Kristina's African Safaris
USG5 Climbing the Rwenzoris
A 10 day safari which starts
and finishes in Kampala. This safari can also be done on a private basis.
"The entire length
of the range burst out of the cloudy darkness . . . a giant among the mountains,
the melting snow of whose tops has been for some 50 centuries most vital to the
peoples of Egypt" - Henry Morton Stanley.
The Rwenzoris, or the
Mountains of the Moon, so named by the Hellenic astronomer Ptolemy, have a
legendary beauty. They were explored and mapped out by Henry Morton Stanley,
Emin Pasha and Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia. At the centre of the range are six
peaks capped with ice and snow and three glaciers. The mountains - about 120 km
long - were forced up during the creation of the Great Rift Valley. The highest
peak of Mount Stanley is Margherita, which rises to 5,109m, the third highest in
Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.
The heavy rain makes the
mountain flora luxuriant, growing to absurd proportions, with giant lobelia and
groundsel shooting up to 10 metres. The wild flowers and birds are enchanting. A
hike through the lower reaches of the central Rwenzori needs about six days;
ascent of the peaks is a technical climb and takes a further two days and
requires climbers to be physically fit and equipped with ropes, crampons and
appropriate mountaineering equipment (see Travel Notes for details). The best
time to climb the mountain is from June through to August and from December to
February. Climbing is organised by Rwenzori Mountaineering Services and includes
1 guide and 2 porters per person, meals, accommodation and entrance fees. A
minimum number of 4 climbers on the peaks is advised – 2 climbers and 2
guides. For solo climbers a second guide should be taken for which a supplement
has to be paid. Maximum recommended group number on Volcanoes climbs is 8.
Clients stay 1 night at
Margherita Hotel or Volcanoes Queen Elizabeth site on the way to the mountain,
where they sleep in the basic mountain huts or in tents. On return they sleep 1
night at Mweya/Jacana.
Day 1 THURSDAY
Briefing on your safari. Depart
for Kasese, via Queen Elizabeth National Park. Set off on the southbound road at
10am. On the way see the royal drum makers, stand on the Equator, bargain at the
roadside markets. Descend to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, keeping an eye
out for game. O/N: Margherita Hotel, Kasese/Volcanoes Queen Elizabeth site (FB).
Day 2 FRIDAY
Begin the climb - to Nyabitaba
Hut (2650m). After breakfast drive to Nyakalengija trailhead (1600m). Make final
arrangements for a guide and porters. Begin hiking up to Nyabitaba hut. Walk
through the banana shambas on the side of the steep foothills, past the typical
Bakonjo homesteads with the children waving you on! Follow the trail along the
Mubuku River, through landslides and up and down rocks and bluffs. Cross the
Mahoma River and climb steeply through bracken fern slopes and Podocarpus forest
to Nyabitaba Hut for overnight (FB).
Day 3 SATURDAY
To John Matte Hut (3350m). The
trail from Nyabitaba drops down through the forest to the Kurt Shafer Bridge,
just below the confluence of the Bujuku and Mubuku Rivers. A steep ascent
through bamboo forest, traversing a long and exhausting stretch of slippery
moss-covered rock. From Nyamileju rock shelter, on clear days, Mount Stanley and
Mount Speke can be glimpsed before passing into the zone of the giant heather,
lobelia and groundsel. The final stretch to the hut is across a tiring bog, the
first of many for which the mountain is infamous (FB).
Day 4 SUNDAY
To Bujuku Hut (3900m).
Immediately after John Matte Hut, the trail drops down to cross the Bujuku River
and enters Lower Bigo Bog, home of giant lobelias. Jumping from tussock to
tussock, the bog is finally crossed but rarely without the feet sampling some of
the freezing ooze below. The Upper Bigo bog gives way to Bujuku Lake, with views
of Mt Baker to the South and Mt Stanley to the West. Bujuku Hut, well located in
the shadow of Mount Baker and Mount Speke, is set in a narrow valley below
Stuhlmann Pass. A spectacular setting but it can be very cold, even for the
Day 5 MONDAY
To Elena Hut (4541m). Leaving
Bujuku, through more bog, the trail climbs the steep slopes west of the lake,
passing through the magical Groundsel Gully as it ascends to Scott-Elliot Pass
at 4372m. At the head of the gully a metal ladder takes you over a steep section
after which the trail splits into two. The right leads up to Elena Hut and Mount
Stanley on a steep trail over large boulders. The left path leads to
Scott-Elliot Pass and down to Kitandara Lakes. For those sleeping at the basic
Elena Hut be prepared for a cold and icy night (FB).
Day 6 TUESDAY
For those climbing Margherita
peak (5109m) continue to the base of the Stanley Glacier. Depending on the
weather and the individual’s acclimatisation, it can be a four to seven hour
walk to the summit of Margherita. This is a tough walk over three glaciers,
slippery rock, ice and very exposed areas which are open on many sides. It is
only for the physically fit and is a technical climb which requires roping up,
crampons and appropriate equipment for cold, windy and icy conditions. It is
best to attempt the final climb in a minimum group of 4 - two climbers and two
guides; (a supplement for the extra guide has to be paid for at the time of
booking). Climb on to the glacier, cross the Stanley Plateau and proceed with
the ascent. Subject to altitude sickness, fog and weather, scramble up to the
summit of Margherita, crown of the Rwenzoris. Due to the altitude and the tough
conditions not everybody will make it to the summit so do not be disappointed if
you do not. Returning to Scott-Elliot pass, there are spectacular views back to
Bujuku Lake and Mount Speke, up to Mount Stanley and down to the Kitandara
Lakes. Once over the pass the trail enters an alpine zone of sparse vegetation
and rough boulders. Descend to the Kitandara Hut for overnight, past the
Kitandara Lakes. (For those who do not wish to climb the peak, a more restful
day walking from Elena Hut to Kitandara Hut 4,023m.) (FB).
Day 7 WEDNESDAY
To Guy Yeoman Hut (3260m). From
Kitandara, the trail ascends steeply up the headwall, spreading out from the
base of Mount Baker and continuing along the south side of the mountain to
Freshfield Pass. On a clear day there are views into the Congo to the west and
Mount Stanley to the north. From the pass, the long muddy descent continues,
passing the rock shelter at Bujangolo, the base camp for the historic expedition
by the Duke of Abruzzi in 1906 (FB).
Day 8 THURSDAY
To Nyabitaba (2650m). The path
down can be slippery and muddy with little to hold on to and requires careful
balancing over the vertical mud or steep rock. An overnight stop at the
Nyabitaba Hut is a pleasant rest after the exertion of the previous days (FB).
Day 9 FRIDAY
To Nyakalengija trailhead
(1600m). A gentle descent down the muddy paths to the trailhead, arriving late
morning. Lunch in Kasese. Drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park, game viewing
on the way. In the afternoon time permitting, a boat cruise on the Kazinga
Channel where the wildlife and a vast array of birds come to drink O/N: Mweya/Jacana
Day 10 SATURDAY
Early morning game drive.
Depart for Kampala, lunch en route, arriving late afternoon (HB).