Mzimude/Wilson a lesson in context

17 Dec 2013 11:29 #59235 by ghaznavid
Mzimude/Wilson a lesson in context

Much like Popple Peak had been to me, Mzimude Pass has been a route that I have set out to do a number of times but not done for various reasons.

In November 2010 I set off to do what in retrospect was an insane 2 day hike – I was new to hiking at the time. The route was up Mzimude Pass and down Mashai. We got through the Hidden Valley, looked at the map and saw after the split in the river there was a cave on the left up the bank – the map showed that Curtain Cave was in this space and the cave looked a bit like a curtain so we overnighted in it. After the hike I looked up Curtain Cave and found some photos – our big but unflat cave was not Curtain Cave and duly was dubbed “I’m sure it’s not a cave”. The following morning it was misty so we turned back and went home.

December 2012 I took another shot at the pass – this time approaching it from Sleeping Beauty Cave (see the writeup “In the midst of khulus”). This time we went up Tsepeng Pass due to time constraints.

I had also planned numerous hikes up Mzimude Pass that ended up getting cancelled.

So the plan for the weekend – Friday: Simon (Fitness) and myself would be hiking by 2PM to get the Hidden Valley out the way, hoping to camp near Curtain Cave. Saturday we’d head up Mzimude South Pass South Gully, we had some hiking into Lesotho resulting in us camping above Wilson’s Pass on Sunday and heading from there to the carpark on Monday. That was the plan.

The interest in Lesotho stems from my interest in 5 peaks in this valley in Lesotho – Thamathu, Morake, Leqooa, Leqooa 2 and Tsepeng. All of these are real monsters that would rate in SA’s top 15 highest khulus if they were in SA. Tsepeng also happens to be Lesotho’s 7th highest peak. The rise from the river below to the summit is roughly 600m in altitude gain.

So – 2PM on Friday we leave Garden Castle carpark. They had run out of mountain register pages so we had to put our information onto a blank page and clip it to the large paper clip in the mountain register box.

About 1km in Simon was noticing blisters forming on his feet from his new shoes. Now in retrospect I probably should have known where this was going and should have made a call to turn around and call the hike off. But anyway, we moved on.

Before long we were looking into the Hidden Valley, Puffadder rock came into view and the flooded Mzimude river was in front of us. Shoes off and with great difficulty we got across the river. Both of us lost our footing once, but didn’t fall.

The goal was to camp somewhere between Curtain Cave and the base of the pass. As we kept going on Simon’s feet were taking more and more strain. I was aware at this point that Morake was off the cards. Perhaps I could get a few khulus, but nothing in Lesotho. Once again – in retrospect I should have known this issue would only get worse. But Simon doesn’t have the phrase “give up” or “defeat” in his vocabulary, so roughly 500m short of Curtain Cave we pitched my tent.

During the night my tent had to endure a reasonable wind with heavy rain and hail. I was worried about how my tent would hold up seeing as it has never had to handle these conditions before. On inspecting the tent the next morning I couldn’t even find a mark from the hail.

So – in perfect (but hot) weather we set off for Mzimude Pass. An inspection of the map indicates that a path leads through the Hidden Valley, past Curtain Cave and to Mzimude Pass. Unfortunately this path and Curtain Cave are actually in a different valley to what the map shows. As you leave the Hidden Valley you should take the right hand fork (true left) and follow the river. The path takes the left hand fork. Incidentally Curtain Cave also faces north, not south as shown on the map.

Any way – we continued up the gully and the path disappeared near Curtain Cave (as expected). So we slogged up the south facing slope above us and had an early morning break on top of an impressive sandstone buttress.

As we reached the top of the ridge we could see the full sweep from Walker’s Peak to South Hodgeston’s Peak. We also looked straight up Mzimude South Pass (as opposed to the north fissure pass which is marked on the map as being the actual Mzimude river). This was a really spectacular spot – worth a visit even to the casual overnight hiker not interested in reaching the escarpment. I have always rated Hidden Valley as a good spot to camp for the weekend and this spot makes me rate it even higher.

Unfortunately the gully we used brought us around 2km from the base of the pass.

As we traversed towards the pass we saw a massive herd of eland. There must have been at least 50 eland.

As we gained altitude on the way into the pass we could see 2 eland fighting each other. Quite a sight!

We eventually reached the pass gully at around 2600m – the grass gully to the south is very wide and easy to ascend on. From here we stayed out of the riverbed on the south slope.

I have to say – this is a really amazing pass, you can almost completely avoid the scree fields and never have to hike in the riverbed. The grass ledges are never too steep, exposed or eroded. The views down the pass over the Hidden Valley are also incredible. The spires above just add to the beauty of this pass.

We were undecided as to which gully to take, but as we got closer we decided to stick to plans and take the south gully. There is a middle gully that looks doable. There is a chockstone in the middle, not sure, but it looks easily scramblable.

The south summit gully starts straight below the large cliffs on the south side of the pass. It is very gentle and grassy. This pass deserves a rating of 4/10 – the approach is long, but the pass is a really good quality one. The stream was flowing the entire way up. We filled our bottles at the absolute source of the stream which was flowing strongly – especially seeing as it’s source was only a few metres from the watershed.

On reaching the top Simon’s blisters had been getting worse. We agree to spend the night in Mzimude Cave. We hid our packs and climbed Walkers Peak. The view from the top of this 3306m khulu was incredible. Climbing it requires getting up plenty of false tops, but the view is well worth the effort and the weather was perfect. From here we dropped back down to the top of the pass, collected our packs and headed to the north gully in which the caves are found.

To get to the main cave, quite simply drop down the north gully and watch the true left slope until you see Mzimude Annex Cave (a small cave with a stone wall in front of it and on the pass itself), just past here there is a steep grassy slope true left. Climb this and you will see the cave in the large cutback above here. You can’t miss it, really easy to find.

There were a few drips in the cave, but we could easily have had 4 more people in the cave. The wind was howling outside and we had a little breeze in the cave. This cave is one of the best I have ever slept in. The view isn’t too shoddy either!

Up nice and early on Sunday morning we decided to bag another khulu – Mzimude Peak 3205m. We left our packs in a gap between 2 large rocks at 3100m and walked toward the summit. Much like Redi there are 2 peaks of similar height next to each other. The view from the nek between them was incredible. As it turns out – once again, much like Redi – the larger summit is the higher one.

We tried to find a route up, the first line I tried was relatively easy until I realised that I would have to downclimb without a rope on what I’m pretty sure was E-grade moves – well it was the same level of difficulty as that grade 9 route at Monteseel. Not hard, but I don’t want to down-climb 5m of E grade Berg rock! We went a bit further around and on the arête there was an easy C grade scramble. This provided easy access to the top, we bagged the khulu, got some photos and returned to our packs – happy to escape the gale hounding the summit.

Walking north toward the Mashai saddle (3276m) we looked back and noticed a really easy gully to the top on the north side of this khulu.

By now Simon’s blisters where making his life difficult. He decided to climb the Leqooa ridge in his crocs with gaiters. Somehow – having now climbed this ridge from the south side 3 times – I have never found this ridge to be particularly difficult. Odd for the 3rd highest ridge in the entire range! Perhaps it’s more difficult from the north.

Upon reaching the saddle Simon was not looking in good shape. The wind had been howling all day, so we found a spot out of the wind right in the saddle and took a relatively long break here. From the saddle we could see forever in every direction! I am relatively sure the high ridge sticking out behind the South Hodgesons ridge was the Thabana Tnlenyana ridge. If we had to have a spot to sit for an hour I would take that spot any day!

The wind was ranging between 40 and 60km/h by my estimate. At its strongest it was throwing off our balance and occasionally pushing us over. At times I put my Buff over my mouth as I was struggling to breathe in the wind.

I took a quick walk up Mashai – now the first khulu I have ascended twice. Got some photos and scouted out our route to Wilson’s Pass.

We had agreed that we would still camp above Wilson’s pass, but upon finding a clear path leading toward the top of Bollard Pass we agreed to head down the pass. A good call in retrospect.

We took a break below Bollard Peak and Simon agreed to sit with the packs while I head up to bag the khulu.

At this point I had bagged 26 khulus. Heading up for my 27th I was aware that this peak was visible from practically everywhere. Unfortunately the corollary of this fact had not been in the forefront of my mind.

Walking up the slopes I had a bit of the usual false summit syndrome – but my GPS was indicating that I hadn’t put on the height, so I knew I was heading up toward a false top. When the real top came into view I was happy to almost be up, but at the same time quickly realised that I had a massive block of crumbly volcanic rock in front of me. My photos make this look much easier and less exposed than it actually is.

I noticed an easy scramble, did the first 1m of height and then made a big mistake – I looked down. I often say I got into hiking in the first place to get over a fear of heights, I guess a situation like this may be called for from time to time! Straight below me was a roughly 600m vertical drop. To make matters worse I realised that the wind was pushing me towards the drop which was practically straight below me as it was. I dropped the 1m back to the ledge and was thinking that Bollard peak was not worth dying for. As I was about to accept defeat on this khulu I noticed a slightly more difficult climb route on loose smallish rocks 1m to the left. Harder and probably more dangerous, but at least falling would not include a 600m drop.

Soon I was standing on top of Bollard, but shaking quite badly. I put a rock on the cairn, it shattered into about 20 pieces as it connected with the cairn. I got a few photos on the summit and got off it as quickly as possible. The wind was really strong on this prominent summit.

The view from the top of Bollard is incredible – up there with the likes of Icidi Crown. In one direction there were peaks like Morake, Walker, Mzimude etc in another direction were the peaks Matabeng, Wilson, South Hodgeson’s, Rhino etc, and immediately below me I could see the peaks of Swiman, the Hidden Valley etc. I highly recommend this khulu, but not in a gale force wind!

Soon we were at the top of Wilson’s Pass. 2 locals where tending their sheep, but didn’t pay much attention to us. Their dog made sure we were aware it was there.

Standing at the top of the pass I noted it to be one of the most beautiful pass summits I had ever seen. We found a decent trail and I commented how easy the pass was – Simon questioned whether or not I might be speaking too soon. Hmmm, I think we both wished he was wrong!

I had read up on this pass quite extensively in the past, and had had a poorly planned go at it back in June 2011. Unfortunately due to the volume of work I had to do during the 4 days leading up to the hike, I had failed to refresh my memory on the pass route. After working 4 days of 10 hours and more in a row, this kind of thing can happen. Sadly I had also failed to put photos of the pass from other angles on my camera as I would normally do. People often don’t understand why I take so many photos on hikes, but often looking at the ridge you are on from a distance by means of a photo can make the world of difference in navigating a route. Sadly I had no such photo on this occasion.

This pass was a lesson in context – I knew of 3 people who had done the pass, all had said the pass was relatively easy. It is often important to be reminded of the level at which some people hike relative to the difficulty of what I do. As much as I feel that I do relatively tough routes, when compared to the likes of some of the members of this forum – my routes tend to be really easy in comparison. At times it is necessary to do something that tests your ability and confidence, also perhaps to take yourself out of your normal hiking comfort zone. This is what this pass turned out to be for me.

So we had 2 options – head down the riverbed or follow the grass ledge looking for a gully. I am not a fan of scree fields, much less riverbeds so we walked out on the ledge following a bit of a vague path and the 2 cairns.

Soon we were discussing options and decided that rather than abandoning this attempt and heading back up the pass we would descent the riverbed. A tricky traverse into the river led us to the top of a sequence of small waterfalls. Some of these required throwing our trekking poles down, others required passing packs down. Moderately technical climbing on wet crumbly rock always makes for a less than fun time – but after what didn’t seem to be as long as it actually was we hit a vertical 4m wall. No real prospect of down climbing this one. I noticed a grassy gully to the left. It looked exposed, but after gaining a few metres it was not quite as steep and we began to traverse away from that dreadful riverbed. If I have learned anything from the funny routes I do at times, it is how to find a usable grass ledge on an almost vertical grass bank.

Soon the river was about 200m below us and we began to lose altitude as we traversed out on a less steep and not particularly exposed grass bank. I knew we needed to get to the south side of the river in order to access the Sleeping Beauty Valley, but we were far too high to do this now.

Eventually we hit 2600m at which point we crossed the river and began the long traverse toward the Sleeping Beauty valley. By this point I don’t think words would be able to describe how Simon’s feet must have felt. This traverse wasn’t going to help.

One way or another there was no way around it – we needed to get to the valley. I had been stuck in the valley below Wilson’s Pass once before, I was not up for trying this out again. Especially seeing as I was caught between cliffs and waterfalls last time, and that was in winter!

Eventually we reached the spot where we decided to drop to the river, and after a relatively short but steep descent down a grass bank we were on the Mashai river about 1km upstream from Sleeping Beauty Cave. Simon immediately got his feet into the river. I doubt I would have managed to endure the pain that must have accompanied this day for him, but we had made it to our spot for the night.

At around 7PM the mist began to roll in. The winds had been blowing from the escarpment towards KZN, indicating Berg winds. As is taught in grade 10 geography – Berg winds are a sign of a costal low pressure system, and that usually occurs in front of a cold front. Due to this the mist was not a big surprise at all.

Monday morning – we woke up to find that it is drizzling and misty outside, after the monster of a river crossing in the Hidden Valley a few days before we were concerned about what is coming in the much narrower valley we must descend.

We quickly picked up the path that leads to Sleeping Beauty Cave. It is nice and easy till just below Engagement Cave. It steeply descends and crosses the river below a waterfall just above the cave. One way or another it is better than the incorrect line we used to get through here last year. After some short awkward up and down climbing on wet rocks we are at the turnoff to Sleeping Beauty Cave. No need to check the cave out – but the sleeping area looked very wet from the outside.

We continued along and had no major issues between the cave and the car park. The river was surprisingly low and the crossings weren’t a challenge at all.

Total distance: 39km
Total gross altitude gain: 2.4km
Khulus bagged: Walker 3306m, Mzimude 3205m, Mashai 3310m (repeat) and Bollard 3233m
Total photos taken: 346
The following user(s) said Thank You: brio

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17 Dec 2013 11:42 - 17 Dec 2013 11:52 #59236 by ghaznavid

Odd to start a hike at 2PM, but the weather was clear enough.


Little Bamboo Mountain in the distance as seen from the Giants Cup trail


For all the geography teachers out there - proof that rivers can join at angles greater than 90 degrees :P The mighty Mzimude river was in full force.


The possibly unsafe spot where we crossed the Mzimude river


The circled cave is "I'm sure its not a cave" - it may be what has been mislabeled as Curtain Cave on the maps.


Simon makes supper as I search for caves in the cliff line above our camp


A small 2 sleeper cave with a low roof just before Curtain Cave.


Curtain Cave doesn't look like the best cave to use in summer!


Some hail was still under my tent flaps the morning after the storm


Some eland on the slope we had to slog up


The path really doesn't last long!


A really cool small Berg feature we had to hike under


The panorama from the small Berg


Mzimude Pass (south pass)


The entire herd isn't visible, but you can get an idea of how many there were!


A waterfall we hiked under on our way into the pass.

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Last edit: 17 Dec 2013 11:52 by ghaznavid.

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17 Dec 2013 11:58 #59237 by ghaznavid

The cliffs of Mzimude


A large prow separates the summit gulies of Mzimude Pass


The different gullies of Mzimude Pass


The view below


From near the top of the south gully the caves in the north gully are easily visible


Khulu bagged! Walker 3306m.


Andre's Knob as seen from Walkers peak. Looks easily scramblable if you can access the knife ridge to the summit.


Panorama looking south at the peaks of Bushman's Nek and Lesotho behind them.

more photos to follow when I have a bit more time

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, diverian, JonWells, firephish, brio, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, pfoj, Viking, ruthtbl

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17 Dec 2013 13:28 #59241 by Fitness
@Ghaz this was a great hike, pity the blisters cut our route short and if I've learnt anything from this hike it is the amount of pain I am able to handle.
Look forward to our next adventure in the Berg.
The photos at the top of Mzimude Pass don't do justice to what an amazing view it is.
I've attached a pic of my ugly blisters, oh and the guys at CUM didn't even argue when I took the boots back.



Thank goodness for those crocs, I should have stayed hiking in them even down Wilson's Pass.

From the top of Mzimude Peak, what a view

Panoramic view from the top of Mzimude Pass.

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The following user(s) said Thank You: diverian, ghaznavid, brio, Smurfatefrog, HFc, Viking

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17 Dec 2013 14:12 #59242 by Viking
Nice one lads. That blister looks 'orrible!

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!”

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17 Dec 2013 14:23 #59243 by Fitness
@viking5 I have one on the other heel as well :thumbsdown:
Besides the blisters it was a great hike with great weather ( despite there being a severe weather warning for Saturday)
It's amazing how the berg reminds us how lucky we are to live where we do,

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18 Dec 2013 06:32 #59251 by Serious tribe
@Ghaz Great shot of the eland and the cliff behind it. V. Nice environmental type shot.
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18 Dec 2013 07:24 - 18 Dec 2013 08:15 #59255 by ghaznavid
The rest of the photos as promised:


The view from my sleeping bag in Mzimude Cave. Not a bad way to start the day...


The Hidden Valley from Mzimude Peak


Some peak in Lesotho on the Walker/Morake ridge - no clue what it is called. Anyone?


Not the worst spot to take a long break - the Mashai saddle on the Leqooa ridge (3276m) is one of my favourite spots in the Berg.


Tsepeng is a real monster. At 3276m you still look sharply up at it


Now this is one I am annoyed with - this is the final summit of Bollard. It looks so small and easy in this photo. The easy lines are on the right, the easiest is at the big vertical dropoff on the south side...


This gives you kind of an idea of the fall I was looking at - I was just closer to the edge when the event in question happened.


The small Berg from Bollard



The flowers near the top of Bollard. All the flowers were in bloom.


Looking down Wilson's Pass


An interesting rock pinnacle visible on the way down Wilson's Pass. Perhaps this is the rock peak Panic Pile?


The easy grass bank at the top of Wilson's Pass.


The ugly rocky part of Wilson's Pass. This photo doesn't come close to capturing it. Also bear in mind my camera is looking steeply uphill, so the proportions are leveled making it look flatter than it is...


The grass ledge we exited the pass on


Rhino Peak is probably one of my favourite sights to see in the Berg. As it appears from behind the Wilson's Buttress it looks really impressive. No photo can truly capture this!


Our final camping spot - about 1km upstream from Sleeping Beauty Cave.

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Last edit: 18 Dec 2013 08:15 by ghaznavid.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, JonWells, brio, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, HFc

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