“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”
― Edward Whymper
WILSON’S PASS TO MASHAi PASS VIA THE RHINO
On a misty winter day, four intrepid mountaineers decided to brave flooded rivers, weather and the mountains of the South African Drakensberg Mountains.
As we left the Garden Castle car park, it was overcast and cool – perfect weather for hiking. The only challenge at this time of the year is the afternoon Drakensberg (Berg) thunderstorms that one does not play around with.
The route that we took was up Sleeping Beauty Valley, into Cods Eye Valley and up to Wilson’s Pass to the top of the Escarpment to spend the night in a tent. The next day we headed from the overnight camp below Mashai Ridge to Mashai Pass and back down the mountain via Rhino Peak.
CODS EYE VALLEY
We headed up Cods Eye Valley, the once well-worn path in a state of disrepair, covered in vegetation from the lack of use. Consequently, we had two options open to us: push through dense vegetation in the valley that would need the use of bush knives to help us cut a path through the thick vegetation, or head up the side of the mountain and find our way through the less dense bush. The latter was chosen and we made our way it to the head of the valley, where we were met by a cascade of waterfalls. Consequently, our only way out of the valley was to use a precarious, near-vertical, muddy deer-path out of the valley to get to the path into the bottom of Wilsons pass.
Wilson’s Pass is considered to be one of the difficult passes in the Berg due to the fact that it has no path and markings and there are some steep scrambles on the way up. It does, however, have a wide gully filled with alpine lawn.
The walk into the pass was rather difficult because there was no path to be seen and the terrain was rocky and full of grass tufts, making for strenuous and tiring walking.
As we headed up into the pass, the cloud cover started dropping making the pass even more dangerous as we did not have any GPS tracks of the route up the pass. The route consisted of navigating the first quarter in the river gully, then migrating to the steep grassy slopes in and out of the gully, when we hit opticals like an 8m waterfalls that stood in our way. Eventually, after much turmoil, we made it to the top to top of the infamous Wilson’s pass at 4 pm. Dusk was upon us as we headed down the valley in Lesotho to make camp for the night.
CAMP TO RHINO
As morning broke so we broke camp with a long day ahead of us, through the Mashai valley in Lesotho to the Rhino. The morning started with a hot cup of instant coffee to get us up and going. while breaking camp a local herdsboy decided to observe us packing our tents, (the herdsboys head out to the fringes of Lesotho for there rights of passage). Once we broke camp it was a pleasant trek to the top of Mashai pass, through rocky marshes, wild horses and sheep. After 7km the top of Mashai pass was upon us, from the top of the pass it is a 2,31km trek to the top of Rhino Peak along a well-worn path, it is used by hikers and trail runners alike. Once at the summit of Rhino, peaches and custard were cracked out.
Mashai pass is the most trafficked Pass (between SA and Lesotho) in the berg but it is also one of the most misnamed passes in the berg, Often called Rhino Pass after the Peak that sits next to it (Rhino Peak). There is a pass to the North with a bad reputation next to Rhino Peak that is the actual Rhino pass. (Rhino Pass is one of those passes with a long walk-in and walk-out, It is a rocky pass but not as shaly as Mashai Pass.)
The way down Mashai pass I noticed that the pass was worse for wear and sections that were once considered hairy are just downright scary. One of the sections of the pass before you cross the river it is a near vertical descent on loss grass and gravel. Once you cross the river you have to descend on gravel that loves to slide, one step forward you slide five steps. Mashai Pass is an amazing pass, once you get past all the hairy parts you are in the bright green wild grass with wildflowers in the shadows of the mountains.
Rest of the trip consisted of trekking out of the bottom of Mashai Pass, including falling on my head like an idiot, passing some foreign, many river crossings, passing through Pillar cave and finally a hot shower at the end.