Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda - summiting the third highest peak in Africa
The Rwenzori Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are the highest mountain range in Africa, containing six of the ten highest peaks in Africa, and are home to the only year-round snow in Africa (despite lying close to the equator). They are one of the best-kept secrets in hiking, with fewer than 1,000 people a year exploring one of the most varied environments on the planet. With the seemingly endless mud and high altitude (often over 4,000 m above sea level), offset by incredibly diverse and surreal landscapes and flora, they are a tough but rewarding place to hike. A typical 7-10 day circuit hike takes in rainforest, bamboo forest, sub-alpine and alpine zones, lakes, glaciers, and the third highest peak in Africa, Mt Stanley, at 5,109m.
The Rwenzori Mountains need to be walked with a guide and porters, provided by the duopoly of Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) and Rwenzori Mountain Services (RMS). Both own their own camps, but RTS also own their own track. RMS is the original operator, locally owned, with their Central Circuit Trail in the middle of the park, mostly running along the bottom of valleys before heading up to the summits. They claim the shortest and easiest route to the summit of Mt Stanley, but it allows less time for acclimatisation, and the camps, built decades ago by the Ugandan Tourism Board, are showing their age.
I spent ten days exploring the National Park, from rainforest at the base to glaciers at the highest summit. Here are the highlights: Unusual flora: Iíve never been anywhere with such an exotic and eclectic diversity of plant life, with everlasting flowers, Giant Heather trees, Giant Lobelias, Giant Groundsel, and many other quite fantastical species.
Margarita Peak: The highest point of Mt Stanley, Margarita Peak is significantly more technical than the two higher peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya. Scaling it was one of the more terrifying and exhausting days of my life, ascending, traversing, and descending fixed and temporary ropes, crossing two glaciers with crampons and ice axe, and passing underneath these incredible ice formations.
Mountain views: There were plenty of epic mountain landscapes, of a surprisingly varied nature.
The mud!: My main memory of the Rwenzori Mountains though was the seemingly endless mud, with any flat sections of the track likely to be bog, and many high and steep sections also thick mud. To be honest, I rather enjoyed the challenge of getting through them without either falling over or losing a boot to the mud. It isnít easy though. Expect mud that could swallow people alive, steep and slippery ascents and descents, highly changeable weather, and the challenge of walking at altitude.
For more about the trip, go to https://jontynz.com/category/hiking/rwenzori-mountains-uganda/ [Ed: Jonty, a guest speaker, gave a presentation to the club on this trip on 2 February].
- Party members
- Jonty Crane (scribe).