The Mountain Guide

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The Mnweni Circuit


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Looking up the Mnweni Valley
TRIP DESCRIPTION
Ntonjelana Valley Hike The Mnweni area is one of the most beautiful in the entire Drakensberg, bounded on the north by Eastern-Buttress, Devil's Tooth and Inner Tower and on the south by Cathedral Peak, Bell, Mitre and the Chessmen. It has numerous passes to choose from, all of which are rather strenuous. From these we have selected a circuit route that can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise and travels between Mnweni Pass in the North and Ntonjelana Pass in the South, passing Mponjwane (Rockeries Tower), one of the Drakensberg's most celebrated climbs along the way. We can also vary the route to use Rockeries pass instead of one of these two. Drakensberg passes can be daunting affairs with altitude differences of anything up to 1,200m (4,000') in distances as short as 3km (1.8 miles). However, few of these passes are actually dangerous - they simply test your resolve and your endurance. Most of the passes in this area are longer (distance-wise), resulting in a slightly less severe gradient.

Depending on the ambitions of the group we can make it to the escarpment in either one day or two, although doing it in one definitely puts this into the 'severe' category, as the distance from the Mnweni Cultural Centre to the top of Ntonjelana Pass is a little over 16m and the altitude gain somewhere in the region of 1,550m (5,100')! We can cut 5km from this by using the local transport system, but we'll gain little in terms of altitude.

The opportunities for seeing and photographing Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard and Rock Kestrel are excellent, while the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus Barbatus, a.k.a. Lammergeier) will occasionally put in an appearance. In addition, the sunrises can be spectacular and the lighting makes for brilliant photographic moments. The altitude also means that you're above a large percentage of earth's atmospheric muck. When coupled with the low levels of light pollution in this region the result is a night sky full of stars seldom seen over land. The hiking is also very scenic and the locals provide colour in the valleys.

Daily distances vary from 12 to 17 km (7 - 10 miles) with a maximum altitude gain for a single day of 1,600m (5,200') and a maximum descent for a single day of 1,400m (5,000'), depending on how the group chooses to structure their trip. Overnight spots are primarily wilderness camp-sites (literally camping wherever you like) with the option of one cave.

Dawn over Cathedral Peak from Ntonjelana The best time of year to undertake this trip is the Southern Hemisphere autumn (March through May), followed by Southern Hemisphere spring (September to November) but it can be done at any time of the year, although winter months tend to be surprisingly cold (overnight temperatures of -15C are common). Summers are famous for their thunderstorms and rain. There are a couple of rivers that need crossing and in summer this can get awkward.

Area
KZN Drakensberg

Duration
4 Days, 3 nights

Mean altitude
3000m

Difficulty
Moderate/Severe

Technical aspects
  • Summer rivers

    Challenges
  • Summer rivers
  • Isolation
  • Altitude
  • Pass ascent
  • Pass descent

    Accommodation
    Tents & Cave

    Style
    Fully self sufficient

    Recommended Kit
    Alpine trekking

    Cost per person
    People in group:
    1  :  R 8,500
    2  :  R 5,000
    3  :  R 4,000
    4+ :  R 3,500

    Note: Cost excludes transport or accommodation either side of the hike. If you wish we will make these arrangements for you.




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