So I know the popular route for Mafadi is the 4 day one up Judges pass/Corner pass and down Leslie’s pass.
I see you can also do a 3 day, 2-night there and back route via Judge’s pass?
Does anyone have experience with this?
Can you do it without carrying tents with? i.e sleep in caves?
Night 1-Centenary hut
Night 2 -Injusuthi summit cave
And then is it possible to walk all the way back to Injusuthi camp on Day3?
To steal an answer from the Age of Empires caster T90 - it depends.
I’ve done Mafadi 9 times (6 of which were on Grand Traverses), plus a day hike where I climbed all the peaks around it but didn’t have time to do it as well, and a bunch of hikes where I walked near it without going up it. The speed record on it is just under 6 hours - so any number of days from 1 to 4 is technically possible, just depending on the team.
My personal favourite variation was Easter Weekend 2018 where I did Mafadi in 3 days by going up Giants Pass and down Langalibalele Pass (yes, I am aware that Giants Pass is in the wrong direction).
With keeping the hike sub 50km, you can do Mafadi from Giants Castle or Injisuthi. The speed record on Mafadi was once almost broken from Monks Cowl (back when it was around 10 hours), although starting from there makes no sense unless you are trying to do Champagne Castle as well.
From Injisuthi the common passes would be Corner, Around the Corner, Judge or Leslies Pass. Technically any combo of them is possible. Corner or Around the Corner will usually be done via the Northern High Approach from that side. Note that the Northern High Approach has a 20m high scrambling section - which is technically easy, but can be tricky when wet, and a fall would end badly. Corner Pass also has 3 scrambles, the highest of which is about 5m, and Around the Corner has some exposed scrambles too. Judge Pass is steeper, but has no scrambles. Leslies Pass is also just steep and long, but does have a loose section before you drop down to the river, which can be rather intimidating. The section from Marble Baths to the bottom of Leslies Pass is tricky, there is a trail if you know where to look, but it is very hard to follow.
The other option is to go up from Giants Castle - with Judge Pass being the obvious pass to use from that side. The approach from Giants is slightly longer but generally easier. You can also switch out Centenary Hut with Bannerman Hut, which is in considerably better condition, although a bit further from the pass. Notably Centenary Hut did recently get some repairs, and I have used it even with its leaking roof and missing windows.
Another option from Giants would be to use the much easier Bannerman Pass to reach the escarpment, with the added bonus that you can sleep in Spare Rib Cave halfway up the pass, so that the day is broken up a bit better. Downside of Bannerman Pass is that you will have to cross the Popple Ridge, which is not trivial.
As for leaving tents behind - definitely doable if you know what you are doing and are sure you can find the caves and will make it to the caves. But if things don’t go according to plan, there aren’t many backup caves on the route - also if you find the cave occupied and the occupants are unwilling to share, you could be in for some trouble. The nearest cave to Mafadi after Upper Injisuthi is at the top of Hilton Pass, although it is small and very exposed to wind - not to mention being reasonably far away and off route (don’t attempt Hilton Pass, it is dangerous, one of the scariest routes I’ve ever done). To the south the nearest cave on top would be Bannerman Cave, which is far too far away to be of much use as a backup. That being said, if you do the hike from Giants Castle side, I rate Langalibalele Pass as one of the easiest ways to get to Mafadi, as long as you are willing to spend a lot of time on the escarpment crossing ridges, which is probably harder than the pass itself. Upside of Judge/Corner/Around the Corner Pass is that they drop you in the correct escarpment valley, and on the side where there is a trail most of the way up Mafadi.
Here’s a writeup from when it took an MCSA KZN team up Mafadi over 3 days via Around the Corner Pass and Leslies Pass in 2019. I did a similar route with my running club in May this year, although I haven’t written it up yet.
You can download GPX tracks for all these routes from he website Vertical Endeavour.
Have a look on the VE website (vertical-endevour.com) where you can find a wealth of information on hiking in the berg. The Mafadi area is covered extensively here as well. You will also find tracks, waypoints, passheads, cave locations etc. under the downloads section - very helpul if you’ve never been to a specific area. Also read the trip reports with pictures - again, very helpful.
Depending of the tie of year you go, you can definitely go without tents. However, this is risky as the weather could turn quickly. I often take a bivvy and storm shelter along, even when planning to spend a night in the cave as the cave could be full, bad weather, injuries etc. could mean you never get to the cave etc.
Take note that Centenary hut is a dump. Don’t plan on sleeping inside it as the roof is gone in most places, the windows are broken, the floor is covered in bird poo and litter and I am nut sure of the structural integrity of the hut - just look at the pillars at the entrance when you get there, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
I think Ghaz has covered most of your questions above in enough detail so that I don’t have to elaborate. What I will add is that, for me, having done the route in both directions and with many variations, I prefer going up Corner and down Mafadi. Here’s why: If you go up Corner pass you can get to Upper Injasuthi cave in a day - if you are fit and strong. It’s a rather tough day, and depending on who we’ve taken along, we’ve arrived at the cave (UIC) a few times after the sun had set. If you sleep over at Injasuthi and get going earlier you should get to the cave before sunset, but we generally drive through from Gauteng and therefore often only get going at around 9H30am. This is typically a Friday.
For the Saturday you then have the entire day to explore Mafadi and the ridges on route to Leslies pass. Quick tip: You can easily find the top of Leslies pass by looking at the basotho kraals. It’s directly opposite (to the North) from the second sheep kraal in the final valley where the pass starts.
We often sleep in a bit on the Saturday morning as the Friday was a bit hard, so with an 8am start we then get to the top of Leslies at around 1pm-ish, which gives you more than enough time to get down to Marble Bath caves. The bottom section just before you finsish the pass itself is covered in very loose little stones and yes, you will slide down sections of it. My wife simply sat down and slid down the entire section.
From here you hop over a ridge (you’ll see the path straight ahead), and then you get over and down the ridge where the ridge eventually terminates in a camping spot. Now starts the fun part - the river section. There’s a rumour that there is a path here, somewhere, and you will probably find sections of it as you walk down the river but don’t bother staying on it as it peters out every now and then.
Tip: Keep to the left here - there is often a section of river bank that is much easier to traverse than the river itself.
You can now enjoy cooling off at the pools at the end of a this day, which, although not as tough as Friday was still enough to make your legs feel a bit wobbly. You would have done a fair bit of descending today.
The nice thing about doing the route in this way is that Sunday is a short and easy day back to camp, and if you drive to Gauteng you can make it home before sunset.
Whichever route you decide to take, enjoy the mountains!!!
This is an interesting point - because people have a different preference on line from Mafadi to Leslies Pass. I personally prefer staying on the ridge from the summit to the pass - this ridge section for me is actually the most scenic part of the hike. The pass is impossible to miss from the ridge, but its mostly the views that I’m interested in. There is a bit of scrambling, and if its windy it won’t necessarily be the best route - but even on Grand Traverses I opt for the ridge line rather than the valley line through here. The valley line is the more common choice, though.
Great thanks for the info. I’ll have a look at VE website as well!
Thanks. Seems we’ll have to take the tent with if centenary hut is in such a bad state…
I’ve done both the valley and ridgeline and in both directions, and I have to say that the ridgeline is also my favourite. Definitely more scenic, definitely windier so for the current season it should work well. I’ve had to drop down to the valley in winter to get water though, which then necessitated a bit of an up-climb to the top of the pass again, but it wasn’t too much of a slog. I’ve also tented in the valley in the dead of winter with nobody else around, and it was super cold that night as that valley is like a funnel for cold air coming from the higher ridges.
Susan, while I’m thinking about it - you don’t have to tent over at Centenary hut. There is a spot on the NHA I’ve always wanted to spend the night - if you are feeling a bit adventurous it can work for you. The hut is at around 2100m asl, but if you go up the Northern High Approach(NHA), just as it tops out above Centenary hut, there is a flat section with a small wall to the west that should break the wind a bit. It’s at around 2400m asl, so you would be a bit higher than at Centenary hut, which would make the next day easier. Just remember to take some water along as there is none at this spot. A nice waterspot at the hut can be found about 250m from the hut. If you stand on the stoep area (or what is left of it) and look directly to the south, i.e. looking at the path from the hut going up to the contour path, you will notice a side path shooting of to the left. Follow this path till you get to the small stream crossing the path.
The spot you are referring to would be really scenic, especially for the sunrise the next morning - but as you say it is far from water, by contrast to the hut which is right by reliable water. Notably it will also be very exposed to wind. I wouldn’t use it personally - simply because of the wind risk, and the chance of risk of lightning in a thunderstorm.
Centenary Hut did recently have some renovations done, paid for by MCSA KZN Section as far as I know. I believe the hut is in usable shape now - although it wasn’t when I was last there in May 2022.