I feel alive.
Thinking about entering into some type 2 fun? Well, you've come to the right place. This post intends to speak technically about these two incredible passes in the Mnweni area. I'm often amazed at how the mountains almost change shape through the years, and so here is a recent (August 2023) account for anyone nibbling to trek into the Drakensberg's embrace.
First do about this circuit: go up Ifidi and down Icidi.
Second do about this circuit: try go in winter when the bush is thinner.
Third do about this circuit: begin early on day 2, so that you can descend most of Icidi in the shade (game changer with the bundu bashing!).
This was my third time hiking up Ifidi Pass, and it remains one of my all-time favourite hikes in the Drakensberg. It is an 8km easy walk in, to Cycad Cave. From there you head down through a beautiful section of forest and into the riverbed. You cross the river for about 15m before crossing over again (look for the path on the true right carefully here). The path then climbs easily along some grassy banks before depositing you back in the boulder bed.
At this point you two options. There is a faint path that climbs steeply up a ridge on the true right, that you can follow until an elevation of about 2350m. The last two times I've done Ifidi I've missed it and so we've had a joyous long day of boulder hopping (which I really enjoy!).
At 2550m the gully splits, and if you are hiking up, you take the right fork. At around 2800m the gully narrows to a few meters wide. There is a pretty reliable trickle in the upper reaches of this pass and so we often wait to fill at this point.
The gully doesn't receive much sun and so there was lots of old snow around (waist deep at some points, but rather well packed). There was also a fair amount of ice, with a beautiful icy waterfall caressing the rock wall. In these upper reaches, there are a few scrambles. Their exposure isn't bad, and you have good hand grips throughout - however, they are much easier to scramble up without a pack on so that you can wedge yourself into the cracks.
We did this trip with our new dog, Grosvenor. He rocketed all the way up the pass until we reached the scrambles, where we had to pass him up. Towards the top, he dug himself a little hole to rest in, completely exhausted from his day's effort and overwhelmed by the snow, ice and scrambles. Once we reached the escarpment however, he was full of beans again, and totted off jollily to Ifidi Cave!
The pass took us a solid 4.5hours.
This was new terrain for me. My gps pinged the pass beginning 150m off the edge of the escarpment, but the trusty pinnacle near the head of the pass and prominent view of the Mnweni Needles, reassured me that we were in the correct place. I'd read up previous accounts of Icidi Pass on Vertical Endevour and tried to memorise what we had in store:
- steep grassy bank
- two detours around waterfalls
- thick bush at the base
At the outset, I'll tell you that there were more than two detours...this may be the result of recent erosion; so, let's get to it!
The initial descent is technically easy, as you zig zag your way down a steep grassy bank. The vegetation wasn't too thick near the base, unlike previously. I suspect that there may have been some erosion though as we entered the boulder bed a little above 2600m. The boulders were rather loose here and there was quite a bit of scree. A large boulder actually dislodged behind/alongside one of our party, closely missing her. Another large boulder dislodged here, just missing Grosvenor and cracking as it hit the floor. In my opinion this was the most uncomfortable part of the pass.
We then entered the main boulder bed, where we wove our way down the gully, finding routes around the biggest boulders. We came across our first waterfall around 2480m where there was a clear path on the true left detouring the waterfall. This proved to be a very short snippet out of the boulder bed (about 15m).
We then continued down the boulders until the second waterfall at approximately 2400m. Again, there seemed to be decently worn path on the true left. We descended the next 100m along this path, before re-entering the boulder bed. Soon I noticed the Protea bank that is mentioned in a write up and so we climbed onto the true right of the pass and followed the clearest (shrub wise) ridgeline we could see. We then reached a point at 2120m where the ridgeline disappears into an eroded side-gully. You can see a clump of trees at about 10oclock from this point. I would recommend bundu bashing straight for these trees and then entering the main gully at this point. (we didn't - we hit a straight bundu bash to the boulder bed, re-entered it and then happened upon the third waterfall, and had to bundu bash to the tree point I suggest above). Re-entering the gully at this point was easy and felt safe. This detour was our first encounter with serious overgrowth.
We then continued down the boulder bed, until we reached our fourth waterfall at 2000m (and a mega one at that!). This was the most challenging section to navigate through, as the bush is very thick. However, I think I may have missed the path somewhere here as we later picked up a pretty distinct path that then led us back into the boulder bed at 1950m.
At around 1900m we noticed a distinct path on the true right, pretty high on the ridge, and guessed that it was the path leading from Jubilee Cave into Icidi. It was. We bundu bashed up to it (this wasn't pleasant as the bush was extremely thick here - but it was a pretty short bash). You can avoid this last bundu bash if you remain in the boulder bed as once the path passes Jubilee Cave it descends and runs alongside the river. Here there are many easy trails leading from the riverbed onto this path - which was an absolutely spectacular "highway".
It took us 4.5hours to descend Icidi.
A little battered, a lot late for our lift, we arrived at the school. Grateful and stoked.
All in all, it was a solid weekend of hiking, with day 1 being just short of 20km, and day 2 around 23km.
Shout out to a rad crew for the adventure!