Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©
Routes on the Rhino are most conveniently climbed from Pillar Cave, or from Pillar Cave Annex. These caves are little more than an hour's walk from the NCS offices. A good view of most of the routes on the Rhino may be seen in the photo facing page 108 of the 1959 MCSA Journal. Descending from any route on the Rhino may be done either by Mashai Pass or by the Eastern Arete Route. Beware of mist - it is not easy to find the top of Mashai Pass in misty conditions.
Why it is called Mashai Pass is a mystery. The pass follows the Mlambonja River valley which runs down from the slopes of Mlambonja Buttress. Mashai Peak is some 4km to the south, whilst the Mashai River follows the valley past Sleeping Beauty Cave and The Monk. To confuse things further, there is of course another Mlambonja River much further north at Cathedral Peak.
Opening Party: Terry Norcott, Mike Allan and Roy Denny.
Date: September 1953.
Time: 4 hours to the top from Pillar Cave.
From Pillar Cave, make for the nek where the main East Ridge of the Rhino joins some small 'puddings'. This nek is an obvious low point in the skyline when looking north from the vicinity of Pillar Cave. From the nek walk up the crest of the ridge for about 300m to the first obstacle.
Climb the rock buttress (30m D) on good rock just left of the nose. Continue walking up the ridge and climb through the next rock band (15m D). Walk further up the ridge to the third and final rock band. To climb this, friction up a slab to a small band of vertical rock and then traverse to the right until able to exit upwards via the obvious break (8m E). A short scramble leads to the summit cairn.
Descend via Mashai Pass or more quickly by scrambling down from the summit towards to the top of the final pitch of the S-Route - see below. Turn left (east) when you reach a position just above the small rock bands that are themselves above the top of the top (crux) pitch of the S-Route. Scramble along at this level, passing a narrow exposed section, until you eventually regain the main East Ridge at a point below the second pitch. Continue down the ridge, abseil back down the first pitch and then reverse the remainder of the approach via the nek.
The easy access and short, widely separated pitches make this an easy and pleasant route to the top, especially for beginners. It also provides the quickest means of descent for other routes on the Rhino. Please note that the climb is serious enough to require ropes and has proved fatal on two separate occasions due to the fact that it looks like an easy way up the Rhino.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1953, pg 70.
Opening Party: Des Watkins and Bob Suter.
This line follows the crest of the ridge that leads up from Pillar Cave Annex to join the east arete of the Rhino just below and east of the summit.
This line now crosses the original Eastern Arete route. Climb 40m of D/E grade to the right of the original route. (It would be more direct to now follow the arete to the top).
Apparently it is possible to bypass all the difficult sections by scrambling around to the left or right of them and then up!
Ref: MCSA Journal 1958, pg 97 and 1959, photo facing pg 108.
Opening Party: Des Watkins, M Blades and N Shuttleworth.
Time: About 6 hours from the cave to the summit.
The route follows an 'S' shaped ridge that starts just below the summit and runs down the south face. The early morning sun often illuminates the east side of the ridge, whilst the west side is in shadow. Under these conditions the divide between light and dark dramatically highlights the line of the route. Even under normal lighting conditions it is possible to pick out the 'S' ridge without difficulty. The original RD is sketchy in the extreme. In any event, the lower part of the original route is rarely climbed. Instead the route is usually accessed from the right (east), at a point almost midway up the 'S'. This is a popular beginner's route.
Walk upstream from Pillar Cave, cross the stream and continue up the valley past Pillar Cave Annex. Take the first major valley / gully leading out to the right and up to the south face of the Rhino. Follow the gully (or the adjacent ridge on the right) until the gully is joined by another, smaller gully coming in at right angles from the left (west). The smaller gully runs up to a waterfall (often dry) on the east side of the 'S' ridge. Scramble up the gully and then, just before the waterfall, scramble up and out to the right (towards the summit side). This gives access to the grass ledge that runs along the base of a 10m high rock band that forms the central part of the 'S'. When wet or icy, this small rock band is deceptively tricky, but scramble up it by one of various possible routes to reach the grassy crest of the ridge. Walk up the crest of the ridge for about 100m to base of a large buttress which is the start of the first pitch.
From here there are two options. The easy option is to walk to the left along a grass ledge and around a slight corner to reach a major, right-tending gully through the rock above. Scramble up this gully and then continue by scrambling first to the right and then up towards the summit through two short rock bands of about D grade on the way. Alternatively, climb the following (crux) pitch, which provides the best climbing on the route and is well worthwhile.
Descend down Mashai Pass or down the Eastern Arete route - see descent details under that RD.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1959, pg 111 and photo facing page 108.
Opening Party: Pam and Peter Angus-Leppan and Val Tippett.
Date: 16 March 1968.
Time: 5 hours from start of Chimney.
The south face of Rhino, when viewed from Pillar Cave, shows and extensive rock wall stretching below the Rhino's horn. Below the face lies a grass ledge, broad but somewhat broken up. The only marked line of weakness in this 100m rampart is a crack extending diagonally to the left. There are several buttresses which extend from the valley upwards to the grass ledge. The buttress which terminates below, and slightly to the left of the crack, is in the centre of the face.
From the cave walk upstream for some way beyond the approach to the 'S' route and then work your way up towards the lower cliffs avoiding rock bands as far as possible. The route goes up the crack which turns out to be a broad chimney. This lies between a gigantic tongue of rock and the main face and recedes upward in steps.
Descent: Via the Mashai Pass.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1958, pg 96 and 1959, photo facing pg 108.
Opening Party: Des Watkins, Pam Angus-Leppan, Rae Adams, Roy Buckland and Hugh Carbutt.
Date: December 1957.
From Pillar Cave walk up the Mashai Pass. High up on the right a gendarme marks the scree slope and the cleft in the Rhino's south face.
Start with an E chimney, difficult when wet. This is followed by a short chimney of D standard. Continue up 40m C, keeping to the right and avoiding the main chimney blocked with a chockstone near its summit.
There are then two possibilities. Either continue 10m up a deep and severe chimney or go up 'Buckland's Bulge' (E) to the left. 20m D scrambling on good rock leads to a stance back in the chimney. A 10m corkscrew traverse to the left carries one to the final pitch. Leave the chimney here for the right, finishing on 15m of E on sound rock.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1957, pg 27 and 1959, photo facing pg 108.
Opening Party: Brian Hutchinson and Jimmy Thomson.
Time: 3 ½ hours from cave to the top.
The pinnacle lies against the South Face of the Rhino at a slightly lower level, and is opposite the Mashai Fange. From Pillar Cave proceed up the Mashai Pass until the last of the three ridges which run down into the river from the Rhino, is reached. Climb up this ridge to the rock face, and then traverse to the left into a very loose gully running down from the nek between the pinnacle and the Rhino.
Descent: A 30m abseil off a good block at the top of the last pitch leads to grass ledges. Traverse to the left to the top of the first F pitch. Abseil off a grass piton for 20m and then descend the route through the grass ledges to the top of the waterfall. Abseil into the gully.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1964, pg 72.
Opening Party: Des Watkins, Pam and Peter Angus-Leppan, Hugh Carbutt, Vic Pierson and Bob Suter.
Time: 3 hours climbing.
On the south side of the Mashai Pass, opposite the Rhino, is the Mashai Ridge containing the Inner and Outer Mashai Fangs. Approach the Fangs by walking up Mashai Pass for about a kilometre from Pillar Cave. Leave the path to the left at the obvious valley that runs up to the south side of the ridge.
Continue up this valley until it narrows and steepens into a gully which leads up to a chimney. Bypass the chimney by about 30m of C grade scrambling on the left. A further short scramble reaches the end of the gully which terminates in two chimneys that face each other to form a sort of 'T' junction. The chimney on the right leads up towards the fang, whilst that on the left leads away from it. Climb the easier chimney on the left. This first pitch involves about 20m D grade climbing and although it is often wet, it is still easy to climb. Gear is sparse and this unexposed pitch is usually soloed.
From the top of the chimney walk up to the first rock band. Turn and walk to the right along the base of the rock band for about 30m to a minor gully which is more or less above the start of the first pitch. Continue traversing to the right along the steep grass ledge to a steep slab. Take one very exposed step across a slab and onto a continuation of the grass ledge which broadens at the base of a large recess in the side of the Fang. This recess is directly above the right hand chimney at the 'T' junction mentioned above.
Continue traversing out of the recess and around an exposed C grade corner to reach a broad scrubby ledge that runs across the south face of the Fang. This is the first part of the climb which is actually on the Fang itself.
From the broad scrubby ledge a small, prominent gendarme can be seen jutting up against the right hand (eastern) skyline. Walk across to the right (east) side of the gendarme and climb the ridge to a good belay on top of the gendarme (15m E).
Scramble down the opposite (west) side of the gendarme (2m) and then step across a deep, 1m wide gap. Climb the steep slab on the other side with the aid of some good grass, to reach a band of vertical rock. Move around (about 2m) to the right and then climb a recess (5m D) to reach a good stance. From here a grass ledge leads off to the left, back across the south face. Follow the grass ledge to the left and around a slight corner (narrow, steep and exposed) to the base of a double chimney.
Climb about half way up the left hand chimney, then move out to the right and continue on up to the summit (15m E).
Descent: A 15m abseil from the top of the first variation, down south face reaches the grass ledge adjacent to the belay at the top of the penultimate pitch. A 40m ab from this belay, down the south face, reaches the broad scrubby ledge. From here, simply reverse the route. It is possible that 50m ropes might just reach from the top all the way down to the broad, scrubby ledge. If so, this will save making the second ab. Copyright: MCSA-KZN 1998 ©
Ref: MCSA Journal 1957, pg 27 and photo between pgs 30 and 31.
Opening Party: Tony Goodyer, Jimmy Thomson and Bill James.
Time: 3 hours climbing.
Approach as for the Inner Fang (see above) but before the top of the gully, scramble out to the right and up to the base of the chimney that leads up to the nek between the Inner and Outer Fangs. After climbing to the nek, the route goes via good, but very exposed rock on the west face.
Descent: Despite the advice given in the original RD it is best to make a 40m ab off the summit block, down the north face to the grass ledge. Walk back to the nek, then abseil back down the first (chimney) pitch.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1962, pg 91 and 1957, photo between pgs 30 and 31.
Opening Party: Gavin Peckham and Richard Knott.
Date: 5 August 1995.
Time: The approach from Pillar Cave and the climb itself, each take about 1½ hours.
Approach as for the Inner Fang (see above) but before the top of the gully, scramble out to the right and up to the base of the chimney that leads up to the nek between the Inner and Outer Fangs.
Descent: A 40m ab off the summit block, down the north face reaches the grass ledge. Walk back to the nek, then abseil back down the first (chimney) pitch.
The opening party followed the line of least resistance. It should be possible to climb this face straight up from the pegs to the summit in a single 40m pitch.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1996, pg 139.
Opening Party: Des Watkins and Ron Smith.
Date: 29 November 1959.
This line follows the crest of a prominent ridge that runs down from the escarpment edge. The ridge starts, south east of Mlambonja Peak, runs down past the Fangs and ends behind Pillar Cave. The Fangs ridge is a small northern spur of the main ridge. The ridge would be far more appropriately named the Mlambonja Buttress Ridge. The ridge can be followed all the way from Pillar Cave to the top, but is usually accessed by starting up the first D grade chimney pitch of the Inner Mashai Fang route.
From the top of the first chimney, walk diagonally right for some 15m on grass then continue up for a further 40m D on grass and rock directly up the left-hand face to arrive on the crest of the main ridge. Scramble up the ridge to the next obvious promontory. This, the second buttress, is ascended slightly to the left and does not exceed C grade.
A further ridge scramble leads to the third rock buttress, which is climbed 30m over to the left. A deceptive 30m D pitch up sound blocks leads to a cairn. Scramble again to the left, returning right towards the ridge to ascend the fourth buttress; about 10m of D standard around a right hand corner back to the ridge. A 50m ridge walk follows, and descending to a nek, one is confronted by the last (and fifth) buttress. Again start to the left up a low overhang onto a right hand narrow ledge that leads to a recess some 30m above. Climb left up the front of the buttress to the summit some 35m from the take-off.
The total length of the rock-work is about 150m on a textbook ridge.
Descend via Mashai Pass.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1959, pg 103 and photo facing pg 108.
Opening Party: Pam and Peter Angus-Leppan, Des Watkins.
The nek between Panic Pile and the escarpment can be reached by a cork-screw traverse around the peak from the river valley immediately to the south of the Mashai Pass valley. The nek can also be reached by a spectacular mechanical climb up the north face, possibly the first aid climb in the Drakensberg:
What a great RD! - surely one worth of a Ph D in Brevity.
The remainder of the climb is an intriguing piece of route-finding involving a 'spiralling right hand scramble' up the south face, which in spite of its almost sheer appearance yields a pleasant C-D route.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1957, pg 28 and photo facing pg 27.
Opening Party: Charl and Sharn Brummer, Greig Stewart and Sean Bartleet.
Date: 7 December 1996.
This unmistakable, free-standing sandstone pinnacle is located beyond Swiman in the Mashai River valley about 500m downstream of Sleeping Beauty Cave. From Swiman Hut, walk up the path towards Sleeping Beauty Cave. After about 2 km another large valley enters from the right. Cross the Mashai River just before the fork and follow the zig-zag path up the shoulder and into the valley on the right. About 15 min walk upstream, the path peters out at a huge house-sized boulder. The Monk the closest large free-stander up on the left as you approach the huge boulder Cross the stream and scramble up a steep grass slope and through a few minor rock bands to reach the foot of the pinnacle. There is a huge roof undercutting the peak on the left-hand side as you approach up the steep grass slopes. From the big roof, walk around to the right for about 30m to an obvious crack at the back of a right-facing open book.
Descent: Ab back down the route and walk down the grass ramp. Continue downwards past the end of pitch 2, and through some protea bushes to reach a large block which now sports some chains. A great 45 m ab off this takes you to the cave at the base of the peak.
Comment: This route provides some superb climbing on excellent rock.
Ref: MCSA Journal 1996, pg 129.
Opening Party: Anthony van Tonder, Bugs Sprouse and Ian Bailey.
Date: 5 May 2013.
Time: 5 hours climbing, but this included placing bolts on lead. Can easily be done in 3 hours.
Approach: From Garden Castle office walk to Sleeping Beauty Cave (about 5 km). From the cave the route is visible as the very obvious large oblique corner system that runs from left to right up the sandstone crag opposite the cave. From the cave walk slightly up and left for about 200m to the base of the route. From the bottom of the rock slab scramble up about 8m to a vegetated ledge and place a big Cam in the crack in the corner on the left to belay.
Comments: This is one of very few established routes on Drakensberg Cave Sandstone, (two others being The Monk nearby, and The Dassie in the Mnweni area). This route can be climbed using no more than a selection of Cams, 6 quick-draws, and a few slings, including a long sling. Nuts and Hexes are of no use. As there is a lot of friction climbing, proper climbing shoes with sticky rubber soles are necessary. Generally stay away from the pale coloured rock in the corner on the left which is more sheltered from the weather and has some loose flaky bits on the surface. The dark rock to the right is much better. This route provides very pleasant climbing, has probably the easiest and shortest walk-in of any Drakensberg route and has a convenient cave to camp in as well.
Topo: Jack and the Beanstalk (F3)
Opening Party: Des Watkins, Dennis Quaife and Jan De Groot.
Date: 14 July 1988.
Time: Four hours of climbing.
Approach up the Mzimude stream and through the Hidden Valley. Continue up the valley to 'a delightful overhang facing east just below the top of the sandstone.' From here (wtmb) 'walk for 20 minutes up the valley' and then '30 minutes up on steep grass'. (Another of Des' literary master pieces! The photo in the reference may be more useful than the RD.)
Note: The party's collective age totalled 169 years!
Ref: MCSA Journal 1988, pg 105 and photo on page 106.
Opening Party: Des Watkins, Vivienne Harte and Felicity Eggleston.
Date: April 1987.
This route climbs to the escarpment on the north side of the Mzimude Buttress about half way between the frontal ridge of Mzimude Buttress and the point where the river valley just to the north, reaches the top of the escarpment. The RD is yet another of Des' literary masterpieces and the route is best followed by referring to the photograph in the Journal. 'A concealed grass lead (?) gave a good start. Three long diagonal C pitches to the right, a D pitch on dubious rock and a final short E to the summit.!
Ref: MCSA Journal 1987, pg 102 and photo on pg 103.