Organ Pipes Pass- Mlambonja Pass Loop Trip Report

05 May 2015 12:55 - 06 May 2015 07:30 #63637 by JonWells
Smurf and I had planned to do a lower Berg hike over the 1 May long weekend with some of my friends. When they cancelled on us, we decided to change the route to an escarpment hike at Cathedral Peak. Carl (Viking) also put us in touch with a young lady visiting from the UK who was very eager to join a hike in the Drakensberg, and so the 3 of us teamed up to tackle an Organ Pipes – Mlambonja loop.

We arrived at Didima at around 8.30pm, and were rather astonished to encounter a group of 120 hikers from Pretoria, who were assembling to begin their own long weekend adventure. Very curious as to what this was all about, we asked a number of them where exactly they were headed. We received the same answer every time:

“We have no idea where we are going, we just know that we will be given instructions at 11pm, then we head out” :huh:

Just after 9pm, we turned on our headlamps, and hit the trail towards our goal for night one, the old buildings near the base of Thuthumi Ridge. When I say hit the trail, of course I mean, stumble through dense, head high grass, trying to find a path leading to the road up Mike’s Pass. This short cut looked so simple on Google Earth, but as I I have learned many times, Google Earth can be deceiving!

Eventually we reached the road and followed it until the footpath veers to the left up the steep ridge to avoid the lengthy 3km hairpin bend that the road follows. We were surprised to immediately be faced with a fairly high vertical rock wall to be climbed. After checking that we hadn’t perhaps made a navigational mistake, I scrambled up to the top, found the path, and called the others up. A fairly simple climb in the end, just rather unexpected!

From here it was a pretty stiff uphill slog until we eventually rejoined the road at the top. An easy few last kilometres under bright moonlight saw us reach the old buildings at around 11.30pm where we settled in for the night.





The next morning we awoke to a crisp 5°C. We packed up, filled water bottles, and began the very steep climb up Thuthumi Ridge. We had a rest break at Thuthumi Hut, then pushed on up the slope towards the spring, where we hoped to find some water.

Clara and Smurf with Thuthumi Hut in the background



When we arrived, we were happy to see it flowing, so we refilled our waterbottles, had another rest, and continued up the pass.






Just before the summit gully, we encountered 2 Basothos with a pack of around 10 dogs loitering on the path ahead of us. We were a little nervous about how the dogs would behave around us, but as soon as the Basothos spotted us coming, they very kindly dropped around 20m below the path, and took the dogs with them, allowing us a safe passage.

We finally reached the steep grassy summit gully





Before the hike, Merv and I had been a little apprehensive about bringing a stranger along on a hike like this. Although Clara had assured us that she was a fit hiker, we weren’t 100% sure if she would be ok on the steep Drakensberg passes. On the car ride up, she told us she had completed a number of 100km trail runs, so this immediately put our minds at ease. As soon as we began climbing the final stretch, Clara shifted gears and from then on there was no catching her! At around 1:30pm we were all enjoying a well-deserved rest next to the summit cairn.

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Last edit: 06 May 2015 07:30 by JonWells.
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05 May 2015 13:02 - 06 May 2015 07:48 #63638 by JonWells
Before long, we were back on the move again as we still wanted to climb Cleft Peak, and locate a suitable campsite near Cockade Pass. We were caught off guard by quite how big the peak actually was, certainly not the quick up and down we thought it would be!

Icicles on the slopes of Cleft Peak



Climbing Cleft Peak, with Organ Pipes Pass and Ndumeni Dome in the background



After quite some time, and considerable effort, we eventually reached the summit, where we were greeted by an incredible view! Well worth it in the end!





Clara and JonWells near one of the many summit cairns



By now it was late in the day, and we were eager to settle down for the night, so we headed West for around 2km, and set up camp at a pleasant flat spot next to the river.

Nothing like a whiskey at the end of a tough day!

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Last edit: 06 May 2015 07:48 by JonWells.

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05 May 2015 13:05 - 05 May 2015 13:43 #63639 by JonWells



The relatively mild temperature began to plummet as soon as the sun had set, and by 8pm it was already 0°C. Shortly after that, a North Westerly wind picked up, and lifted it to a warmer, but less comfortable 5°C, so we turned in for the night.

Sunrise



Just after 8am the next morning, we were moving again. We crossed over the ridge, and aimed for the top of Cockade Pass. We noticed another group of hikers camped nearby. ( Any of you guys?).





At the top of the pass we had a rest, until the cold wind forced us to keep moving.





From here we made our way through Elephant Gully. It certainly involves a rather monstrous climb at the end, if approaching from the South!

Elephant Gully, with 2 hikers for scale

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Last edit: 05 May 2015 13:43 by JonWells.

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05 May 2015 13:07 - 05 May 2015 15:52 #63640 by JonWells
We rested again at the top, and once we had all caught our breath, covered the next few fairly straight forward km’s to the top of Mlambonja Pass. From here we made our way down to Twin’s Cave where we stopped to have lunch, before continuing down the pass.

Start of Mlambonja Pass



Twins Cave


Looking down Mlambonja Pass


The upper section of the pass was relatively easy going as far as passes go, but once we dropped into the lower sections where the valley narrows, the path became more and more bushy and rocky and our progress really slowed down here. I kept expecting the path to improve around every corner, but it never did. I began having horrible flashbacks of our miserable time in the Leslies-Marble Baths bush a few months back. This was not quite as bad, but still pretty horrible when you are tired and just want to quickly get to camp.





It seemed to go on forever, but eventually “the big tree” let us know that we had finally arrived at the campsite.


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Last edit: 05 May 2015 15:52 by JonWells.

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05 May 2015 13:11 - 07 May 2015 16:36 #63641 by JonWells
Sunrise from Mlambonja bush camp



In the morning we were packed up early, ready to hit the trail, motivated by the thoughts of hamburgers and chips awaiting us on the drive home! We tackled the extremely steep and bushy contour path section, as it exits the valley, and were very relieved when the bush faded away and revealed a nice open path.

A last look back at the peaks



3 hours later we arrived at the hotel, tired, sore, but thankful to have completed another memorable hike!


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Last edit: 07 May 2015 16:36 by JonWells.
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05 May 2015 13:36 #63642 by Smurfatefrog
BTW, the distance is more like 47km, the GPS went beserk at Twins Cave (distance also included a small round trip along part of the Bell Traverse)

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05 May 2015 14:16 #63643 by ghaznavid
Thanks for sharing - it is a good loop. Indeed Cleft Peak is easy to underestimate. That valley above Organ Pipes probably has the highest average gradient for the sides of any escarpment valley - the Ndumeni Dome ridge isn't that much easier either!

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05 May 2015 14:25 #63644 by JonWells
Agreed! On the way up the pass, Smurf was talking us into taking a quick trip up the dome to check out Roland's Cave. Only when we got to the top did we realise what an effort that would be in itself!

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05 May 2015 14:32 #63645 by Riaang
My Garmin Fenix 2 also gave some very weird readings about 200m down the path from Twins cave. It showed me traversing back and forth accross the esacarment and then to the true left side of the valley. It showed I had covered more than 5km's before I even came to the bushy section. I wonder if there is a reception problem at the top? Nice trip report, felt the same about the never ending bushy section :-)
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05 May 2015 14:39 #63646 by diverian
120 hikers WOW that's a little over the KZN Wildlife reccomended max group size of 12 for minimal environmental impact! Did you find out where they actually went ?

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