Masubasuba Pitsaneng Loop

I don’t really recall a time before Masubasuba Pass appeared on my radar. When I visited Underberg for a stock count in February 2009, before I had ever hiked to the top of the Drakensberg, I wondered if there was a route up the very obvious saddle between the Hodgeson’s Peaks – not that I knew what any of the names were at the time.

There is something iconic about the Hodgeson’s Peaks, also known as the Giants Cup. If this feature was in the Northern Berg, it would probably be one of the most famous sights in the Drakensberg. So when I didn’t end up completing it a few weeks ago, I knew I would have to come back and try out this route.

So on a Friday afternoon, Graeme and I set off from Cobham Camp to Pholela Cave.

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We started walking at 4PM, but the trail to Pholela Cave is supposed to be very clear, and it was full moon – so no issues were anticipated.

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As expected, the hike in went off without a hitch, and soon we were in a cave that was far smaller than I anticipated. The floor was dusty, the cave could sleep 6 at a very tight push – as opposed to the 8 it is marked for, or the 12 it is quoted for on some websites.

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The cave is right next to the river, which is convenient.

We set off back to the junction, and up the river towards Masubasuba Pass. The rock formations in the valley were really interesting.

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You can decide between following the clear trail and heading up to the Hub and traversing in, or taking the less common route and following the river. We didn’t particularly want to have a view over a dirt road covered in 4X4s, so we opted for the riverbed.

As the valley widened, the pass came into view. Boulder hopping up the river proved easy, and our pace was good. The number of rock pools on this river is a bit excessive.

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The main trail crosses the river at the bottom of the pass. The pass bottoms out surprisingly high – which is compensated for by the pass being only 2km long.

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The famous heavily eroded trail turned out to be very easy to follow, and not badly eroded at all. Any number of passes with trails are worse.

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The pass starts off steep, before traversing into the summit gully. It is never excessively steep.

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It was a bit windy, so we opted to take a break in the small cave at the top of the pass. We encountered someone hiking the route, who asked for some food before commencing his descent into South Africa. We gave him some chips and dried fruit, and he went over the ridge and ate them out of the wind.

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The downside of a pass that tops out in the middle of the Giants Cup is that you have to still get over the South Hodgeson’s Ridge once you are up the pass. On the bright side, the pass tops out fairly close to the top of the ridge, so this proved easy enough.

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We dropped down to the Pitsaneng River before taking a line to avoid some dogs guarding the kraals in the valley. It was good to see water in the river this time, enough that a few shepherds have returned to the valley. It had been very dry when I was up there 3 weeks earlier.

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We had lovely clear weather. The wind had been gusting all day, but hadn’t been particularly strong.

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I looked over towards East Pitsaneng Pass. It was hard to make out the line we took. It is a really convoluted pass – but fortunately I knew West Pitsaneng was just a rocky gully. Pretty standard as far as Drakensberg passes go.

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There were some interesting rock pinnacles in the valley below. It is probably fairly safe to assume that they are unclimbed. It might also be safe to assume that no one will be attempting them any time soon – they are really in the middle of nowhere!

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We started down the pass without issue. The pass has a lot of loose rock, but not deep rock like, say, Nguza Pass.

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The GPS track we had included a crux near the top. The advantage of it being so close to the top was that we could head back up if it wasn’t safe to downclimb. I had a 20m rope just in case, but there were no rocks large enough to use as anchors. Luckily there was a side gully to the left, so we bypassed it with some relatively easy scrambling and getting a bit wet.

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Once through the crux, the pass presented a lot of small obstacles which required down-scrambling, but nothing serious.

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The gully eventually widened, and soon we were through the hard pass. Pass 99 done – that long awaited 100th High Berg pass is close!

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We followed the valley, hitting the main river at the exact same spot were I had reached it with Ross 3 weeks earlier.

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It was still very early in the day, so we took a good long break at the rock pool on the river. It was nice to wash off a bit after spending so much time in burned grass.

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We decided to mix things up a bit and take a different line to what I had used the last time. We opted to jump across the ridge and descend the valley in which Wilson’s Cave is found.

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This worked well, the gully was narrow, but presented no obstacles, and soon we were looking an Menhir Rock. Strange to be back so soon!

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It wasn’t even 3PM yet, so we decided to walk to Menhir Rock and get a closer look. The formation is massive!

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A malachite sunbird visited the cave that evening. It is always great to see colourful birds out in remote valleys.

Being full moon, it was very bright. We watched the valley as the light moved. The sleeping area was in direct moonlight, which would be the equivalent of sleeping under a spotlight, so no point in going to bed early.

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The next morning promised to be hot, till the mist started moving in. I had my GPS track from 3 weeks earlier, so I knew navigation wouldn’t be a concern.

We took a more efficient line than what I had used 3 weeks earlier, and soon found ourselves on the trail near the formation known as “the island”.

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We managed to find more trail than my last attempt, but it was still mostly off trail. Progress was fast, and soon we were on the Mzimkhulwana River, following the clear trail that starts about 3km upstream of Mzimkhulwana Hut.

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We stopped for a short break at the hut, before heading out to the car. We saw one runner on the final hill.

We reached the car before midday, meaning we covered the 46km in roughly 44 hours.

Overall a great weekend!

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