With every mountain you climb there are a few lessons to be learned. Therefore, one must always be attentive and eager to learn and take those lessons to their next climb, and life in general. Mnweni Circuit is one of the most loved but difficult hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains and plenty of lessons can be drawn from it. Take it from me, I was there. Therefore, here are a few tips to consider, that will help you create an even better experience for you and your hiking buddies in the future:
It’s not a race, but timing is everything
It has become common to see people rushing through the trails. However, this is something that should never be done while hiking in the Drakensberg, especially when descending via the Mnweni Pass.
This pass contains a lot of loose stones that could be very dangerous to you and your fellow squad members. Therefore, you must always put your safety and that of others first.
Because of the safety considerations, hiking in the Drakensberg means to be safe you must do everything while the sun is still out. Plan your days so you will make camp by sunset.
Tent or cave life is the order of the day
I am sorry to break it to you but on the Mnweni expedition, the only forms of shelter are tents and caves. However, sleeping in the cave is on a first come first serve basis. This means you need to choose your hiking season wisely. To increase your chances of quality sleep, always opt for a sleeping bag that has a higher rating.
Bathing is a myth
I’m exaggerating a little but let me explain. On the trail, there are a lot of rivers, and on both nights we set up camp next to rivers. However, believe me when I tell you that no one dared to attempt going to the river for a bath. Wet wipes became our go-to bath time supplies. We used them before and after each hike. So, go on and add wet wipes to your essentials list for multi-day hikes and expeditions. We came prepared because we were made aware of the water situation by our guides. Always remember to ask all the right questions before you embark on expeditions.
Clothes freeze sometimes
The most hilarious conversation of all time was when our neighbours tried to solve the mystery of how one hat was frozen while inside a tent. I could not help but burst out in laughter. However, that laughter was short-lived. I was quickly made aware that some of my items were frozen too. You know what they say about karma’s visits.
When the weather is that bad, your clothes for the following day are safer when they are on your body. In simple terms, wear them to sleep. That’s what saved me and the guy from the tent next to ours. My tent mate used some of hers as a pillow and that’s how she managed to have clothes to wear the next day. That’s another trick you can employ while camping in the cold.
Good shoes are your saving grace
The Mnweni Pass is one of the most technical passes in the Drakensberg. Going down Mnweni or Rockeries Pass can be risky and requires that you wear boots with good grip to prevent any slipping and falling. I started out the trip wearing shoes that didn’t have a lot of grip but luckily I packed a second pair that was better suited to the terrain. There is no way I would have survived with my other boots. One slip and fall was enough to make me decide to change shoes halfway through day two. That quick decision saved my life in more ways than one.
The lighter the backpack the smoother the journey
Your backpack can make or break your journey, therefore it is very important to pack only the essentials. When I say essential, I mean the bare minimum. I have seen people leave their clothes and goodies along the trail because their backpack was just too heavy to carry.
One unsaid rule on the mountains is that it is OK to repeat outfits, there is no judgement at all.
Pack smart. Always follow the greatest packing rule of starting with the lighter items at the bottom and the heavy ones on top, so that the weight is evenly balanced. Furthermore, remember that sometimes you will need to carry your own tent unless you hire a porter.
Mnweni is completely remote
Because of just how isolated Mnweni is, each hiker has to be as self-sufficient as reasonably possible. One of the things to be mindful of is the fact that there are no facilities along the trail therefore hikers need to stock up on food and safety supplies before attempting the climb. Most importantly, always double-check if your tent pins are all there. Better yet, always keep a spare set.
Plans can change unexpectedly
If you have never felt the pain of having to postpone or cancel an expedition because of a change in weather, count yourself among the lucky ones. Unfortunately, when the guides call off an expedition, there is nothing you can do about it but to swallow that bitter pill. When the snow is falling hard or has been falling for days non-stop, there is no way you can tackle the circuit. Moreover, you definitely do not want to find yourself stuck in the mountains, risking frostbites, hypothermia and even death.
Stay ready for the rain
Remember, in the mountains, it can rain any time, therefore it is advised that one should always be prepared for it at all times. Drakensberg weather is no different. One minute you will be enjoying a fine day of summer, the next minute you will be in the middle of a storm or never-ending showers. Therefore, a raincoat should be the first thing you pack and also make sure that your backpack has a cover to protect your clothes if you want to remain a happy hiker.
My suggestion would be to either hike the Drakensberg in summer or autumn. The hike was generally great, the only problem is that we chose to hike at the beginning of winter. Something never to be repeated. It is also important to note that hikers have a choice of going up Mnweni Pass and down Rockeries Pass or doing it the other way around. Choose your route wisely as both have their pros and cons. We went up Rockeries Pass and down Mnweni Pass.
Fun facts about the Mnweni Circuit
- The Mnweni Circuit consists of 11 passes, namely – Fangs, Icidi, Ifidi, Madonna, Manxome, Mbundini, Nguza, Rockeries, Rwanqa, Pins and Mnweni.
- Mnweni is rated the most scenic and dramatic area of the Drakensberg, characterised by amazing peaks, passes, cliffs and impressive rock formations.
- Ledgers Cave is situated just below the edge of the escarpment at about 2,900 metres above sea level.
- Mnweni is the only part of the northern Drakensberg range that is not situated in a national park.