Mnweni: Pinnacles to Needles

Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©


Opening Party: Herman Vogl, Joseph Khun, Franz Schock and Clive Ward.

Date: Easter 1973.

This impressive free-stander is somewhere below the Mnweni Pinnacles on the Rwanqa pass (north) side - more info please! The photo in the Journal will help to identify the peak. The pinnacle is approached from the Rwanqa valley. The climb starts from the highest point on the nek between the pinnacle and the escarpment.

  1. 45m E2. Climb 20m straight up, then traverse right 25m to a large ledge where there is a piton.
  2. 20m F and A1. Climb a wall and crack above the ledge. An etrier was used to exit the crack. Belay in a recess on a ledge.
  3. 25m F1 and A2. Climb up through a break in the wall from the recess to reach a ledge. Three etrier moves are necessary.
  4. 25m F1 and A2. Climb an overhanging crack on the left side of the ledge to reach easy rock.
  5. 40m F1. Traverse right to a small recess. Climb straight up this (with one 'sling move') and then climb diagonally left to the summit.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1973, pg 130 and photo facing pg 130.



Opening Party: Jerry Linke and Clive Ward.

Date: Easter, 1975.

A stout column set behind Umkulunkulu - a great help if you can first find Umkulunkulu! Facing Inkulu from the valley, the climb takes the right-hand side, starting below a false col.

  1. 40m F2. Traverse to the left until a moss-covered crack is reached. Climb the wall 3m to the right of the crack (sling tension move) then move to the left into the crack and climb to a stance.
  2. 35m F1. Move up easy ground to the base of a chimney, then climb straight to the top of a small pinnacle.
  3. 30m F2. Step over onto a wall, move up and traverse slightly to the left. Climb to a grassy ledge.
  4. 40m F1. Climb a small chockstone crack to easy ground. Scramble to the summit.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1978, pg 96.



The Mnweni Pinnacles are amongst the largest free standers in the Drakensberg and should not be under-estimated. The routes on these pinnacles are all very long. There is a dramatic photo of the Pinnacles on page 174 of the first edition of Reg Pearse's "Dragon's Wrath". Unfortunately the aspect shows few details of the various routes, but it gives a good impression of the magnitude and severity of the routes.



(Map #1 : P:39 : 3096m)

Opening Party: Jannie Graaff, Phyl Goodwin, Bob de Carle and Roy Buckland.

Date: 16 July 1949.

Time: A long day.

From Pins Cave (O:39) or Chichi Bush Camp (Q:39), make your way down or up, as the case may be, to the nek between the Inner and Outer Pinnacles. From a position to the right (NW) of the nek a large chimney/gully, 150m long, splits the face of the Inner Pin. The chimney tends slightly to the left and its upmost section forms the gully that separates a large gendarme on the left from the main peak on the right.

  1. 40m E. From the highest point on the nek climb up tending left for 10m then traverse right until it is possible to climb up easily and enter the chimney. Walk up to the start of the next steep section.
  2. 40m F3. Climb the difficult chimney above, passing a large, flat chockstone on the way. Belay at the first secure 'step' in the gully.
  3. 30m E. Continue easily up the chimney. Belay below the next steep section.
  4. 35m F2. Climb the tricky chimney and continue up to the nek between a large gendarme on the left and the main pinnacle on the right.
  5. 20m C. Climb up from the right side of the nek and then traverse left around a shoulder towards the escarpment. Scramble up right to a small grassy nek about 10m directly above the previous nek.
  6. 25m E. Traverse out right on a grass ledge then climb up diagonally right on steep grass and broken rock to reach a small ledge which is visible from the start of the pitch. Belay on this ledge. There are good pegs at head-height.
  7. 45m D. Continue traversing to the right and around a corner. When the ledge ends, climb down about 8m to a lower ledge. Continue traversing right past a cubbyhole and across exposed rock to where the ledge becomes grassy again. Belay about 5m along this ledge at a fixed peg - mainly because you run short of rope here. Walk a further 15m to the right, along the ledge to the base of another chimney.
  8. 30m E. Climb 2/3 of the chimney (approx 20m) to below an overhanging section and then out to the right and onto the final ridge. It has been reported that after moving out right, it seems impossible to gain the 'final ridge'. In this case, move back left into the chimney above the difficult section and continue up to a belay in a good cubbyhole. As another short pitch, break out of the cubbyhole on the right and then up on good holds - very exposed - to reach a grass shoulder adjacent to a large block.
  9. 30m D. From the grassy shoulder, walk to the left and then up to the base of a rock band. Climb this, taking the line of least resistance by heading up diagonally left and then scramble to the top.

Descent. Abseil back down the route, reversing the traverses on the way. At all costs, do not be tempted to abseil off the top straight down to the nek with the gendarme.

Don't be misled by the 4 hour ascent and the "E" grade mentioned in the original RD! This route is not an E grade doddle! Subtle(?) evidence of this is the steady decrease in the amount of old ab-cord as you climb higher.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1950, pg 48.



(Map #1 : P:39 : 3099m)

Opening Party: Martin Winter, Pam and Peter Angus Leppan.

Date: March 1959.

Time: Another long day.

There are two small caves in the Rwanqa valley on the border between grid blocks P:37 and Q:37. These are just left (south) of the path up to Rwanqa Pass (M:38) and serve as a useful base for the climb. From here, slog up one of the two steep grass ridges near the cave. Both ridges require scrambling through or around rocky obstacles here and there. They converge at a large knoll (spot height 2672m, P:38). Bypass the knoll on the right and then head for the broad, grass ledge that runs across the base of the pinnacle. This requires climbing through a couple of significant rock bands that are most easily breached either on the far right or on the far left. One on the uppermost grass ledge, make for the nek between Mt Neefie (spot height 2936m, P:39) and the Outer Pin. A scramble on mixed rock and grass leads to the right of a small gendarme situated in this nek. Note that the nek cannot be reached from the south (Pins Pass side).

  1. 20m F2. From the left of the nek climb 2m up a small recess then step across left to another small recess. Move up and left around a corner and then up past a spike of rock to reach the start of a very narrow, grassy ledge on south face of the peak.
  2. 30m E. Walk left along the ledge and around a slight corner for about 10m to a point just before the ledge broadens. From here climb up heading diagonally left at first, and then diagonally right to reach a belay with two good pegs on a grassy shoulder under an overhang.
  3. 20m F3/A1. Walk left for 3m and then climb down awkwardly (2m) to a small ledge at the base of an open book. The left side of the open book is split vertically by a crack. Climb the crack with great difficulty and belay above. Take off your hat and salute the opening party who climbed this crack without the benefit of rock shoes or cams. Scramble diagonally right and up onto the crest of the impressive arete that leads steeply up to the distant summit.

Walk, scramble and climb up the arete with only one short D pitch before the last large (30m) step is reached. To reach the foot of this face, avoid some blocks by traversing on the left and then climb a short easy chimney. After a 4m easy face (E), a ledge runs out on the north side. Proceed along this ledge for 15m and climb up a crack which is followed by an easy sloping chimney (D). Scramble to the top.

Descent: Follow the same route down with the exception that it is better not to abseil down pitches 2 and 3. Instead, abseil from a point higher up the arete and straight down onto the broad grass ledge below. From here, walk right to the top of pitch 1, and then down to the nek.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1959, pg 109 and photo1976, pg 120.



(Map #1 : P:39 : 3099m)

Opening Party: Dion Tromp, Kevin Tromp, Mervyn Prior and Tony Chinery.

Date: July1976.

Time: 11 hours from Pins Cave to the summit and back to the cave.

Commence at the nek between the Pins, directly opposite the start of the Inner Pinnacle route. A small gendarme involving 30m of E grade climbing is first negotiated. From here cross over to the main south face and traverse along the obvious, narrow, grass ledge running to the right for about 150m until a small rock ramp is reached. Surmount the ramp (D), and then move up a steep slope for about 50m to a position below a vertical arete.

Climb the arete, which includes pitches of F3, F and E grade, until a position is reached where it is possible to traverse 70m left, along a ledge across the face. A vertical crack (10m E) is surmounted, followed by mixed C and D climbing to the summit. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©

Ref: MCSA Journal 1976, pg 119 and photo pg 120.



(Map #1 : P:39 : 3099m)

Opening Party: George Thomson and Charles Gloster.

Date: December 1948.

The original description of this climb is decidedly vague; this possibly accounts for there having been only one known ascent. If you can climb the route by following this RD you will make history!

Start in the nek between the pinnacles gain height by traversing across the inner face and then back to above the start gaining about 30m (grassy traverses). Climb a 5m chimney and then, from a small grass ledge, climb up an exposed D pitch for 15m to a small stance. (This was called 'Honey Sucker' perch by the original party, as Des Watkins and Barry Anderson waited here while the others completed the climb).

Traverse 4m right to reach a short, exposed G pitch on a large rock that protrudes like a bird's beak. A piton is used as direct aid to surmount the 'beak'. Once on the 'beak', balance up and reach, with your right hand, for a fist jam in a hole. Reach up, trust to grass, and continue up for about 8m to a good stance. 30m of D scrambling leads to an 80m chimney (which is/isn't climbed?).

Climb up the nose for 10m (C), then climb 20m up the exposed ridge (E) on good holds, over two detached boulders perched on top of each other. The ridge now terminates. Climb down to the right for a few metres, then traverse a little with good footholds, but no handholds around a corner and onto a terrace. Descend 10m to a scrubby depression. Cross the depression, ascend a chimney then scramble 50m to the top.

Descent: Abseil down the route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1952, pg 36.



(Map #1 : P:39 : 2936m)

Opening Party: Jannie Graaff, Phyl Goodwin and 5 others.

Date: 18 July 1949.

This peak looks impressive from below, but from higher up it is dwarfed by the adjacent Outer Mnweni Pinnacle. It is probably best approached up the slopes from the Rwanqa valley to the north. The north face is very broken. Follow the line of least resistance for several pitches of C to D grade climbing to reach the summit.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1950, pg 49.



The Mnweni cutback is the deepest cutback in the Drakensberg. There are numerous pinnacles here, the better known ones being uCikicane, the Twelve Apostles and Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo. The cutback is reached either by walking along the escarpment from National Park or more usually by walking up Rockeries Pass. The walk to the cutback would take at least a good long day, by any fit climber.


UCIKICANE (Little finger) (E)

(Map #1 : Q:41 : 2987m)

Opening Party: Martin Winter, Sherman Ripley and John Grindley.

Date: July 1958.

Time: 8 hours return to escarpment.

Approach uCikicane by descending a gully immediately to the south west of the peak. In the gully it is necessary to climb down an easy chimney and to leave a fixed rope at the next difficulty (a waterfall) to facilitate the return. Descend all the way to the very bottom of the pinnacle at the confluence of the various small tributaries.

Climb straight up the gully to the nek that separates the main pinnacle from the other associated pinnacles - see comment below. There are about 7 pitches of D and E standard, mainly chimneys. The last big chimney below the nek is wide open at the bottom, but narrows with blocking chockstones at the top. By climbing well inside, the chockstones are bypassed but it is dark, narrow, smooth and very strenuous.

From the nek scramble down a grass gully on the other side for about 30m to reach the foot of a small gully that leads up the middle of the pinnacle (on the left). Climb a long pleasant chimney (D) in the gully until it forks. Take the left fork that leads to a nek between the two summits. Three short pitches of D, E and C grade are climbed to a point where the left fork again splits. The right fork leads up to the nek between the two summits. Ignore this and take the left fork which leads up (D) to the higher of the two summits.

Descent: Climb and abseil down the same route.

Comment: The lower summit was not climbed on the original ascent but may have been climbed since. Pam Angus-Leppan, Martin Blades and Peter Sand climbed most of the smaller associated pinnacles on the same day. Climb an easy descending pitch from the escarpment and then another across to the group of pinnacles. After this it is just a matter of scrambling from one to another.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1958, pg 89 and sketch on pg 90.



The Mnweni Needles are usually approached from the south. Turn off the path to Rockeries Pass at the start (X:39) of the valley leading up to the nek between the two peaks. Two kilometres upstream the river forks (W:39) with the right fork running up to the nek. It is easiest to scramble up the crest of the ridge between the two streams for several hundred metres and then contour off the crest to the right and down to the Mahlabatsi stream below at an altitude of about 2200m (near the centre of block V:38). A small, flat, grassy camp site is located just a few metres left of the stream and about 50m above a broad, black band of rock that crosses the stream. All the routes on the Needles are readily accessible from this well watered spot.



(Map #1 : U:38 : 2905m)

Opening Party: Tony Hooper, Paul Fenger and Liz Burton.

Date: May 1943.

Time: 3 hours from the nek.

From the nek, climb straight up a steep 30m D section to a grass ledge. Either climb straight up or, traverse well left and then up diagonally right. Either way leads to a huge sloping grass ledge that runs across the peak below the towering east face. Follow this grass ledge to the right, and continue half way round the peak with a rising traverse to a point between twin summits of the Inner Needle. Traverse back left to where D grade climbing leads to a point below the summit cone. Squeeze behind a block onto a ledge facing the Saddle. Climb a short, tricky 10m crack (F). Two short, easy pitches lead to the summit ridge.

Descent: Abseil more or less back down the route. Do not be tempted to abseil off the summit cone towards the Outer Needle.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1943, pg 22.



(Map #1 : U:38 : 2905m)

Opening Party: Gavin Peckham and Frank Boase.

Date: 28 October 1995.

From the nek between the Needles, climb the first pitch of the original route to reach the huge grass ledge. Walk straight up to the base of the towering east face and then walk left along the base of the face to a slab. Scramble up this slab to a narrow grass ledge. This leads left and gently upwards to the south east ridge which forms the left hand skyline. Three pitches of D grade, with a little scrambling inbetween, lead almost straight up the ridge to the summit. This is both quicker and easier than the original route. Abseil back down the route.

The summit can probably be reached by following the south east ridge all the way from its start at the fork between the Mahlabatsi and Itshana Elibovana streams (W:39). This would save a long grovel up the gully to the nek and would make the route independent of the first pitch of the original route.

Ref: MCSA Journal 1996, pg 135.



(Map #1 : U:37 : 2890m)

Opening Party: Ken Cameron and D W Bassett-Smith.

Date: 1921.

The climb follows the prominent east ridge of the peak. At the obvious obstacle, traverse right until able to scramble back up onto the ridge. This scrambling is consistently tricky and exposed and a rope may be considered advisable. On the descent the latter section can be missed by a 40m abseil. The rest of the ridge is a walk, except for a slight scramble up the summit cone.

Ref: MCSA Journals 1921, pg 128; 1938, pg 66.


OUTER MNWENI NEEDLE: South West Ridge (F2)

(Map #1 : U:37 : 2890m)

Opening Party: Gavin Peckham and Ivan van Cleef.

Date: 6 September 1996.

Scramble up to the nek between the two Needles. Go over the nek and down the other (north west) side for about 50m. Traverse about 200m north east towards the Outer Needle. This traverse leads around the base of some minor pinnacles and leads to a steep, but easy scree-filled gully. Follow the gully up to a nek between the minor pinnacles and the Needle. An excellent photo of the Needles, viewed from the north west, adorns the dust cover of the 2nd edition of Reg Pearse's "Barrier of Spears". The route follows the right hand skyline of the Outer Needle as seen in this photo. The two tiny pinnacles, and one larger pinnacle, are also clearly visible in the nek.

Start from the nek between the Needle and the adjacent, major pinnacle. Friction up a steep, smooth slab (5m D) to reach a broad grass ledge. Walk up across the grass ledge, heading slightly right, to the obvious start of the next pitch.

  1. 40m E. Climb up to a horizontal grass ledge. Traverse to the right along the line of grass until it is possible to climb up further. Belay on a sloping grass shoulder.
  2. Walk up onto a broad, gently sloping grass ridge and follow the crest of this ridge for about 200m to where it ends at a vertical rock step.

  3. 25m F2. Climb the rock step and belay on a small rock turret that is just visible in the photo mentioned above.
  4. 25m F1. Climb or jump down 2m from the turret onto a flat rock 'tabletop'. Traverse left, around a corner for a couple of moves (very exposed) to gain a short, steep ramp / slab with a small, protruding block near the top (aah, gear at last!). Climb the slab until it is possible to step to the right onto the top of the block. Continue up on easy rock to a comfortable belay.
  5. 25m E. Climb a recess / open book and belay at a point where the steep rock ends. From here a 200m rocky ridge, involving some C grade scrambling, leads to the summit.

Abseil back down the route. This is a good line and except for the first pitch, the rock is excellent.