Rwenzori Mountains: Mountains of the Moon

Ruwenzori Mountains Virunga National Park Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The mountains are said to have been formed three million years ago. The range is about 120 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide. The Rwenzori is composed of a group of mountains referred to as massifs. The massifs are separated by deep gorges. They are Mount Stanley (5,109 metres), Mount Speke (4,890 metres), Mount Baker (4,843 metres), Mount Emin (4,798 metres), Mount Gessi (4,715 metres) and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4,627 metres).

Vegetation in Rwenzori Mountains. Photo: Jorn Eriksson/Flickr

The peak of the mountains is the Marhgherita Peak which is on Mount Stanley. It is the third highest peak in Africa. The name Ruwenzori was changed to Rwenzori around 1980. This was in order to keep more closely with the local name Rwenjura.

Read: WATCH: Snows Of The Nile short documentary

The mountains are one of the sources of the river Nile. Although glaciers are disappearing from the mountains due to global warming, the Rwenzori peaks are permanently snow-capped.

Ornithologist James P. Chapin displays Flag #4 on expedition in the Ruwenzori Mountains, 1925
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The mountains are a host to two national parks, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Virunga National Park. The mountains also boast of lush vegetation which ranges from tropical rainforest through alpine meadows to snow.

The reference to Mount Rwenzori as Mountains of the Moon came from Greek explorers trying to locate the source of the Nile. A merchant called Diogenes reported that the source of the Nile came from a group of mountains which the indigenes of the land called Mountains of the  Moon because of their snow-capped whiteness. Unfortunately this snow-capped whiteness has been reducing and is likely to stop existing.

Snow Capped Rwenzori Mountains
Photo: Jorn Eriksson/ Flickr

The glacial recession on the Rwenzori Mountains has been a cause for worry. It is one of the evidence of global warming. In 1906, the Rwenzori had 43 glaciers across six mountains. Almost 100 years later, in 2005, less than half of those glaciers were present on three mountains.

Read: Sossusvlei, one of Africa’s most spectacular landmarks

The Rwenzori Mountains experience high and regular rainfall throughout the year making it have one of the most diverse vegetation. The Rwenzori has five vegetation zones which changes as one goes higher. The grassland which is found at 1000 to 2000 metres, montane forest (2000 to 3000m), bamboo/mimulopsis zone (2500 to 3,500m), heather/Rapanea zone (3000 to 4000m) and finally the afro-alpine moorland zone (4000 to 4,500m).

Uganda has three UNESCO Heritage Sites and Rwenzori Mountains National Park is one of them.

Once called the Ruwenzori Ranges, and now called the Rwenzori Mountains, the Mountains of the Moon are located between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stretching to heights of about 5, 109 metres the Rwenzori Mountains are one of the highest mountains in Africa.
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Uganda: Scaling the beautiful Mount Elgon

I was at the top, I could see everything, from the blue skies, to the thick blankets of white clouds gracefully floating by, and the wind blew strong but kind. I could almost still taste the Arabica brewed coffee I had sipped earlier, to the sounds of the whispering wind, interrupted by chatters of excited people posing for a group photo.

Peace! It was one of those moments you want to last forever … a gentle reminder that indeed there is a God, master and creator of an amazing place such as this.

 

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A month before

Steven Wasswa, a friend who works with Kakungulu Safaris, informed me that he would be off to climb the eighth-highest mountain in Africa, with the largest base area of any free-standing volcano in the world–Mountain Elgon.

“I had always wanted to do this,” I thought to myself. And as someone with a sports background, a month’s notice seemed fair enough. So I started a thrice-a-

week workout routine to get in shape for the challenge ahead. The day approached sooner than I anticipated, thanks to my anxiety, but now it was here and it was too late to back down now.

Thermal base clothing (temperature drops to as low as 10 degrees centigrade), check! Quick dry pants, check! Wind breaker jacket, warm sleeping bag, water bottle and of course a camera, all check!

Meeting and chocolate checkpoint 

The rendezvous point was Lugogo, UMA grounds and on the evening when I got there, I mingled with the other travellers as we waited for the rest of the group to assemble. One of the hikers kept asking about my check-list to the point of enquiring if I had packed chocolates and candy. How old did he think I was, five? I later regretted that thought when the organizers explained how the body needs quick energy boosts during the hikes.

Thankfully I managed to get hold of a packet of assorted chocolates and soon we were on our way to Sironko District where we camped in Budadiri at a little hotel near the Uganda Wild Life Authority Offices (UWA) for the night.

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Hiking Africans?

The next morning we got up early to a tasty local breakfast, buffet style of matooke and ground nuts, bread and butter, chapatti, milk, juice and coffee. The 20-member team then gathered at the UWA offices for a briefing after which we were taken to the foot of the mountain, deeper in Budadiri, where our hike begun.

We split into groups of three with the least energetic at the front to set the pace. We walked through the villages as smiling children in worn-out clothing ran to wave at us. The locals looked surprised to see us. I later gathered this was because it is usually white people that go up the mountains.

Wall of death

Mid-morning, we arrived at the wall of death. Apparently, back in the day some people are said to have died climbing up the mountain at this rock. It stared

at us as if in silent challenge, but we stood tall and matched to it like Napoleon’s soldiers to Russia. Thankfully there was a metallic sAtaircase for easier passage.

A few more hours of walking and we were in the rain/ bamboo forest. Somehow, the three groups organized earlier disintegrated into smaller ones and the stronger fellas started to lead. By 3:30 pm, we were at Sasa River camps. The cold started to set in as we set up camp for the night. We also passed time dipping in the freezing cold river for a quick bath, sharing a camp-fire dinner, chatting, and listening to music.

This routine would go on for the next two days. Along the way we sighted some monkeys, deer, birds, small cats, and Birigana Falls.

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To the peak!

The further up we went the windier it got; before we camped at Mude Cave campto prepare for our final lap up the mountain.

That final morning was colder, and I slowly sipped my Arabica brewed coffee to the

view of a breathtaking sunrise. “Almost there,” I said to myself. We set off soon after breakfast, and faced terrain that gets steeper and paradoxically more beautiful as you go up the mountain ranges above the clouds.

We would take short water breaks, and the famous chocolate now came in handy! We came across a shallow ice cold pool named Jackson’s pool. A few hours later, we walked around the jagged edge rim of one of the world’s largest calderas, measuring 40 km long and 8 km wide. On its northern side are hot springs that I have saved for my next Mt Elgon hike. And the caldera also has crater lakes that made us feel like we were in Jurassic park, except that there are no dinosaurs.

We continued on to the Wagagai peak, and finally we were at 13,852 ft (4,155 m) above sea level. I let out a heavy sigh and I have to agree… God made it and saw that it was beautiful! We took group photos, and rested, for tomorrow we would start our journey back home.

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