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Rwenzori Treks

Hiking Through The Rwenzori Mountains

In AD150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range, deep in the heart of Africa that, he claimed, was the source of the Nile and which he called the Mountains of the Moon. Over the centuries this curious notion of tropical snow faded into mythology and, when John Speke found the Nile’s exit from Lake Victoria, a place in fiction for the Mountains of the Moon seemed assured. But then, in 1889, Henry Stanley emerged from central Africa to announce that such a mountain did exist. He mapped it by its local name of Rwenjura – or ‘rainmaker’.

In due course mountaineers explored Ptolemy’s Mountains of the Moon. Though just miles north of the Equator, they found in the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose meltwaters represent the highest springs ofthe Nile. These trickle downwards into U-shaped glacial valleys where, supplemented by up to 2500mm of rain/year, they saturate the broad valley floors to form great soggy bogs. Within these rain and mist filled troughs, loom specimens of Africa’s bizarre high altitude vegetation and stunted trees enveloped by colorful mosses and draped with beards of lichen.

This remarkable landscape is bisected by the Uganda-Congo border which passes through Mt. Stanley the highest peak. The Ugandan Rwenzori is protected by the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and, in Congo by the Virunga National Park. The park can be explored along a 7 -day trail that meanders along the Mobuku and Bujuku valleys beneath the highest peaks. Though distances are short, the terrain, altitude and weather combine to create a tough trek, the difficulty of which should not be underestimated.

After its sighting by Stanley, the weather confounded several attempts to scale (or even observe) the mountain’s main peaks. In 1906, the Italian Duke of Abruzzi timed his expedition more carefully, making his attempt during June and July. He and his companions succeeded in scaling, mapping and photographing all of the main peaks and establishing the layout of the high Rwenzori.

Getting There
The Rwenzori lies a few kilometres north of the equator, rising over 4000m above the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley. The park trailhead at Nyakalengija can be reached from Kampala from the north via Fort Portal (375km) or the south passing through Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park (450km). You can book a guided tour with one of the local tour operators who offer organised Rwenzori treks. If you are not a fan of the road trip, taking a charter flights to Kasese can be arranged from Kampala (Kajjansi) or Entebbe.

Hiking in the Rwenzoris

While those with the inclination can scale the main peaks, most visitors are content to follow the Central Circuit trail to enjoy their magnificent setting. Time your ascent for the driest months which are July-August and December-February. Pack for an alpine expedition, taking a good quality sleeping bag and raingear, and a supply of spare warm clothes, especially socks. There will be little opportunity to dry clothes and equipment. Strong boots capable of being fitted with crampons are essential for the peaks. A pair of cheap gumboots are better suited to the boggy conditions of the Central Circuit.

The Central Circuit hike is organised through the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) and starts from Nyakalengija. RMS will provide a guide, cook, and sufficient porters to carry your heavy equipment and food, leaving you to carry a small pack with raingear, spare clothes, camera, water bottle and snacks. UWA will provide a ranger escort. You will be responsible for providing your own food, cooking equipment and fuel, first aid kit, and sleeping bag and mat. Some equipment, such as crampons, ice-axes, ropes and harnesses, can be rented from RMS. Food can be purchased in Kasese or Kampala but specialised, lightweight dried meals should be brought with you to Uganda. Note that park fees are paid separately to UWA.

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