The Hlathimba Passes

I first hiked at Lotheni in 2016. I had been wary of heading out there due to the length of dirt road, but when I heard that the Stepmore Road had been tarred most of the way, meaning that I could get there with less than 40km on dirt road, my interest in the area increased.

On my first visit, I bagged Uklebe Pass and Lotheni Pass. My second trip was an epic (the writeup is here), but included Redi Pass and eNtubeni Pass. In 2017 I had a failed attempt at KaMasihlenga Pass, and in 2018 I didn’t visit the region. On my first hike of 2019, I bagged Buttress Pass and this time successfully completed KaMasihlenga Pass (story here). This left me with two “marked” passes to complete in the reserve, a marked pass being a pass that is shown on either the Government Survey Maps or the Geoseries Maps.

The Hlathimba Passes had been on my to-do list since I discovered their existence in 2010 – mostly because they were described as being very easy. In June 2019, Marco, Kat and myself had a crack at day hiking them. Sadly we ran out of time about 2km before the start of the passes and had to head back.

When Marco suggested we have a second crack at day hiking the route, I was up for it. To get an early start, we drove up to Lotheni Camp and spent the night there.

When the alarm went off at 5AM, it was very cold and there was some mist just below us. By the time we were ready to drive to the start of the Eagle Trail, we were both cold, but knew that we would be warmer after walking a bit. The mist had risen enough that we were in it – and the ground was covered in dew – so it was going to be a very cold start!

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We were above the mist by sunrise. As usual, we warmed up pretty quickly.

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We saw a lot of eland during the day. Plausibly as many as 12, but it is hard to tell if some of them had just moved further up the valley and were the same ones we had seen earlier.

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As we reached the contour path, it was a bit windy. This was actually great as the day was getting a bit hot!

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Along the contour path, we saw a lizard that resembles a snake. I forget the name – but you see them from time to time in the Drakensberg.

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A bit later we saw an actual snake – I am not good at identifying them, but I suspect it was a mole snake.

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The walk to the base of the pass is long, and the trail dies from time to time. The contour path officially ends at the bottom of the Hlathimba Passes, and Lotheni isn’t a particularly popular area to hike in – so it is to be expected.

We opted to go up the easier pass, being the south pass, and come down the north pass. In the photo below, the south pass is the line between the burned grass and the unburned grass. The north gully is right of this.

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The pass starts off fairly gently and remains fairly gentle. If it had a trail, it would probably be the easiest Drakensberg pass, but it seems Langalibalele Pass can retain that title for now.

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The pass went off without any serious issues. There were a number of options in terms of line to take and nothing notably difficult on the route.

We met three shepherds at the top of the pass. They were very friendly and asked us to take a photo of them.

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Near the north pass, we saw three more shepherds. They were also very friendly. They had a solar powered radio which was pretty interesting.

We stayed on the true right bank through the top of the pass. The middle of the gully looked easier, but with two dogs occupying it, we decided to stay clear. The shepherds we had seen at the top came running down the pass to and the dogs joined them – so no issues with dogs on this day.

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The north pass was steeper than the south pass, but by no means difficult. We traversed out of the gully around 2550m and used the gully just south of the main gully to get to the bottom of the pass. This provided a very gentle lower section of the route.

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We joined up with the end of the contour path where we had left it earlier. So the loop included no overlap between the base of the passes and the top – which is always nice.

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The walkout proved uneventful, with us reaching the car just before last light. So we had hiked from shortly after first light and had used all the daylight that was on offer. A day well spent indeed!

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Overall we only covered 32km and took about 12h30 to cover that, but we knew the day was fairly straightforward, so we took a lot of breaks, and plenty of photos. Overall a great day out!

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