In the midst of khulus
So, our plan was this:
Day 1: hike up to Sleeping Beauty Cave, climb the ridge above it and hike at 2400m to south Mzimude Pass. Sleep in Mzimude Cave
Day 2: traverse to the river behind Rhino peak and climb some khulus along the way
Day 3: descend Rhino Pass
Ok – so we did do a bit of that, but for the most part, no…
The last few weeks have seen massive volumes of rain throughout KZN due to a low pressure system sitting over the escarpment. These rains have caused massive damage to property and have cost many people their lives. In this context we were worried about the levels of water in Berg rivers, and the possible damage to passes.
The group was made up of myself, Simon (Fitness) and Johan.
So we left Garden Castle car park. The route to Sleeping Beauty Cave being a route we had all done before. The path was more like a river than a path in places, the Dragon looking amazing in the green and black of a wet summer. Waterfalls could be seen at every turn. When I see views like this I remember why I think that summer is the best time of the year for hiking.
We turn the corner to see the Monk – the lighting is perfect. No question where the name of this peak came from.
We reach the first river crossing and immediately realise that the only way across is barefoot. We all de-shoe and head across. The current is strong and trekking poles prove to be useful. We know that we have a few upcoming river crossings so we decide to go barefoot for a while. The plan proves to be good and we easily get through the next few river crossings.
We reach Sleeping Beauty Cave at 10:30 – a full half an hour behind schedule. The excess water around has cost us time, but we still have plenty of time to reach Mzimude Cave before sunset.
As we walk past the cave, not bothering to go in, we reach the overgrown patch behind the cave. The usual path leads under what is normally a small waterfall. No such luck this time! The raging river falling over the cliff leaves us 2 options – traverse the fairly wet rock behind the waterfall or trek through the thick overgrown vegetation. We elect the vegetation.
After 1 hour of really difficult trekking we emerge 20m ahead of where we were a short time before. Johan realises that he has lost his glasses, I realise that I have also lost my sunglasses. Nonetheless we keep moving.
There are many baboons on top of the ridge above Sleeping Beauty Cave, but as usual, they move off as we approach. We soon find ourselves on top of the ridge between the Mashai River Valley and the Hidden Valley. Looking up Bollard pass we discuss the notion of some thinking that the pass is easy! What a nice spot to stop for lunch…
We head off after eating, the long traverse begins. Progress is slow. As we approach Tsepeng Pass we realise how deep the gully that houses the pass is. We have 3 options –traverse through the long gully, loose altitude and walk through the deep valley below us or head up Tsepeng Pass. We decide on the latter option – after all, isn’t Tsepeng Pass supposed to be easy?
We start up on the north ridge, gaining altitude slowly and looking forward to a point where we can actually see the pass. We continue to gain altitude, but no sight of the pass. Suddenly the mist rolls in. We stop for a break, look at the map and realise that we should be on the south side of the gully. Not concerned about getting lost at this stage we gradually traverse without gaining altitude. We reach the river in thick mist. Simon and I tell Johan the story of “abyss” on Gypaetus Pass and we agree that we should sit here near a flattish camping spot. If the mist doesn’t clear by 3 we’ll camp here.
The mist clears and the sight of the incredibly steep pass appears. I soon realise that this is not a traditional wide gully pass. No GPS track, the map only shows where the gully tops out, presumably the summit gully should be easy to spot.
I know there is no path, so I set the team the goal of reaching the escarpment rock band as early as possible, I would rather gain altitude on a grassy bank than follow the river. We gain 150m of altitude in the space of just under 100m of flat distance. For the first time in a while I can feel the burn in my calves, a sensation I haven’t felt anywhere in the mountains since GT. This is an intense pass.
The view of the Bollard is amazing, we keep gaining altitude with no sign of a summit gully. I look at the map and see that it shows the main river flowing off to the north, a minor stream ahead and a summit gully to the right. This doesn’t seem consistent with what we are seeing. Is this a possible map makers error we wonder.
After more insanely steep climbing we notice the river is getting closer. The summit gulley must be close. There is a grassy gully nearby. I send Johan to check it out, he says he can’t see the top, but it seems to be rocky. We keep going forward. Suddenly we see the main river deviating off to the north towards Mashai Peak, my GPS says we are at 3000m already. In front of us we see a very narrow gully going off to the south. We considercamping on a rocky outcrop here, but realistically the safest option is to go for the top.
We take a difficult traverse on a very exposed ledge. It is damp and slippery, barely wide enough to stand on and has a fairly big drop onto a dry riverbank covered in rock. We enter the gully. It looks like the gully was once a riverbed. It’s completely dry, even after this volume of rain.
The first bit of the pass is probably a B-grade or maybe even C-grade scramble, but on loose wet grassy slopes, and often on large rocks. The gully is very slow, it’s incredibly steep and narrow.We gradually get up through the trickiest part and reach an incredibly steep grass bank.
It’s now 6PM – a good thing its summer.Eventually I look to my left and see the base of Mzimude peak, we have to be close to the summit now. I see what may be a false summit – Johan has already reached it and seems to be smiling, but I can’t hear what he is shouting. Simon reaches the top as well –both appear to be waiting for me, but this has been a long day. I slowly reach the top of the pass. I add a rock to the summit cairn. That pass was tough, but well worth the effort.
We are half way up the Lequooa ridge – 3150m. We spot an amazing flat spot near a rock band. We set up the tent just in time for us to get the packs in as it starts to rain. What a day!
We get up bright and early to the most beautiful weather. We eat breakfast in the clear still sun of the morning, We pack up and begin to head up to the top of the Leqooa ridge. How pleasant is it to only have to climb the top half of this monster ridge!
As we approach the top I tell the guys that this is my number 2 valley on the escarpment, second only to the Popple/Senqebethu valley. I think to myself “I hope the view is as good as I remember it, after talking it up so much”. As we reach the top of the ridge Simon asks me why I think this view is second and not first. What a view!
We drop our packs and climb Mashai Peak. There is some mist hanging around, the rock of Mashai peak is fairly damp and slippery. We reach the small climbable ledge that gives access to the summit. I fall here would be bad, but fortunately we get through this with no trouble.The view from the summit is incredible. It’s probably the best view from a khulu I have ever had.
We head back to our packs. The mist is rolling in. It’s not too bad – we can see about 100m away, but not much more than that. We discuss the plan of khulu bagging for the day – Bollard, Wilson, Matebeng, Mlambonja, Random and Rhino are all on the radar for the day. But with no view, is there any point in climbing them?
We agree that the day is only planned to be 10km with provision for spending time climbing and enjoying the view from peaks.Seeing as we won’t climb the peaks in the mist, we may as well take it slowly. We agree to start off by taking the long way round and walking to the top of Wilson’s Pass. We take a break by the summit cairn and enjoy the lack of a view. Amazing how almost every pass summit looks the same when you stand at the top in the mist. There was no clue in the mist to give away that this wasn’t Langalibalele Pass, Icidi Pass, Hlathimba Pass or Ships Prow Pass. The absolute top of a pass rarely holds clues as to how difficult the pass is.
We begin the slow traverse along the sides of the khulus we planned to bag for the day. Far below in the valley we see hundreds of sheep. The sound of their bells is load and clear, despite the vast distance between us and them. The valley below is clear and free of mist, but the mist continues to hover around 3100m.
We traverse in a narrow altitude range, between 3090m and 3105m, neither aiming to gain nor loose altitude. We stop for numerous breaks and maintain a slow pace, not because any of us are insufficiently fit nor due to any degree of difficulty. We are here to enjoy a hike, and we have time on our side – why rush?
As we near Mlambonja, we see some Basuthos coming our way. We agree that we shouldn’t give them anything. “Give me sweets, give me money” the man demands. We say no, he looks angry. We see a few more Basuthos coming. 4 of them, 3 of us – not ideal. We agree that we probably won’t be in for a good night sleep on the escarpment. We have 2 choices, go down Mashai Pass or cross the Verkyker ridge. We agree that we should drop down Mashai Pass. Its 1PM and we know the pass won’t take very long.
We stop for lunch above Mashai Pass. The Rhino partially emerges from the mist, but the summit itself remains hidden. We begin the descent down the pass. We hear the rushing water of the Hungry Dog River. The top of the pass is slippery and wet. There are waterfalls everywhere.
We make our way down the pass fairly quickly, as we reach the area where the Mashai Fangs come into view, the mist rolls in and the fangs remain hidden.
As we approach Pillar Cave we finally reach the cave I have wanted to check out for a long time – Clam Shell Cave. I leave the group by the river and slog up the slope to the cave, armed with a camera. The cave would work well in an emergency, is well sheltered in the back, but you could not sleep in the cave, well not lying down on anyway.
We continue down. I notice that the pass is more eroded than it was last time I was here. I wonder how long this pass will remain a non-rock pass.
The bank near the river crossing by Pillar Cave Annex is basically vertical and incredibly slippery. We slowly amble down it and prepared for crossing the flooded river. Shoes off and through the deep water.
We decide to walk through Pillar Cave Annex rather than take the river crossing where the river is narrow, maybe there will be a better river crossing that is safer a bit further down the river.
As we approach the cave I hear a voice shouting out “Ghaznavid”. I assume I am imagining things. I see a tall man come out of the cave and say “Mr Newman”. It turns out that John Wells is staying in Pillar Cave Annex. Nice to meat another VE member. We discuss how each other’s hikes have gone, they had headed up Mashai Pass that morning, but didn’t climb Rhino in the mist.
We follow the ridge down along the river and find a spot to cross. After a slog up the steep slope we hit Pillar Cave. The cave is soaked, almost the entire floor is wet. We find a spot where we can fit 3 sleeping bags on dry ground, but after setting up our sleeping area we realise that water is dripping on these spots.
As the sun goes down, Simon and Johan decide to put up the tent. I elect to sleep outside – there is enough dry space for one person, and I really want my first sight of the morning to be the view from Pillar Cave.
The morning of the final day proves to be as easy as we expected. The river crossings are tough, but no major issues occur and we get back to the car park fairly early.
Overall a good hike, very relaxed and slow. A good way to spend a long weekend!
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You know hindsight is always the best sight and we should have stayed on the escarpment but safety first I suppose.
Good old Rhino Peak seems to elude me every hike.
Fitness wrote: Hey Ghaz, great write up, gees I feel like I was there all over again reading the story
Fitness wrote: You know hindsight is always the best sight and we should have stayed on the escarpment but safety first I suppose.
I was actually thinking the same thing. The spot up between Mlambonja and Matebeng on the SA side may have been a good camping spot. But I would rather have made the call we made than wake up to find a big hole in the side of the tent - even if it wasn't a huge risk.
Fitness wrote: Good old Rhino Peak seems to elude me every hike.
Popple eluded me so many times that some people started calling me "Popple" on this forum. Just like me and Popple, if you keep trying, you will get there.
26 April 2012 - Popple 3331m
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The sleeping beauty and pillar cave annex valleys are real favourites of mine and st2 for a really chilled out hike. Not the climbing of the pass bit, juts the parking off and exploring the little valleys in the area, there is still much i want to see there. The pool just before the little w/f near the annex is an amazing jacuzzi in summer!
@Jon Wells: it was nice to meet you too.