The passes listed here are
those which gain you entry to the escarpment and Lesotho, where the average
altitude above sea level usually exceeds 3 000 metres. Because of
the height climbed (which may exceed 1 km), the thin air, the distances
involved, their steepness and even their remoteness, passes are among the
greatest physical and mental challenges that a hiker can face in South Africa.
None of the so-called lower berg "passes" qualify for this list!
The passes have been listed
in north to south order to facilitate their location on a
map. Recommended maps are the Peter Slingsby series consisting of 3
double-sided fold-out sheets giving a total of 6 maps (2 maps each for the
north, central and southern berg regions). These maps are still
available at almost give-away prices from most of the reception
offices. The newer series of government maps will consist of 6
fold-out sheets when completed. To date only the northern 3 sections
of the berg have been completed. At R25 to R30 each, they are very
expensive and in many respects no better and no more up-to-date than
Slingsby's 30 year-old maps!
The condition of the
passes varies considerably. Some can be easily negotiated by
beginners, while others will require the use of ropes in some
sections. Conditions are also affected by the time of year - in winter
some of the passes may be iced up and too dangerous to use, and in summer
they may be too wet.
Some passes are steep - often
nearly vertical in places - and may have narrow ledges or require some
clambering with both hands and feet. Hikers may feel
exposed, vulnerable and apprehensive at times. Rather gain experience
on the easier passes first before attempting one that may be beyond your
present mental and physical capacity to cope with. The more difficult
passes should only be attempted by the
advanced hiker with above-average stamina and sure-footedness, and are unsuitable for the unfit, the very young or those
who suffer from vertigo. On the other hand, the reward for climbing a
pass is a sense of considerable achievement, camaraderie and magnificent
Plan your hike so that you
can spend a full day climbing or descending the pass of your choice.
It is also a good idea to spend one or two days in the lower berg before
attempting a pass, because this will allow some acclimatisation and perhaps
prevent or reduce altitude sickness. When climbing a pass, always
carry ample water with you, and never pass a stream without filling your
water bottle unless you are sure of the availability of water further
on. The combination of heavy exertion and high altitude can lead to
dehydration, muscle cramps and altitude sickness.
When descending a pass you
will usually find that plump people, females and older hikers are the less
sure-footed members of your group! This has more to do with
centre-of-gravity, foot size and joint strain than anything else.
Don't always expect to take less time descending a pass than you would spend
going up it! There is always a far greater danger of a fall going down
a pass than climbing up one. Make sure that everyone stays focused and
concentrates on where they place their feet.
Take special care when
crossing scree and loose boulders. When the risks of starting a rock
avalanche are high, the leader should supervise the individual negotiation
of difficult sections while the rest of the group remains stationary. The
stationary members should be positioned so that if any rocks are loosened by
the person who is moving, these will by-pass them.
Anyone who accidentally
loosens a single rock should shout "Rock! Rock! Rock!" very loudly
so that hikers below can take cover. Those below should quickly try to judge
the probable path of the rock and crouch behind a suitable, large boulder
with their backpacks facing towards the top of the pass, keeping their heads
down and using their arms to protect their heads and necks. Obviously, the
bigger the gap between hikers the more time those below will have to take
cover, but the rock is likely to be moving faster when it
Many of the more
difficult passes have a crux point which may present a special challenge to
the less confident hikers in the group. Here a short climbing rope can be
used to lift or lower their packs past the obstacle. If you are going to
rely on rope-work to get hikers up or down a pass, you will also need proper
climbing harnesses, helmets and anchors - and an experienced climber to
supervise their use.
Treat passes with the
greatest respect. It is usually best to do a pass in the company of
someone who knows it well before attempting it on your own. If you
are the more adventurous type and would like to try a pass on your own for
the first time, make sure you do your homework thoroughly and get advice
from the experts. Rather ascend an unknown pass than try to descend it,
and preferably do it without a backpack.