rwenzori mountains

In AD150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy wrote of as now 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 of the 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.

The 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 diffi culty of which should not be underestimated.

How to get there Rwenzori Mountains National Park

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). Nyakalengija is 17km off the Kasese-Fort Portal road and 25km north of Kasese town. Charter fl ights to Kasese can be arranged from Kampala (Kajjansi) or Entebbe.

Flora and fauna

The Rwenzori today is remarkable for its fl ora rather than its fauna. Elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog, bushbuck, chimpanzee and leopard are present but are rarely seen. However primates such as black and white colobus and the blue monkey may be seen, as well as the hyrax, the elephant’s diminutive cousin.

The Rwenzori is home to 241 bird species of which 19 are endemic to the mountain. Several birds are limited to just a few forests along the Albertine rift, notably the Rwenzori Turaco. In the alpine zone look for the Malachite Sunbird.

An ascent of the mountain passes through a series of increasingly dramatic vegetation zones. Above the Bakonzo farmlands, montane forest (1500-2500m) gives way to bamboo stands and messy tangles of Mimulopsis (2500-3000m). This is followed by the lovely Heather-Rapenea zone (3000-4000m), which is characterized by giant tree-heathers (Erica spp.), garishly coloured mosses and drab beards of lichen.

Spectacular forms of giant lobelia (Lobelia spp.) and groundsels (Senecio spp.) are first found in this zone. These plants persist into the highest, Alpine zone (3800-4500m) where they are joined by wiry but pretty thickets of Helichrysum or ‘everlasting flowers’.

The Bigo Bogs in the Upper Bujuku Valley are colonised by tussocks of sedge (Carex spp). These provide climbers with useful if disconcertingly wobbly ‘stepping stones’ with which to negotiate these notoriously muddy sections.

Accommodation

The mountain’s Central Circuit is provided with basic mountain huts (you should take your own sleeping bags and sleeping mats). Camping and rooms are available at the Circuit’s Nyakalengija trailhead at Ruboni Campsite and RMS Guesthouse. The trailhead for the proposed Kilembe Trail is served by Rwenzori Backpackers Hostel. Other options exist in Kasese, Fort Portal and in nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Health and safety on the trail

Hikers should familiarise themselves with the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia and the various forms of altitude sickness (see Osmaston’s Guide to the Rwenzori). Above 2500m, altitude sickness can affect anyone, irrespective of age, fitness or previous mountain experience. The most effective treatment is descent to a lower altitude.

Good behaviour at the huts and on the trail is appreciated

  • The park operates a ‘Leave no trace’ policy. Collect all waste and make sure you or your porters take it out of the park.
  • Please use the latrines provided at huts.
  • Respect others in the huts by sharing space at the stoves and talking quietly.
  • Observe the prohibition on wood fi res which degrade the park’s vegetation. Gas cookers are provided by RMS.
  • During periods of bad weather, it may be necessary to wait more than one night at huts to ease congestion ahead.
  • Minimise damage to the trails by following your guide closely and avoid making new paths.