Xeni cave - Xeni pass north - Mlambonja pass trip report

11 May 2018 15:01 #73451 by Riaang
Xeni pass has been on my radar for a while, but for some strange reason I never got down to planning a trip up its steep Northern gully.

Late last year my brother in law (Van, as in Van Der merwe) started making noises of going to the mountains, so I got down to the business of planning his first trip in the Berg. I’m sort of a “Bigger is better” kind of guy, and so his first trip was up Tseketseke pass and down Cockade. Tseketseke pass we split over two days, Friday night was spent in Tseke hut, Saturday we went up the pass and camped next to the river near the top of Cockade pass, and Sunday we descended in the rain down Cockade pass. My choice of the descent pass was maybe a bit optimistic, but Van is an adventurous kind of guy and besides, I haven’t been down Cockade before and wanted to see and experience it for myself. Van was hooked and we had to raise the bar a bit. A couple more hikes followed, each being more difficult, higher and further than before.

Having done a couple of hikes in known territories recently, I was longing for a new pass, and Xeni fitted the bill perfectly. The only problem was that there was very little information to be found on the pass, which made it even more appealing to me. And so, in April 2018 the decision was made to do a Xeni hike, and this is the report of our May 2018 hike below.

Myself, Sanet (wife), Van and Nico arrived at Cathedral Peak hotel on Friday 4 May and set off in the direction of Xeni cave at 17H45 (sticking to the Xeni theme, off course :) . Before we left the hotel grounds darkness fell, and we started walking in the light of our headlamps. The week before was full moon so there would still be a lot of moonlight left, but seeing that the moon would only appear a bit later at night it didn’t help us at all. We crossed the first stream, then the second one coming down from Xeni/Cockade and then turned left at the Xeni cave signpost. So far we were making decent time, but from here onwards the going was very slow as the track was overgrown, bushy and rocky. We were eventually reduced to rock hopping in the riverbed. The rocks were quite slippery as a lot of them were wet from the flowing stream. On Google Earth I could see that the cave was just after the second gully on the left, being a wooded gully, and just after a stretch of vertical cliffs coming off the ridge on our left. Problem was that the ridge was blocking all the moonlight and our torches weren’t strong enough to even remotely pick up the wooded gully. Nico had built a track which we followed, so we knew where we were and where Xeni cave was, but we couldn’t find the trail through the riverbed and up the ridge’s side. Wow, did we battle to get through that riverine bush! Bush whacking of note! We eventually got through on the other side and stumbled upon the steep track up to Xeni cave, which we entered at about 21H10.

I really enjoyed my one night in Xeni cave. It’s huge – you could probably fit a whole group of 120 Midstream schoolkids on a Berg hiking trip in here comfortably. And they would certainly create a nice path through the riverine bushes ;) . The floor is very level, there was straw on the floor, little dust and a waterfall right on our front stoep, er, cave entrance. For a change of menu, we decided to start having desert on hikes. Van brought a box of Tinkies, I brought Fudge and chocolate brownies, Sanet contributed a piece of fruitcake and Nico brought an avo. Definitely to be repeated on future hikes. By 23H00 we all climbed into our sleeping bags and were fast asleep in seconds.

Bzzzzzzzzst,
Bzzzzzzzzst, Bzzzzzzzzst,
Bzzzzzzzzst, Bzzzzzzzzst, Bzzzzzzzzst,
Blasted phone alarm went off at normal get-up-for-work-time at 05H15! Well, seeing that I’m up I can just as well get the water boiling - a cup of coffee is the only way to get Sanet out of bed while it is still dark

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11 May 2018 15:03 - 11 May 2018 15:04 #73452 by Riaang

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Last edit: 11 May 2018 15:04 by Riaang.
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11 May 2018 15:06 - 11 May 2018 15:07 #73453 by Riaang
We had breakfast (lately I prefer a couple of rusks – easy to eat, tasty, lots of energy and I can tackle a hill without feeling bloated), packed up and then tackled the very steep path leading up the ridge above Xeni cave. The ground was wet which made it a bit trickier getting up the ridge. Fortunately, berg grass is super strong and we could pull ourselves up on the super steep sections.



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Last edit: 11 May 2018 15:07 by Riaang.

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11 May 2018 15:08 #73454 by Riaang
From the contour path we could clearly see Pyramid and Column on our left, and then off course Xeni itself. She was starting to look a lot like Ships Prow from this location – could it mean we were in for the same kind of bushwhacking as at the bottom of Ships Prow? Hope not…..

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11 May 2018 15:10 #73455 by Riaang
The contour path was a bit overgrown with grass but the going was easy and the views were stunning. This was Van’s first hike without rain – so far- and it was great to be able to see the whole mountain range without a cloud in the sky. The path took us around a couple of small ridges/spurs and afforded us close-up views of Pyramid and Column that I haven’t seen before. We soon started dropping a bit lower, and got off the contour path for long stretches as it was mostly overgrown by seriously stingy undergrowth. After a while we got into the Cockade/Xeni river valley and just after the Cockade overnight spots stopped for brunch. It was still a bit early but we had been working quite hard, mainly fighting through vegetation rather than gaining much height. Having previously descended this valley I knew what to expect, but I found the ascent a bit faster/easier than the descent last year.

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11 May 2018 15:11 - 11 May 2018 15:12 #73456 by Riaang
We basically had two choices – continue rock hopping up the river, dodging low trees and not stepping in the water or get up the side ridges up to the Cockade/Xeni split. Being tall I found the low riverine trees a bit difficult to negotiate (they don’t negotiate at all, they just slap you in the face or grab hold of the top of your pack, spins you around and dumps you in the river!) so we got onto the right-hand side (true left-hand side) ridge and started moving forward at a better pace.

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Last edit: 11 May 2018 15:12 by Riaang.

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11 May 2018 15:14 #73457 by Riaang
We soon passed the turn-off to Cockade pass, on our way to our next stop, the little flat camping spot as described by Andrew Porter just above the first waterfall. Reading it now it all sounds so easy, but that section took quite a while to traverse as you wind in and out of the riverbed, around rocks, around riverine bushes, with a couple of back trekking sections thrown in for good measure as some of the rocks are too high to get down from. We climbed out left (true right) of the waterfall and dropped our packs for a quick break. I picked up a cap here – so if anyone is missing a cap from a recent Xeni hike, just drop me a pm if you want it back. It will cost you though as I had to carry all that weight up and down the mountain :hike:

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11 May 2018 15:16 #73458 by Riaang
We normally don’t stop for very long on hikes, just enough to catch your breath and prop something in your mouth, but this spot was just so idyllic that we all wanted to spend a bit more time here. Time, however, waits for no man and our progress was slower than usual due to the demanding terrain so we had to get going again. The second waterfall was looming in the distance and it was looking “interesting”. Before we got there, we had to get over or around a couple of really steep grassy banks. Tony Marshall mentioned in his Xeni trip report that they were very steep, and I can confirm that they are, indeed, really very steep. So steep, in fact, that we were crawling up sections. If anybody ever tells you that you didn’t crawl enough as a baby, this pass will most definitely wipe out any crawling deficit you might have had. Some sections were so steep that I had to pull myself up on berg grass. The ground and rocks were very loose in places, making forward progress difficult.

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11 May 2018 15:18 #73459 by Riaang
Near the base of the third waterfall my concentration level was a bit low, and as I looked up at the waterfall I stepped on a section of wet rock and my left foot shot out to the left and over the lip of a 3m drop-off. I dropped my body face down on the rock and managed to put my right arm and right leg out straight on dry rock, which provided enough resistance to stop me from sliding over the drop-off. Wow, that was SERIOUSLY close. But now I still needed to get back on my feet, so I started wriggling and twisting my body slowly upwards. When I got within reach of some trusty berg grasses again I grabbed a handful and planted my right boot also in the grass to act like an anchor. It worked and I got back on my feet. Sjoe, better start concentrating here Riaan!!!!

The bypass to the left of the third waterfall was again super steep and over loose ground and grass. Near the top of this section I pulled myself up on a slightly-larger-than-soccer-ball-sized rock, only to have it come out clean from its nesting spot in the grassy bank. Oops! Sanet and Van was still below me at this point, and as I was spinning sideways as I had now lost my balance I couldn’t hold onto the rock for more than about a second before I dropped it. It was either me falling on them or possibly the rock. I yelled :”Passop, rots!!!” as I let go of it. Sanet was already looking up, about 2m below me and had enough time to move out of its way. Van tried to look up, but he had turned his cap around with the peak facing backwards, and as he lifted his head the peak prevented him from looking up. Oh boy, this was not looking good!! By the grace of God the rock passed him on his left-hand side with millimetres to spare. Earlier today he slipped and fell upon a rock that had bruised his chest, and this one would have hit him in the same spot if it was 30cm to the left, but worse, would definitely have broken his balance and would have sent him tumbling down into the river below.


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11 May 2018 15:20 - 11 May 2018 15:21 #73460 by Riaang
With that behind us we gingerly made our way ever upwards, eventually reaching the cliff face at the bottom of the North gully. Problem – there were two gullies, so which one to take? The one on the right looked really menacing with definite climbing sections requiring gear I didn’t have on me. Nico (climber) was ready to go that way, but the rest of the group was more inclined to go for the relatively “tamer” looking northern gully. We were debating which gully contained the wormhole, when I remembered Tony’s write-up that the correct gully had Xeni on your left, and Leopard on your right. Thanks for your detailed write-ups Tony!!! Armed with this information we went up the left northern variation, and indeed found the wormhole.


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Last edit: 11 May 2018 15:21 by Riaang.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Andreas

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