Sometimes a hike report title is fairly obvious – and then something happens that causes you to abandon the easiest pun and provide a proper report name! In this instance, this report title was going to be allocated to a hike up Redi Pass in 2016, but the hike ended up going comically wrong and the report was named “between a rock and a hard place”.
After eight weeks without visiting the Drakensberg – mostly because I was on holiday in Mauritius, Singapore and Malaysia for four weeks – it was good to get back to my old mountains. With Ross about to move to Pretoria, he was only able to fit in a Friday and Saturday for a hike.
To mix things up a bit – we went with Lotheni. It is an interesting section of the range, just south of Giants Castle. Very few people hike here, probably due to its location and the state of the road. The downside of this is that the trails are very limited and the map isn’t very accurate. The advantage is that you generally have the mountain to yourself.
The mountain register showed that we were the first overnight hikers of the year.
The lady at reception suggested that we start at Simes Cottage instead of near the offices as Tony Marshall had suggested. This cost us about 1km of extra distance – so nothing too serious. But, as always, best to go with Tony’s suggestions in the Drakensberg!
We soon found ourselves on the contour path (well, it is debatable as to exactly what the contour path is at Lotheni). It was a hot day, and only Giants Castle had any sign of cloud cover.
We passed Redi Pass, and continued along towards Buttress Pass. The alternative name of this pass is “the passage”. I once read that it was due to how easy the pass was, a story which I really doubt.
I was interested to see how Ross would do on a steep grass gully – which is pretty much what most Drakensberg passes are. Luckily it wasn’t too steep, although the average gradient keeps climbing as you get higher. We mostly kept to the true right (left while ascending) slope. We stayed out of the riverbed for most of the pass. As expected, Ross got up it without much difficulty.
The gully narrows around 2700m, and eventually you are forced into the gully. An easy scramble is soon reached. Ross decided to go straight up the middle, while I picked the zig-zag bypass on the left. I made a point of not using my hands in order to ensure that I could classify this section as “not a scramble”. The route is clearly not a rock pass, as there are no major obstacles at all. But like many other passes, finding a good line makes it a lot easier – it could be fairly tricky for an inexperienced team.
Near the top, we decided to have a look at the grass ledge, and soon realised that we could skip the final steep section of the pass and just walk on this grass ledge onto the escarpment. No need to do extra work!
It was still early in the day, and not a cloud in the sky – so no urgency to reach the cave. We followed the escarpment edge line to maximise scenic value. I rarely do this as it requires a lot of extra effort, but it is nice to do from time to time. And the views tend to be exceptional when you are right on the edge.
As we walked over one of the ridges, we saw two shepherds with roughly 10 dogs. The dogs sprang into action and tried to surround us. There were no rocks near me, so nothing to throw at them. The shepherds shouted at the dogs and threw rocks at them, but it was tense for a few moments.
We moved away from the dogs as quickly as we could, without running, and found a spot on the river to clean off. It was barely out of the wind, so a half-job of washing would have to do.
We found North Hlathimba Cave easily enough. It is a bit of a way up a side gully on the south slope of the pass. It was much larger than I expected. It was also much dryer than I anticipated. Annoyingly it slopes down towards the back, so you end up sleeping with your head near the entrance – which isn’t ideal. The cave clearly doesn’t get used very often and is a bit overgrown.
We could hear the wind howling outside, but the shelter was more than adequate to keep us out of the wind.
We started walking around 5:15am, and began our day by making our way up Redi. We considered walking up Litseketseke Spur, but decided not to in the end.
We got to the top of Redi in good time. The weather was perfect, aside from a bit of wind.
We saw three Basothos, two of which were on horses, as we walked from Redi. I hadn’t really been thinking about heading up Terateng, so we had dropped down to the trail. Ross was keen to bag Terateng, so we ascended the ridge once again and stood on another summit for the morning. That brings Ross’ tally of khulus to 9, including 6 with at least 200m prominence. That has to be some kind of a record for someone who has only done 4 Drakensberg hikes!
We had planned to descend South Hlathimba Pass, but heading up Redi meant that KaMasihlenga Pass was the logical choice.
I was a bit concerned about how Ross would cope coming down a notoriously steep and difficult pass without a trail. As usual, he was up to the challenge, and aside from the occasional slip, managed to get down without any major difficulty.
The pass is fairly nasty in places – you have to decide between a very scrambly gully and steep grass. There are thorn bushes near the top, which also make things a bit less pleasant. Scenically the pass is great, though. We mostly stuck to the grass slopes as it was much easier terrain.
I had a look at the spot where Michael Relihan took a nasty fall when I attempted this pass with him in December 2017 – a good thing he stopped before the cliff, that was a big drop below him.
Luckily the weather was still perfect, and no one was likely to take any big falls on this occasion.
We soon found ourselves in the riverbed, boulder hopping towards Yellowwood Cave. This took far longer than anticipated, party due to the fact that you have to follow the line of least resistance rather than a straight line, which is further compounded by the meandering river, and partly due to the really good rock pools every few hundred metres. These kept forcing us onto the overgrown bank, on which progress is very slow.
We eventually were close to Yellowwood Cave, but missed the turnoff. About 100m past the cave, we found a trail heading in the direction of the cave, that soon joined with the trail back to the camp.
Once we were on the trail, we made very fast progress. We took the detour to the waterfall. We stopped there for a short break before making the final push back to camp.
We were back at camp before 2PM, so we made very good time for the day. That means our total time was around 29 hours for the 33km covered. It is always great to see the mountains when they are so green – especially when the weather is perfect as it was on this occasion. Overall a great 2 days out!