Hike Report: Saddle Nek Pass & Walker's Pass

22 Mar 2017 13:18 - 22 Mar 2017 13:28 #71188 by Dave
This last weekend, 18 - 21 March, Papa Dragon, myself, and Dave Gay (the man behind berg.co.za ) hiked up Saddle Nek Pass and down Walker's Pass, spending three nights in Bushman's Cave, Corncob Cave, and Whyte's Cave. Dave Gay had planned an MBC hike in the area, so Papa Dragon and I were going to do the route in reverse, but when we arrived on Saturday morning, Dave was all on his lonesome, so we teamed up and decided to head out together. The weather was perfect for almost the whole trip, with only some early-morning mist on the Sunday (though who doesn't like early-morning mist?). Photos were taken by Papa Dragon and myself.

The Bushman's Valley:


Farther up Bushman's with a view of Thaba Ngwangwe and Saddle Nek Pass:


The view of Thaba Ngwangwe and Andre's Knob from Bushman's Cave:


The route we took to Saddle Nek Pass the next morning is the one marked on the EKZNW maps, which goes up the valley north of Bushman's Cave and traverses round on what remains of the contour path (see a different approach here ):


This is the view back down the valley one goes up to reach the level of the contour path (Bushman's Cave is on the other side of the nearest ridge on the right):


We ascended in mist, so there are no pics of that, but even in mist the pass is obvious and grassy the whole way. It is an easy pass. This is the view back down as the mist began to clear:


A snack at the top of Saddle Nek was followed by the rather sustained ascent of Isicathula:


This gives one a view of Thaba Ngwangwe to the south with the wheat fields of Thamathu Village in the far distance on the right:


There is then a short traverse to Corncob Cave, which is just on the other side of the nek at the top left of the photo (this area is clearly used by Basothos):

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Last edit: 22 Mar 2017 13:28 by Dave. Reason: Clarity
The following user(s) said Thank You: elinda, Richard Hunt, saros, Papa Dragon, KJM04

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22 Mar 2017 13:25 - 22 Mar 2017 13:41 #71189 by Dave
Corncob can sleep 3 comfortably, 4 at a push. The floor is stony, so it's not the comfiest cave, but it is fairly well protected from the weather. We had to regrettably re-arrange the wall which a Basotho had put quite a bit of effort into, using dung as a kind of cement (we took no photos of the cave, unfortunately). But this is the view from the cave towards Mzimude Cave the next morning:


The route down Walker's Pass is somewhat like Gray's, in that you drop over the ridge and then traverse some rather exposed slopes facing north onto the Mzimude passes and the escarpment towards Sani Pass. Our approximate route to Whyte's Cave (red dot) on the third day was as follows:


There are some smaller caves on the way down Walker's, some marked with white crosses which Papa Dragon surmised to have some religious significance, but which may only mark the caves:




Then one comes to the crux on Walker's. Dave Gay went down with his pack, then Papa Dragon and I lowered our packs down with a rope. A rope makes it a bit easier, but you can do it either way.




The view back up the grassy traverse on Walker's. Care on this section is advised, as the slopes are quite steep in places and the soil can be loose.


The view down the lower sections of Walker's towards Garden Castle:


At the bottom of these spurs there is a faint path leading onto the grassy plateaus marked on the map, but this gradually peters out. From the plateaus one aims for the highest ridge in the distance then drops down the back, but it would probably be best to do this route with someone who knows it, as it would be easy to go down the wrong valley if one had only a map. Whyte's Cave is definitely the most spectacular cave I have stayed in in the Berg. There is ample space, a pool with a high waterfall nearby, and a massive rockface towering above you.




A fantastic hike, all in all, and a route I can highly recommend as an introduction to the Southern Berg (this was my first time).

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Last edit: 22 Mar 2017 13:41 by Dave. Reason: Spelling

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22 Mar 2017 19:33 #71195 by Papa Dragon
Thanks for the report Dave, indeed it was a good hike, and a pleasure to meet you guys..

Dave wrote "There are some smaller caves on the way down Walker's, some marked with white crosses which Papa Dragon surmised to have some religious significance, but which may only mark the caves:"
It was actually Dave G that commented that the crosses are more upright, as in Christian crosses, as opposed to X marks the spot type of markings. There are 2 gullies with crosses. the one closest to the top has no caves that we could find, but the lower one, close to the crux scramble mentioned, has 2 smallish caves, which would accommodate 2 people, maybe they would need a bit of splash protection in driving rain. Can be seen in the pic with Dave G standing near the caves.

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23 Mar 2017 16:02 #71196 by ghaznavid

Dave wrote:


When Hobbit and I did that pass last year, we went over the unnamed 2900+m peak, rather than taking Dave Gay's line through there. There is a very easy scramble on the south side to get down to the spot where you would have come through above the crux in the photo. Based on that photo, I think our scramble was easier.

Admittedly we actually just weren't watching the GPS track and ended up above a cliff line, so we made up our own way through that section. Isn't that what hiking is all about :D

How did you guys find the pass - I rate it as a really worthwhile route, but I don't know of many people who have actually done it.

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23 Mar 2017 17:47 #71197 by Papa Dragon
It's a great pass, awesome views and a real feel of the mountains.

Last year when Smurf, Speckwurst and I did it, we went up, and didn't take off packs on this section.
Coming down now, it just seemed easier to take off the pack, and go down backward, that we could see the footholds etc. Dave G managed fine with his pack on though..

But we didn't find it particularly difficult..

Cheers
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