Northern Berg escarpment loops from Sentinel Car Park/Amphitheatre

31 Oct 2011 12:28 #4576 by tiska
Glad the trip went well and that the weather was not any worse!

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31 Oct 2011 17:59 #4586 by intrepid

It would be impossible to describe the trip to those that have not been there for themselves.

That's exactly it, there are many dimensions to a Berg trip that pictures and written accounts simply cannot reach. Glad you had a good trip in spite of the obstacles (which are a reality, frustrating as they can be). No doubt you'll be out there sometime again to complete your objectives.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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08 Nov 2012 14:34 #55587 by esaito
Hello all!

Two friends and I are planning a hiking trip to the Northern Drakensberg mountains in mid December. We're looking to start at the sentinel car park, hike up the chain ladders and across the escarpment for 2-2.5 days then turn around (or loop if that's a possibility) and hike out for 2-2.5 days (5 days total).

Does anyone have any suggestions for:

1. A hiking route/itinerary
2. Caves we could camp in
3. GPS coordinates of #1 and #2
4. Any precautions/tips/safety info etc.
5. How to find a map for the area

I was thinking of this itinerary:

Day 1: Sentinel Car Park -> Chain Ladders/Amphitheatre -> Ifidi Caves
Day 2: Ifidi Caves -> Fangs Cave
Day 3: Fangs Cave -> Manxome Cave
Day 4: Manxome -> Icidi Cave or Ifidi Caves
Day 5: Hike out to sentinel car park.

I've been emailing with a guide from the area and he says these caves will are not a good idea this year and to take a tent. We're thinking of bringing a tent regardless. If not, could someone suggest a better itinerary? Hopefully someone can clear it up for me.

Thanks in advance!

Eric

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08 Nov 2012 14:59 - 08 Nov 2012 15:37 #55588 by tiska
Welcome to the forum.

Your route sounds good. The days are not too long - many are of order 6 hours rather than full days but as this is such a beautiful part of the Berg, having time off to look around is a great idea.

Alternative caves are:
Mbundini instead of Fangs, though Fangs is better
Rat Hole instead of Fangs, though Fangs and Mundini are better than Rat
Pins Instead of Manxome (don't know Manxome Cave)

I'd go without a tent given the number of caves but most wouldn't. If its your first trip, take a tent.

Safety wise, you're doing the right thing by not camping near the amphitheatre. The escarpment you cross from Ifidi onwards has been incident free for a long time as far as I know. Always good to be cautious though, especially if you use tents.
Last edit: 08 Nov 2012 15:37 by tiska.
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08 Nov 2012 20:39 #55591 by ghaznavid
I agree mostly with what mnt_tiska says (especially the first line :thumbsup: ).

Personally I would take a tent just in case someone gets altitude sickness or you can't find a cave, or its occupied etc. I say that off the back of my hike last weekend - where's a good cave when you need one? (the answer in my case: choose between 6km north on the other side of the second highest ridge in Southern Africa or behind 2 ridges south, both of which are some of the hardest in the Berg)

I haven't done Manxome Cave or Manxome Pass, but if I'm correct its quite far down Manxome Pass (I think its about a quarter of the way down), and it requires a tricky scramble to get in - so I don't know that that's a good idea unless that's what you are looking to do.

Even if you don't stay in Rat Hole (which would be squashed with 3 of you), do check the cave out - its really worth a visit. You have to go and check out the back of the cave and see how flat the floor is. And a heads up on it - its bigger than people make it out to be.

While you are in the area there are many peaks you should summit - but if you only do 1 it should be the Icidi Crown (3215m). Its well worth the long walk up its slopes, its view is amazing. You even see the Icidi Pencil (from Encounters with the Dragon) on the way up. The peak has a clear view right through to Cathkin. It shouldn't be hard to find a GPS co-ordinate for it off the map (the name isn't on the map, but its just north of Icidi Pass and has a height marker of 3215m).

You can download the old maps from www.berg.co.za or you can buy the new maps which show GPS co-ords from most outdoor shops. You would need map no. 1 "Amphitheatre". This covers everything from Chainladders to southern Mnweni.

GPS co-ords are on this site under blogs - drakensberg and then under passes, caves or peaks as appropriate. There is also a wiki page with Drakensberg GPS co-ords, or you can get some cave GPS co-ords from www.berg.co.za .

Hope that helps.

Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins
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09 Nov 2012 02:53 #55592 by Serious tribe
Hi esaito and welcome to the most helpful and friendly forum on the 'webiverse'.

Intrepid and I just did a similar trip in August 2012, here is the link www.vertical-endeavour.com/forum/8-drakensberg-hiking/55169-northern-berg-photo-trip-august-2012.html?limitstart=0

I think first night at iCidi Pass, I have not slept at the cave, however you will have a tent. The views from the top of the pass though is worth seeing, as when you are in the pass you wont have the same spectacular view. To access it, you just take the next valley south off the Kubedu.

Second night:Definitely Fangs, not rathole, to small and fangs has amazing views - see my images on the thread.

Third night: above mweni pinnacles in tent or in pins pass, the view from the former will be spectacular, not sure what you will see of pinnacles from pins cave.

Forth night: work back along escarpment to iFidi cave or near Amphitheatre at or near Mount Amery or Ribbon Falls and then can have a leisurely walk back to Sentinel car park on the last day. Just bear in mind that security near Amphitheatre can be a problem, so perhaps sticking the tent near Mount Amery below the ridge line in a gully would be safer. Having said that though i have never had a problem, but my motto is plan for the worst, hope for the best.
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09 Nov 2012 13:31 #55603 by esaito
Thank you all so much for your help.

We'll definitely take a tent just in case.

ST: I like the idea of sleeping on Icidi Pass for the first night. I think we'll do Fangs cave also if it's not too difficult to find.

MT: Third night will be good at Pins Pass or Cave. Where is the cave? I can't seem to find much information about it.

G: Do you think Icidi crown is something we could day hike? Is the area safe enough that we could stash our stuff in a cave and day hike from there?

For all, how do you think the weather/visibility will be? I've heard there's a good deal of mist that rolls through. We're going to use a map/Compass and GPS to navigate but we'll be trekking along the escarpment.

All your advice is much appreciated

e

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09 Nov 2012 13:37 #55604 by esaito
Also, what is the water situation up at the top of the escarpment? How abundant? Is it safe to drink or should I bring aqua tabs?

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09 Nov 2012 14:02 #55605 by ghaznavid
Icidi Crown is a typical lump on top of the escarpment - it won't take you more than an hour to climb (including some time on top). If there are no locals around, it should be ok to stash, but I wouldn't stash packs low down on the peak. I can't remember if its False Icidi Cave or Real Icidi Cave that is found on the side of this peak, but this cave should be sufficiently out of sight of locals for an hour long stroll.

From near the top of Icidi Pass the peak looks like this:


The view from the top looks like this (I only rate 1 peak's view as better than this - Tseketseke Peak at Didima):


The weather will depend on the exact moment you are referring to :laugh: But seriously, the best forecast you will get will be at www.yr.no - search for Icidi Pass, Mnweni Pass, Sentinel and other landmarks - you would be surprised at how many spots it has on the escarpment.

Assume that there will be at least 1 thunderstorm every afternoon, it will be windy from time to time, you might have mist in the morning or afternoon. Really hard to say.

After the amount of rain that has fallen this sprint, I don't think water should be an issue. But remember that the Mnweni area is one of the driest parts of the range. The quality is usually ok, just watch for nearby livestock/people and in those cases boil first or use water tabs.

For navigation remember that a GPS will confirm that you are in the right area, it won't tell you where to go (well, it will, but you will get horribly lost trying to follow it and you won't enjoy the view as much). You can follow the escarpment edge, but you will do a lot of unnecessary climbing over small peaks (on the bright side you will get a better view). I would recommend downloading a GPS track from a grand traverse and basing your route on this.

If you are keen to climb peaks in the area, definitely do some of the following (Icidi Crown omitted as that isn't optional :thumbsup: ):
- Beacon Buttress
- Mount Amery
- Thaba Endayazana
- Ifidi

To this day I have never regretted climbing a peak - if you finish early for a day consider doing some peaks or sitting by the escarpment edge (don't leave your tents unattended - I am referring to doing this with your packs). My number 1 favourite thing to do in the Berg is to lie down with my pack as a backrest, sunglasses on, cap partially over my eyes (so all I can see is the view), and stare at the view from a peak/view of Lesotho/view into South Africa.

Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins

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09 Nov 2012 14:18 #55606 by tiska
Pins Cave?
Glad you asked because I spent 15 years off and on trying to find it.
The key is to locate Pins Pass, which with GPS is easy to do. There is a path which runs along the watershed from near the south side of the Mbundini cut back through to the top of the Mnweni Cut back. The path makes progress very easy and I mention it because it cuts just near the top of Pins Pass. From the top of Pins Pass, descend the grassy slopes into Pins Pass (into Natal) for about 20 minutes. Pins Cave is on the right hand side as you descend, 50 or 80 m off the centre of the pass and visible from the centre of the pass. The view from near there onto the Mnweni Pinacles is intimidating. Its a lovely spot - not much used by hikers. From Pins Cave it is 2-3 hours or so to the next cave going south (Mponjwane or Ledgers) and 2 hours or so going north (Fangs Cave). I don't know where Manxome is - it is probably closer than those alternatives. Ranqwa cave is a long way down, hard to get into and with a rough floor - not recommended.

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