In AD135, 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 not 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 high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose melt waters 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 colourful mosses and draped with beards of lichen.
This is bisected by the Uganda – Congo border which passes through Mt Stanley the highest peak. The Uganda 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 this expedition more carefully, making his attempt during June and July. He and His companions succeeded in scaling, mapping, photographing all of the main peaks and establishing the lay out of the high Rwenzori
How to Get There
The Rwenzori lies a few kilometers north of the equator, rising over 4000 m above the floor of the Albertine RiftValley.The park trail head at Nyakalengija can be reached from Kampala from the North via Fort portal (375 Km) or the south passing through Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park (450Km).Nyakalengija is 17Km off the Kasese – Fortpotal road and 25Km north of Kasese town. Charter flights to Kasese can be arranged from Kampala (Kajjansi) or Entebbe.
Flora and Fauna
The Rwenzori today is remarkable for its flora rather than 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 (1350 – 2500m)gives way to bamboo stands and messy tangles of Mimulopsis (2500 – 3000m).This followed by the lovely Heather – Rapanea zone (3000 – 4000m), which is characterized by giant tree – heathers (Erica spp.), garshly 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 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 colonized by tussocks of sedge (carex spp).These provide climbers with useful if disconcertingly wobby stepping stones with which to negotiate these notoriously muddy sections.
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 of the proposed Kilembe trail is swerved by Rwenzori Back packers Hostel. Other options exist in Kasese, Fort Portal and in nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Planning Your Trip
While those with inclination can scale the main peaks, most visitors are content 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 is better suited to the boggy conditions of the central circuit.
The central circuit hike is organized through the Rwenzori mountaineering Services (RMS) and starts from Nyakalengij a. RMS will provide a guide book, 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 equipment5 and fuel, first aid kit , and a 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 specialized, light weight dried meals should be brought with you to Uganda .Note that park fees are paid separately to UWA.
Expeditions with technical mountaineering guides and quality equipment can also be arranged through several companies internationally or, if in Uganda, the Adrift Adventure Company.