I had seen a photograph from Mnweni (the typical Mnweni Pass shot, that probably every Drakensberg hiker has). I had to go. Full stop.
I had previously led hikes in areas that I knew but Mnweni was a blank page. I phoned a couple of friends, read blog after blog on Vertical Endevour. I could do it. I remember the faint anxiety. I decided that we would ascend Rockeries Pass and descend Mnweni Pass. It made the first day shorter and more manageable. We were to overnight at Mponjwane Cave. I had the GPS co-ordinates of the cave- I felt more confident. Never the less, I insisted that we take tents.
Our crew consisted of Hamzah Khan, Cameron Hofer, Tarryn Holcomb, Andy Brown and myself. We set off from Durban early on Saturday morning and were soon pilled in Andy’s car- speeding towards the mountains. Once we arrived at Mnweni Cultural Centre I managed to organize us a lift in the back of an aging cabbie to the start of the trail(this would have been a 5km walk on dirt road).I was grateful for the clear weather- one thing less to worry about. We crossed the river and set off towards the mountains. To be honest, I don’t remember an awful lot about the actual trail from this hike. I remember the worn out orange sanded section where the path splits and rejoins. I remember the rocky section after the third river crossing where rockeries pass truly starts. And I remember the zig-zag climb that is Rockeries. Having run the route twice since, I now know it well.
We arrived at the base of Rockeries around 1PM and approached the climb slowly. Everyone walked at their own pace and by 3PM we were standing at the head, looking out towards Cathedral Peak. It was winter and the escarpment was cold. The trail to Mponjwane cave was visible and we continued on. We arrived before sunset and set up our tents in the cave. Andy was not impressed by this and insisted that he shall sleep without his tent erected. Soon the sun set and the temperature dropped. We whipped out our cards- the usual cave pastime.
We set off early on Sunday morning and the sun rose as we were collecting water on the escarpment.
We made a detour to see Ledge’s Cave before beginning the descent down Mnweni Pass.
We arrived at Chi-Chi bushcamp at 11am with 18km to go. There was a school group walking to the Kraal from Five Star Cave and we walked part of the way with them. The remainder of the day was long, step after step. This was Tarryn’s first overnight hike and near the end I was worried that I had made her hate hiking-but thank goodness that wasn’t the case. When we finally reached the dirt road at 3PM Cam and I left our bags with Andy and Tarryn (Hamzah had been struggling all day and had opted to walk out a valley previously so that he would reach the road and hopefully be able to hitch a ride). We started running towards the cultural centre to fetch our car and were relieved when a bakkie drove past. We signaled them to stop, and with a cash transfer they collected our friends and drove us back to the Cultural Centre. We tried to contact Hamzah but to no avail. Once we had showered and piled into the car we started driving in the direction Hamzah should have been waling. Within five minutes we found him. Relief. Now for the drive home.