Mount Rwenzori – Africa’s Highest Mountain Range
Awe-inspiring is perhaps an understatement when describing the beauty of this world-class hiking and mountaineering Uganda destination: The Rwenzoris. Described by one enthralled visitor as Heaven’s Garden, it is as though the gods had hidden this profusion of colour up in the clouds so that only those who dare might reach up and share its secrets. No wonder the mountain range is described as the Mountains of the Moon, even by ancient Hindu scriptures.
Mount Rwenzori can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala, the park can be approached from the south via Mbarara or the north passing through Fort Portal. By air the park is served by Kasese airfield.
These legendary snow-capped mountains were declared a forest reserve in 1941. The reserve is a catchment area giving rise to numerous streams that supply water to the surrounding communities as well as maintaining the flow of water to lakes Edward, George and Albert. Rwenzori Forest Reserve was gazetted as a national park in 1991 and declared a world heritage site in 1995.
The Rwenzori mountains have a range covering an area of 996 square kilometers, lying 4° north of the Equator. The mountain range has six peaks that stretch from Mt. Stanley with Alexandria and Margherita (Africa’s third highest mountain at 5109 metres above sea level), Mt. Speke – Vittorio Emmanuele (4889m), Mt. Baker (4843m), Mt. Gessi (4797m), Mt. Emin (4791m) and Mt. Luigi de Savoia (4626m).
Mt. Rwenzori is renowned for its non-engineered, steep and slippery trails and frequent rain. High altitude, rain, cold temperatures, mud, bogs and steep terrain make it the most challenging range in Africa. Hiking the mountain commences with the hiring of equipment followed by briefing from the guides.
At 1,646m departure from the park headquarters starts with a client walking past Bakonzo homesteads. On reaching the Makoma River, you cross via a very steep climb through open bracken fern slopes and podocarpus forest up to Nyabitaba Hut at 2,652m, which is the arrival point for the day. This walk usually takes five to six hours.
The following day involves heading westwards for half a kilometer then dropping north steeply to Kurf Shafer Bridge. One can choose to overnight at Nyamileju or continue to John Matte Hut. From John Matte you cross the Bujuku River from where you will enter the lower two Bigo Bogs and this is the place where your first real experience of jumping from tussock to tussock in a grassy bog begins.
The trail in this area is usually muddy to the south until the Bigo Hut which is an ideal spot for parties climbing Mt. Speke with overnight usually at Bujuku Hut (3,962m). From Bujuku Hut the circuit is continued on new trails, which rise and fall twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss-draped Groundsel Gully towards Scott Eliot Pass (4,372m). The trek continues to Elena Hut (4,372m) which is the camp prior to climbing Margherita Peak (5,109m).
It is advisable that descent towards Kitandara should never be delayed. Here you will find massive rock walls and craters at the base of Mt. Baker. You then proceed via Upper Kitandara Lake through bad mud to the lower lake and Kitandara Hut where you can spend the night.
It is from this point that treks to Mount Baker or Mount Luigi di Savoia and Vittorio Sella can be arranged.
To avoid overheating on the steep long climb from the lake to Fresh Field Pass (4,282m), it is advisable that the descent starts early. From here one can descend through Kabamba onto the park headquarters at Nyakalengija.
Generally, the trek is an excellent destination for keen hikers and climbers. The best time of the year for hiking is during the dry seasons from July/August and December to February. However, it is still possible to trek in other months.
The fauna of this park is a checklist of 70 mammal species and 182 birds. The Rwenzori Colobus Monkey, L’Hoesti’s Monkey, Chimpanzee, Blue Monkey, Rock Hyrax, Red Forest, Black-fronted Duiker, Elephant, Leopard and the three-horned Chameleon are some of the wildlife that can be spotted.