Up Ifidi down Mnweni: Heavy and slow

01 Sep 2015 13:16 #64881 by Riaang
Well, not that slow actually ;-)

This hike was our last Berg hike before we depart for Nepal later in September 2015. I reckoned Ifidi with a heavy backpack should offer us with sufficient training material and I was not disappointed!

I'll be posting the three day trip over a couple of days as I get time to type it all up.

The original plan was to ascend Ifidi on Friday 28 August, overnight in Ifidi cave and then walk South around the Mnweni cutback and overnight in Ledgers cave for Saturday night. On Sunday we would descend via Mnweni pass, walk back to the MCC and drive back home to Jo’burg on Sunday 30 August 2015.
We had an uneventful drive down to the MCC on Thursday 27 Aug 2015 and arrived there at around 8pm. We were all quite tired so had dinner and climbed into bed. I can definitely recommend the 4 bed rondawels, I needed a good night’s rest before attempting Ifidi the next day.

Day1:
My alarm went off at 5am on Friday morning, we got out of bed (some easier than others), had breakfast and then hit the dirt road out North at 6:30am. It was quite interesting coming across many kids running to school (think they also battled to get out of bed), and not one of them asked for a sweety! Guess they were too focussed on getting to school on time.

We had an easy hike up to Grascutters cave and stopped for a bite to eat in the lush forest just below the cave. Sort of reminded me of a typical Mpumalanga hike complete with moss hanging down from the trees. After the break the terrain changed as did the incline. The sun was by now above us and it was seriously hot – winter was clearly over in the Mnweni area. We eventually got into the river bed and the rock hopping started. I actually prefer boulder hopping to walking on normal paths as the terrain constantly changes which keeps it interesting. The further up we went the more interesting it became. Eventually the rocks became too large to hop over and the climbing started. We eventually arrived in a mini amphitheatre of sorts and it looked like we would have to climb out of the riverbed and traverse on the flat area above the river bed on the left to get past this obstacle. The side slopes were unfortunately very loose and steep and I dislodged a boulder (which probably weighed between 20 – 30kg’s). Couldn’t move my leg out the way as it was supporting my weight, so the boulder landed squarely on my left quad and then bounced off my leg – ouch!!! We then decided to rather find a way out through the boulder strewn riverbed and found a spot where, with a bit of clever climbing (for us non-climbers) we managed to get out.

Upwards and onwards we proceeded, past huge boulders and then we found our way blocked by trees. Onto the grassy banks on the right (true left) we went, then back down into the boulder strewn riverbed time and time again. By now we were pretty tired and we stopped just below the pinnacles for a well deserved break and a bite to eat. I had read on the VE water watch that there might be a shortage of water on top so I filled up with 4L of water at 2200m. This made my backpack really heavy and made my progress up the pass painfully slow and difficult. Same for Sanet, but I’d rather we suffer here than on Everest. That last pull up the gully was really hard on the legs. Unlike most other passes that you can just walk up this one still had a couple of climbing sections that you had to get past before the top. A fairly strong and cold wind had also started blowing down the pass, making progress even slower and harder. You are too tired to move fast, but if you slow down you start freezing. We’ll, only thing to do then is to continue climbing so we pushed on and eventually got to the top of the pass. On the left of the pass about 40m from the top we found a huge block of solidly frozen ice, that thing will need some serious heat before it melts. It might even still be there in December – but somebody else can go check up on it 

We had about 15 minutes of sunlight left when we got to the top at 17:45 and still had to find Ifidi cave. However, we weren’t sure of exactly where to drop down the rock bands after finding the false Ifidi cave. Sanet was also seriously unhappy about walking on the escarpment edge with a strong and cold wind blowing, and was really tired so we rather decided to pitch the tent. We found a nice and comfy flat spot a little above False Ifidi cave and proceeded setting up tent. Not much fun in the cold and pumping wind, so Nico and I pitched the tent while Sanet recovered in the emergency bag. Once in the tent we boiled water and started off with a nice cup of hot steaming soup. Rehydrated and with some heat back in the bodies we felt much better. Next came dinner and I can’t remember if we had the customary cup of hot chocolate afterwards, I was too tired and just got into my sleeping bag for a well deserved nights rest.

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02 Sep 2015 08:54 #64891 by Spykid
Any pictures Riaan ? :)

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02 Sep 2015 09:28 #64894 by Riaang
@Spykid, will post them probably over the weekend - need to rotate them on my wive's laptop as mine's Windows 8 autorotates and last time I posted them from my gallery a lot of them came out upside down! Would prefer to post them right side up :)

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02 Sep 2015 10:47 #64901 by saros
@RiaanG Use an app called Irfanview.. Very handy in quickly editing and rotating pics and its a no charge app

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02 Sep 2015 13:23 #64902 by Riaang
Thanks Saros, will try it but the problem is I don't know if the original image is upside down or not - Windows 8 automatically rotates so all the images looks fine - until I post them here :angry:

Will post a few pics, lets see :blush:

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02 Sep 2015 13:50 #64903 by Riaang
Images of day 1:

Walking through the last of the rondawels and getting closer to the mountain



Forest below grasscutters cave



Distant view of pinnacles



Boulders are getting large



Lots of water in riverbed



Big boulders in riverbed (as in house sized)



Approaching the pinnacles



Deep into the final gully, looking back



Interesting piece of rock close to the top



The head of Ifidi pass - at LAST!!!

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02 Sep 2015 14:13 #64904 by Riaang
Day 2:
Gggrrrr, gggrrrr, gggrrr sounded my Fenix 2’s alarm at 5am. This is so wrong, the sun isn’t up yet and I definitely don’t feel like going out into the cold, dark windy blackness. The other two are also clearly ignoring the wakeup call so we sleep in for another 45 minutes. Since we have another big day ahead of us we HAVE to get going soon, so I get out of my sleeping bag to start the coffee machine – uhm, MSR Windboiler. Thankfully the first rays of sunlight are starting to heat up the air a bit, and the wind is much more manageable this morning. We have coffee, Woolies oats crunchies (the cranberry and pumpkin seed version) and a nice Nescafe Cuppachino. Properly hydrated, fuelled with tons of energy and heated up from the inside we break up camp, pack our backpacks and hit the Ifidi ridge directly above us.

We head down South and climb the ridge directly, with a bit of a wind blowing in from the North helping us up the ridge. Got to the top and then proceeded close to the escarpment edge walking in a big semi-circle towards Icidi. We still had enough water that we carried up the past the previous day so no need to drop down the valley for H20. We contour around the ridges and get to the side of Icidi. Wow, the view down into the pass from the North is absolutely stunning! Nico checks out a good launching spot for his wingsuit buddies and this makes Sanet quite nervous. She has this thing about cliff edges…. We will definitely have to do this pass some time, it looks pretty intimidating.

We then proceeded along Stimela ridge onwards towards Mlambonja pass. We found a nice little pond high up on the ridge, wonder where this water comes from? Remnant of the snow fall 3 weeks ago? Underground water coming out here? Doesn’t matter as we now don’t have to drop down hundreds of meters for water. We top up with enough water to get us to the river below Fangs pass and sommer use the break to munch on a Lunchbar or two. Nico swallows a tadpole and Sanet immediately starts checking out her Source bladder to see if there are any visible aquatic creatures swimming around in her container. None was found so we hoisted our packs and got going again.

The pass heads now fell in quick succession as we continued on our march southwards. Mbundini, Madonna and her worshippers, Fangs etc. The views over the Outer and Inner Mnweni Needles and behind them far to the South Cathedral peak and the Bell were breathtakingly beautiful. The sky was by now very hazy, a clear sign of veld fires. We saw a couple of smoke clouds lower down the valley and I got flashbacks of our Injasuthi trip same time last year where a huge veld fire wiped out most of the vegetation of the lower berg. It meant we then had to descend down Leslies in the smoke and walk through areas still burning in the valleys below. I was really hoping that we wouldn’t find the same on Sunday.

By now we could eyeball Mponjwane on our left, so we were quite happy with our progress. We were walking on well defined paths around the Mnweni cutback so could put on the afterburners. Depending on the shape of the ridges we were traversing, the wind was either from the front or blowing from the side. Even though it was just after midday I just couldn’t generate enough heat to stay warm in my T-shirt so eventually had to stop and put my 100 fleece top on. Aaahh, just right :) . Somewhere deep into the cutback we stopped at a ridge a little out of the wind for another quick food break. By now our feet was starting to feel sensitive as we had covered a fair distance for the day. The quick break felt really good, relieving the pressure off your feet.

Every now and then we’d get a glimpse of Mponjwane but the thing was just not getting any closer. Sanet was eventually really frustrated with me as my reply to her question as to how far we are from Ledgers cave for the last two hours was the same: 6km’s. This was due to the fact that we were walking in a big semi-circle, first approaching it from the North, then the West (6km’s), then the South (6kms) and then finally as we rounded the bottom of the teacup the distance started to decrease.

We had two options – we could either stay high and traverse closer to the escarpment edge or drop down to the Orange river. Option one I had drawn up in Mapsource but the terrain was fairly broken with lots of rock on the side slopes. It definitely didn’t look this rough on Google Earth. Option 2 was to drop down to the valley floor, save about 1,3km’s distance but then climb an extra 88 vertical meters. In the end water availability forced our hand. We were out of water and had to drop down to the valley floor. This little valley just West of Rockeries is really, really beautiful. Wouldn’t mind sleeping here one evening as the setting is stunning, just not so sure of the shepherds and their large dogs living in the rondawel on the slopes of the ridge on the Southern end of the valley.

We found a couple of stagnant pools closer to Mnweni pass that was clearly heavily used by animals. I didn’t particularly like the look of the water but as we were completely dry we didn’t really have a choice. Nico and I filled up while Sanet had continued walking a bit higher up towards the cave. One more steep little hill and we were on the plateau for the last kilometre to Ledgers cave. The sun was one finger breadth above the escarpment edge, so we switched into overdrive for the home straight. I wanted to get down the steep climb to Ledgers cave before all light was gone. We got to the cave at 17H40, with just enough light left to set up camp and get the food started :) .

That view from Ledgers is just so stunning, I reckon I can spend a few days there just to absorb it all. Last time we had a bit of a wet and misty night with a sea of cloud below us the next morning. This time no mist at night (I really hate to put on wet socks the next morning) but a cool wind was blowing right through the night. This was one of my windiest trips to the berg I can remember. The wind wasn’t blowing very hard but it was always blowing, 24/7. I had to make sure I pack my dirty clothes properly out of the way of the wind as it would otherwise be blown off the cliff. Weighted down with stones they dried out nicely during the night, without flying off the cliff face.

Due to the very suspect water we collected at our last waterpoint we decided to first treat it with “staaldruppels” (Salveo water sanitation drops), whereafter we also boiled it properly. Even after boiling it the water still didn’t look particularly appealing, it stayed a bit murky – probably from all the dead bacteria in the water ;-)

We started out with a nice packet of soup (rehydrate and put some electrolytes back into the body), thereafter we had the main meal. It was – wait for it – Maggie’s 2 minute Noodles :-(

Sanet didn’t have the appetite for a heavy Backcountry meal and it would have been a bit much for me (the large packet) so we had the noodles. Fortunately Nico had been experimenting with his own dehydrated food so we could add some dehydrated mince with chilly to the noodles, as well as a packet of cheese sauce. That really spruced it up very nicely, and Sanet decided that for our next hike she will prepare the same for us. Go for it woman! The evening meal was then rounded off with a nice cup of Nestle Hot Chocolate – one sachet contains an amazing 404kj of energy, and as a plus it really tastes good too :lol: .
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02 Sep 2015 14:43 #64905 by Riaang
Day 2 images:

Sunrise over Ifidi pinnacles




Starting the hike for day 2 over Ifidi Ridge on the right



Perfect spot for a wingsuit jump from Icidi's Northern side




Pond high up on the ridge




Madonne with her worshippers and beyond the Mnweni needles




Another view on the Mnweni needles




Getting closer to our overnight spot - or are we?




Approaching Mponjwane from the South West




The home stretch




Home sweet home for the night - Ledgers Cave

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03 Sep 2015 08:59 #64923 by GetaPix
Thanks for account of the hike and especially the pictures. Love it. Good luck with your planned trip

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03 Sep 2015 13:32 #64932 by Riaang
Day 3:
Gggrrr, gggrrr, gggrrr. Not again!!! It’s 5am and nobody wants to get out of their warm sleeping bags. I need to reset my alarm for later in winter, that’s for sure. Sanet claims to not even have heard the alarm, and based on the snoring coming from the overhang everybody needed a bit more rest. I gave them 30 more minutes then shouted to all to get up. I was clearly not the most popular person at that point in time :blink: . The fast approaching sunlight painted the early morning sky in a soft pink glow and I didn’t want anyone to miss it. We got out of our warm sleeping bags and started the typical morning routine. Coffee, Woolies crunchy biscuits, saddle up and ready to go.

Last year this time there was snow on the ridges to the west, but today was different. No snow, with a hot wind blowing from the North. We walked over the table top towards Mnweni pass and on the way found two pools with good quality water, so we dumped the rest of our murky water from last night and filled up with enough water to last us to the bottom of the pass. We started the pass in the shade and made good progress going down. The top sections had degraded quite a bit from when we were here last time, making for a couple of slippery scree skiing manoeuvres on the way down. I landed on my bottom 3 times, the last one being particularly un-fun. I tried to stabilise myself and just before my left hand touched the ground a really stingy plant jumped in right under my hand. Ouch!!! My whole hand was covered with fine yellow bristles. Fortunately I had applied sun tan lotion to my arms not to long before and some of it was still left on my hands. This enabled me to wipe off a lot of the pointy bits quite easily, but Sanet had to still use her nails on me to get the rest out as best as she could. Very thin, 4mm long needles in your fingers are definitely not fun when you are holding onto your hiking pole, so I had to stop a couple of times and beg for more nail treatment. Eventually we made our way down to the bottom of the pass. We were once again out of water and by now the sun had caught us as we were walking out and away from the pass and down the Mnweni river.

The previous time we were here we ascended in thick mist and didn’t know where the path was, so we boulder hopped up the river all the way right up to the foot of the pass. Before leaving on this tripped I checked out the area on Google Earth and could clearly see the path all the way down on the true right running just above the riverbed on the side. Knowing where to walk makes such a difference, both in comfort and time. Just as you come round a piece of mountain that forced you into the riverbed there is a side stream coming in from the right and the flat area picks up from here all the way down the valley. Nico and Sanet weren’t so sure so they carried on boulder hopping down the Mnweni river. I knew there should be a path on the terrace above me so I climbed up a bit of a dodgy section but managed to scramble to the top. Once there I found the path and could comfortably walk ahead and found a spot where they could climb out of the riverbed and onto the terrace. It was just a little way before the Fangs tributary joins the Mnweni, just below Shepherds cave (but on the opposite side of the river).

From here on it was easy walking all the way home. However, by now all the distance we covered and the heavy backpacks were starting to take their toll. At the last fork in the river Sanet needed a longer break, so I left her with Nico and sped down to the MCC to fetch the car. Previously, as you approach the dirt road you would ascend a little hill, go past a couple of rondawels and then drop down again to get to the dirt road. On the climb up out of the valley I could see (due to the burnt grass) a footpath dropping down towards the river on the left, about halfway between the school and the new bridge over the Mnweni. This approach would be slightly longer but much flatter which, I reasoned, should get me to the MCC faster. And with less pain. And it was a new route option I haven’t tried before, so Me Myself and I had a quick meeting and decided to take the easy road. From here I had to cross the river (winter so low water level) for an easy, fast final 4km’s to the car. I managed to save the others a full 2,7km’s of boring dirt road walking in the end. After taking a refreshing shower we were ready to hit the road. We each had a lekker cheese burger combo at the Maxi’s in Bergville (man, they tasted sooooo good), filled up with fuel and then drove home.

In conclusion:
• Ascending Ifidi pass with a heavy backpack in a day makes for a long and tough day’s hiking
• That walk down South all around the Mnweni cutback is spectacular but also quite long and your feet are going to hate you for it. It’s worth it though, you can patch up your feet when you are back home. If you pick up a blister or two, give them a “Hot Shot” and you should be fine the next day (Fryers Balsam injected into the blister after draining it first)
• We used this trip as our final training hike for the Everest Basecamp trip later in September, intentionally taking heavy backpacks, climbing over difficult terrain and walking long distances every day. Hopefully it prepared us for what lies ahead……
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