (in terms of time, and 2nd in terms of distance - 20km closer than RNNP - ok Witsieshoek is further, but that is driving into another province), the road isn't ideal for my car (which struggles to clear certain speed bumps) and it requires the longest walkins anywhere in the Berg. I can drive to Didima Camp on a Friday afternoon, stay at the campsite, be walking at first light, camp on top and be home by 7PM on Sunday. At Giants Castle I can get up at 4AM, be walking at 6:30, back at my car by 7PM and home by 9PM. At Mnweni I can't do this. One could argue that I am "fortunate" to live in PMB - but it is an active choice that does have other implications.

Before I return to Mnweni I need to do some hiking at Injisuthi, Lotheni and Vergelegen - being the only sections of the KZN Berg in which I am yet to do a pass (although I have done a khulu in all KZN Berg regions). My target of 50 different passes and 100 different khulus are also getting near, I am now on 43 and 78 respectively. Having done a GT in both directions, I only have 3 other incomplete Berg goals (all Khulus south of Mafadi; 16 left, all Free State khulus; all 20 left, and all khulus above 3300m; 7 left).

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04 May 2015 18:44 #63620 by Stijn
Did that monologue make you feel better Ghaz? :laugh: :thumbsup:

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04 May 2015 18:57 #63621 by ghaznavid

Stijn wrote: Did that monologue make you feel better Ghaz? :laugh: :thumbsup:

After spending 6 nights in tents in 10 days, sleeping in my own bed is sufficiently awesome (my air mattress acquired a leak this weekend :( )

But anyway - just trying to clarify what I am saying. I think it often comes across that I dislike Mnweni (which is not true), but yes - this has largely become a monologue :laugh:

Memories of my Gypaetus Pass thread - I think there were 12 posts and 10 of them were by me.

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04 May 2015 19:21 #63622 by andrew r
Another entertaining read Ghaz, with useful and inspiring images, thanks for sharing.

You know, the absence of comments does not by definition mean that people disagree, they're probably more likely to voice an opinion if it differs B) (I suspect Stijn was just trolling poking fun.)

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04 May 2015 21:06 #63627 by HFc
Thanks for the write up!!

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