This hiking trail is doable for most people who have a moderate to high fitness level and some hiking experience will make this a more enjoyable trip. Although not a true expedition style trip, you need to be prepared for all types of weather as this area is known to have all four seasons in one day. Care also needs to be taken on Gray’s Pass as the path is not always well defined and taking the wrong turn could lead you into a precarious position.
The trail starts at Monks Cowl main camp and follows the standard route up to the Sphinx and then on to Breakfast Stream where you will appreciate a well-earned break and a chance to fill up water bottles and from here the path is an easy walk to Blindman’s Corner. At the junction you want to turn right and for the next few kms you will be following the contour path all the way past Hlathikulu Neck, this section is the same route on the Zulu Cave hike. Follow the path down, but not all the way down to the river, there is a path that will lead off to your left hand side and will take you up into the Mhlatswini Valley. In front of you, you will see Gat Berg and the Dragons Back. The path will follow the side of the valley before dropping down into the river and you will follow the path crossing the river a few times before reaching Keith Bush Camp. The campsite is located on the right hand side of the river as you look up the valley and is suitable for a couple of tents. There is a feint path that leads down to the river and in summer water is not an issue. In summer you might have to look for water higher up or lower down. At the campsite you will be surrounded by towering peaks on 3 sides and be treated to an awesome sunset as the clouds get painted by the setting sun.
After and good night’s rest and packing up camp as early as possible, find the path that leads up the spur to Gray’s Pass. The climb is steep and the going will be slow with a heavy pack, remember to fill all you water bottles as there is no water on the pass until you reach the top of the pass. There are quite a few paths made by smugglers, find the path that’s in the best condition and follow it. At a rock band the path disappears and it looks like it carries on into the valley but it actually swings back and up the rock band. Take care here as a few people have gotten lost here. The path climbs up until you are in the shadow of the basalt cliffs and then contours around to the last little crux and then you enter the last rock scramble to the top. The scree is loose so make sure that the group is spaced out so that loose rocks will not hit each other. Once on top you follow the path to the stream and this is a good place to have a break and replenish your energy levels. Consult your map and plan a route to the top of Champagne Castle peak, the easiest route is to follow the valley as it tops out close to the highest point. On top of Champagne you will have awesome views over the KZN midlands and looking south you will see the other two highest points in South Africa namely Magadi and Injasuth Dome. Follow the same path back that you came in with. At the river you will find a few flat camping spots close to the small waterfall. Remember to practice LNT principals and carry out all your trash and if you need to go, walk away from the river to dig your cat hole.
Your last day is going to be a long day so an early start is to your advantage. The route follows that same one you took up but now in reverse. Take care at the crux as it does look quite intimidating when you stand above it. Find a save way down and take special care when wet. The downhill is taxing to your knees so go slowly and steadily. Be careful on the loose rocky section. When looking down the pass you can actually see the route the smugglers use and it is easy to follow it all the way back to Hlathikulu Neck. The contour path section is going to feel like it never ends but before long you will be at Blindman’s Corner and the end is in sight. Remember to fill your water bottle up regularly and to keep hydrated especially in summer. By the time you reach the last downhill by the Sphinx your legs will be tired so take care on the last section especially on the loose rocks. You will appreciate reaching the camp and if you are in time you can still enjoy a cold cooldrink at the little shop.