When one thinks about the Rwenzoris, snow and glaciers probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. After all, this is the equator. But these aren’t the kind of mountains that lend themselves well to the business of conforming to expectations.
By Anthony Natif, Sarah B. Jean and Paul. N. Lumala
It’s also a common misconception that Rwenzori is just one mountain; Stanley; whose peak is Margherita. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Rwenzoris have more than 16 peaks on 6 massifs. 4 of the 16 peaks are among the 10 highest in Africa. Rising to a staggering 5,109 meters above sea level at their highest, these mountains that straddle the border between Uganda and Congo are taller than the Alps in Europe, and the Rockies in North America, and offer a purer, more challenging climb than the more illustrious Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, all while serving up a visual treat that’s unrivalled in African mountaineering. In keeping with the locals’ name for them; Rwenjura or “rainmaker”, the Rwenzoris can be rather muddy and notoriously difficult to climb.
It’s also a common misconception that Rwenzori is just one mountain; Stanley; whose peak is Margherita. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Christened “Mountains of the Moon” by Greek-Roman mathematician, astronomer and father of geography, Claudius Ptolemy for their snowcapped whiteness, they continue to wow visitors with their glaciers, glacial lakes, numerous rivers and waterfalls, all set on a backdrop of a diverse green landscape, traversed by a vast array of wildlife. The Rwenzoris lend credence to the popular belief that mountains aren’t discrete objects that can be teased apart from their landscapes but that they are intertwined in infinitely complex ways with the wildlife that calls them home, the trees that grow on their hills and the humans that attempt to climb them. And attempt to climb them we did.
From 5th -14th September 2020, a 26-member team from Mountain Slayers Uganda, an eclectic group of outdoor enthusiasts, set out to conquer some of the highest peaks in the Rwenzoris. This was the largest recorded group of local mountaineers to ever go up the Rwenzoris. The mountains identified were Stanley (Margherita peak), Mt Speke (Vittorio Emmanuel Peak) and Mt Baker (Edward peak). Most individuals set out to summit Margherita but there were those so daring, they had all three mountains on their itinerary and given their mountaineering experience, no one would dare bet against them achieving this most rare of Ugandan mountaineering feats. Most of us mere mortals were focused on getting to the summit of the highest peak in the Rwenzoris; Margherita. It was so named by an Italian Aristocrat, Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, the Duke of Abruzzi, who led the first European expedition to the summit of Mountain Stanley. He named it after an Italian royal; Queen Margherita. Suffice it to say, the queen never came within 9,022.6 km of Uganda. 9,022.7 km being the distance between Uganda and Italy. It is a recurring theme in the Rwenzoris. Stanley for instance – after whom the highest mountain in the Rwenzoris is named – never set foot on it; having seen it from a distance in the Congo on his hunt for Dr David Livingstone.
The journey to Kasese started at 9am on September 5th from Lugogo, in a bus belonging to Uganda Wildlife Authority. The excitement was palpable and belied the kind of gargantuan physical and mental challenge that lay ahead over the next 8 days. After 9 hours of driving, we arrived at Rwenzori Base Camp Tours Holiday Inn-Ibanda, quickly disembarked, were showed to our rooms by the amiable staff and went about making plans for the next day’s hike. We were divided into 2 groups, with one starting the hike on 6th and the other a day after. This was down to the fact that most of the cabins accommodate up to 16 people at full capacity. Gear check and allocation done, we were ready to sleep and recharge our batteries for the next day. We were up and ready to head out by 9am.
The first 13-member team that was to hike on the 6th boarded the UWA bus for a short ride from the hotel towards Mihunga gate. Music was blaring and waists gyrating. The bus couldn’t really go much further than 500 meters from the hotel, with the roads having been recently washed away when River Mubuku burst its banks. We had to walk 2km to the Mihunga Rwenzori Mountains National Park gate. We had a quick check-in with the very helpful UWA staff and after confirming payments and names of individuals entering the park, we were waived off to start our journey. Now was the time for quick pre-hike pictures and a briefing at the information board. The excitement was unmistakable, with everyone anticipating a physical and visual treat.
The park, that covers an area of almost 1,000 square km and has an altitudinal range from 1,600 to 5,109 m a.s.l – with Margherita being the highest point – is part of the Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area and was gazetted as a National Park in 1991. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It is a biodiversity Mecca with 21 small mammal species, 4 of which are endemic to the park, 217 recorded bird species with 17 being endemic and almost 1,000 plant species.
A hike up Margherita takes you through 5 vegetation zones: the grassland zone between 1,000-2,000 m a.s.l, montane forest zone at 2,000-3,000 m a.s.l, bamboo/mimulopsis zone at 2,500-3,500 m a.s.l, heather/rapanea zone from 3000-4000 m a.s.l and finally the afro-alpine moorland zone as one crosses the 4,000 m a.s.l mark.
Formal briefing done, pleasantries exchanged, it was now time to get to the business end of this trip and start the trek in earnest.
With the skies opening, we left the park gate at 12.30pm en route to the first camp, Nyabitaba, some 2,651 m a.s.l. This is where we were to spend the night. The initial part of the trail took us along the thundering River Mubuku whose sound together with the sound of rain hitting the tropical rainforest made for a perfect nature symphony. The trail took us across River Kyoho, one of the cleanest rivers you’ll ever see and back into the thick of the rain forest. The steep climb and descent through forest covered cliffs was only briefly interrupted by occasional teasing views of mountain ranges kissing the sky. 2 hours later, we were past River Mubuku and onto our first designated resting point for a much-needed lunch break. After a quick snack, we were off to Nyabitaba camp to which we got at just after 5pm after navigating our way through brake fern slopes and podocarpus forest. We were welcomed by stunning views of the snow-covered Portal Peaks.
Day 2: Assault on John Maate
Located some 9.2km from Nyabitaba, at 35505m a.s.l, John Maate was built back in 1986 and looks every bit its age. What it lacks in beauty and comfort, it certainly makes up for in views. It offers the first glimpse of the Margherita glacier and allows for magnificent vistas of the Portal peaks. Watching sunrises and sunsets here is the stuff dreams are made of. The journey to John Maate started at 9am with a steep drop to the forest that takes you to the confluence of Mubuku and Bujuku rivers. The formerly imposing Kurt Shafer Bridge used to stand at this point. It has since been washed away by the recent May 2020 landslides that swept through the villages of Nakalengijo, Mubuku, Karusandara, Ibanda, and all the way to Kyaanya town some 7km downstream. The landslides started off a few meters to the west of the former Kurt Shafer Bridge, in whose place now stands a makeshift wooden contraption over which we walked to get to the other side of River Mubuku. The bamboo forest starts just after crossing the river and this opens into a rather long, tiring and precarious hike over slippery, moss-covered rock. One is grateful for shoes with solid grip at this point. The approach to the first resting place, Omukomujuungu (white man’s place) couldn’t come soon enough. We got here at 12pm, rested for an hour and were back to navigating wet boulders on a journey that took us past Kihanama waterfall to the back of which is Kinyangoma waterfall. Simply beautiful.
We traversed more areas recently hit by landslides, crossed River Nyamulejju and went past the old camp; Nyamulejju (a place of beards). It’s in the “old man’s beard” zone, hence its name. This zone has supersize mossy heather trees and lobelias that dwarf Mexican cacti, all this draped in hanging lichen beards, giving the mystical look of being lost in an indescribably surreal forest from centuries past – or planets far off. UNESCO called this zone “Africa’s botanical big game”. It’s no exaggeration.
We eventually got to John Maate camp at 6:30 pm to a warm dish of tasty vegetable soup and a hot cup of coffee. Soon after, the chefs served us potatoes and beef and it was time for bed. Day 2 is brutal as the air starts to get thinner. The talk of the guides was: “survive day 2 and you have a very good chance of reaching the summit”.
Day 3: Off to Bujuku
Set-off was at 9am after a heavy breakfast. The trail drops into the Bujuku valley and follows lengthy walk boards alongside River Bujuku. Walking through this beautiful valley is akin to walking through a wild garden with Peaks Margherita and Alexander, and Mountains Speke and Baker making for spectacular backdrops. This valley makes for some Instagram ready pictures. One would struggle to find a place more beautiful. Anywhere. The trail takes you across rivers and the upper Bigo bogs which give way to a spectacular view of Lake Bujuku neatly ensconced in a valley between Mountains; Stanley to the West, Baker to the South and to the East, Mt. Speke, from whose bosom River Bujuku gushes like a geyser on steroids. We got to Bujuku camp at 4pm. This camp, built back in 2000 is remarkable in its simplicity and certainly isn’t your mother’s Serena Hotel, but at 3962 m a.s.l, one is grateful for any shelter to be safe from the elements. It’s warm and dry. It has one major shelter with 3 rooms having 2 triple decker beds each. This structure can accommodate 24 people. It also has 1 kitchen area, 2 shelters for the porters, an above ground latrine and a bathroom.
We had to quickly head to bed because we had an early day coming up. We also had to separate as a group with people who were set to summit Mt Speke being required to wake up at 4 am. The rest of us mere mortals were up at 7am and got ready to set off for Elena, the last camp before making our way to Margherita.
Day 4: Trek to Elena
It’s easy to lose track of days this late in the hike. We were up before 7am, our friends Paul, Jovita, Richard, Phillip and Patrick having already set off for Mt Speke. They had to brave the rain and snow. Add limited visibility and slippery rocks to the mix and you have a proper Rwenzori experience. We didn’t envy them, but admire them we did. But I digress.
We woke up to a slight drizzle, punishing cold and the beautiful sounds of multiple waterfalls hurtling down mountain cliffs; hundreds of feet high, they pierce through the gloomy morning clouds. To say it was cold is the understatement of the year. We had to layer up, pack our belongings and set off for a 5-hour ascent to Elena; our last stop before heading to Margherita. The excitement was palpable, the obvious trepidation notwithstanding. Elena is in the nosebleed zone, 4,541 m above sea level and is colder than a jilted lover’s morning stare. Oxygen is at a premium and the body isn’t shy about reminding you with occasional bouts of dizziness, a racing heart and headaches. Some less fortunate individuals will throw up, have running tummies and their lungs fill up with fluid, among other scares. We were reminded by the guides about the importance of slowing our ascent so the bodies could acclimatize. A dose of Diamox – medication to help you cope with the altitude – and plenty of water also come in handy.
Anyways, we set off for Elena at 9:45 am and after a particularly perilous climb up a slippery metallic staircase, we got to Omukendege, the first resting place for a much-needed break. It is so named because one time, it was used for a helicopter rescue operation. Besides being relatively flat compared to the Baker, Speke and Stanley ranges surrounding it, there’s nothing to show it is set up for any helicopter landing. After a quick lunch break, we were off to Elena and after navigating some rather slippery rocks, we arrived at Elena, 5km from Bujuku, at 4pm. We had a quick gear check, tried on our crampons as well as our helmets and got our ice axes. It was time to prepare for the final climb. A good rest was needed. Some vegetable soup and dinner later, we were off to bed.
Day 5: Summit Day
We were woken up at 2:44 am and asked to get ready for the final climb which was to start at 3am and have us summit at 9am. That was the expectation. The reality though was a whole different thing. Some of us barely slept, had some dull headaches and were worried about the rains. The guides had said the night before that should it rain, we were to start our hike a lot later because they are usually wary of taking people up those steep, slippery rocks. It didn’t rain and so we were on! The final day is a rock climber’s wet dream. The level of fitness required is high and this should be matched by the complete absence of nerves. One can’t afford to panic on these rocks. The climb is technical; with ropes, crampons, belaying up and down breathtaking crevices being the order of the day. For avid rock climbers, this day would be all too familiar. Just a few meters after leaving Elena camp, one is rudely awakened by an arduous scramble up fixed ropes running over slippery rocks with the only light available being that from headlamps. We trudged along through rough terrain until we got to the Stanley plateau at dawn. Crampons and harnesses secured; we hit the ice; crunching sound of crampons on crisp snow serving as the soundtrack to this assault to the summit. The views of the sun rising over Mountains Speke and Baker to the East made for some of the most spectacular panoramas one would ever see. An hour later, Mt Stanley’s most known peaks, Alexandra (5,091 meters a.s.l) and Margherita (5,109 m a.s.l) were firmly in sight. We hit the rocks again and made a mad scramble towards Margherita glacier. A daunting, slow climb over ice and snow ensued. We all had to be on a rope together with the guide constantly reminding us to watch for crevasses in the glacier which presented a potentially life-ending fall into icy oblivion. Our bodies, beaten, weary and gulping for air made convincing arguments that we should turn back, but said arguments couldn’t overcome the adrenaline and sheer desire driving us to get to the summit. It was almost within touch; that’s of course after one more rope-aided climb over ice-covered, wet boulders. We were finally at Margherita; a pile of rock about 40 meters high. We made a labored walk to the sign informing us we were at the highest point in Uganda. An overwhelming sense of relief, indescribable joy and fatigue made for a perfect recipe for tears. Few dry eyes were seen. This is how being on top feels like. It was perhaps fitting that our arrival at the summit was greeted with the heavens opening to drops a mix of rain and snow.
The Journey Back
We may have hoped that after summitting, nothing else could pose a challenge. Oh, how wrong we were. Because as it turns out, after anywhere between 7 and 9 hours of reaching the summit, at this altitude moreover, your body starts losing all its strength. Legs become wobbly; feet stop stepping where you mean to place them. But filled with the elation of having reached the highest point of Uganda, we trudged on. After all, the only way off this mountain was to keep going. At Elena camp, warm soup and noodles awaited those who still had an appetite at these tremendous heights. While the aim for most was to reach the next camp at a lower altitude, several team members reached the camp at night, or were simply too weak and exhausted to continue to Kitandara camp and decided to spend another night at Elena. A welcome rest, but it meant an ever tougher day ahead.
Day 6 – 7: Kitandara- Guy Yeoman-Gate
With regained strength, and after everyone had made it to Kitandara Hut – a scenic spot alongside two glacial lakes sporting flawless reflections of the surrounding peaks, we had yet another ascent to conquer. We may have been on our way down the mountain, but first had to endure another 2h hike up a steep slope on the foothills of Mt Baker, and up to the so-called Freshfield Pass. While this may sound idyllic and as if taken from a Tolkien novel, it more closely resembled the moors surrounding Mordor than the tranquil, blossoming Shire. Worse than the bog, we soon began scrambling across treacherously slippery rocks on our way back down – but at least we were going the right way now (down)! After some more bog (we will not count how many of us had one or two legs completely submerged in thick sludge and had to be pulled out by fellow hikers or our guides), the team finally reach Guy Yeoman for a last night of rest before exiting the park.
The last day on a mountain is a strange one. People are elated for having achieved an incredible feat. But exhaustion is also rife. We had achieved what we had come to do. Our limbs were aching, our energy was low, and so we wanted to make it out of the park as quickly as possible. One of the formerly most dangerous stretches of the trail – “Eat your money trail” – now spots a large number of steep steps and ladders to assist hikers off the mountain. And we were grateful for them. One cannot imagine how the adventurous climbers used to rush down slopes of literally 90 degrees, braving waterfalls, loose rocks and several meter-high vertical drops. After that, the descent almost becomes a breeze. We began recognizing vegetation zones again. First crossing back into the heather, then bamboo zone, past familiar Nyabitaba Hut in the montane forest, and – at long last – the park gate became visible again. Back at base camp, hot showers and cold beers awaited us and we were soon indulging in stories, comparing battle scars and laughing at our moments of weakness along the way. Because on a mountain range like the Rwenzoris, you are bound to become weak at some point or another. And it is often facing your weaknesses that turns out to bring to the forefront your greatest strength.
We were back on level ground.
How to prepare for a hike of this nature.
At Mountain Slayers Uganda, we have a great liking for the Rwenzoris. In fact, this was our fourth trip there and we plan on having it as a permanent fixture on our annual calendar. We’ve learnt a fair bit about how to prepare your body and mind for what is a challenging hike:
1. The Best Time To Go.
It is always best to go in the dry season. It’s commonly said that “the mountain makes its own weather” but it generally follows climate patterns in the areas surrounding the foothills, i.e. Kasese and Bundibugyo. Doesn’t mean you cannot do it in the wet season but be prepared for higher chances of showers. That’s likely to make the bogs stickier and the rocks slippery. Leave the kids behind so they won’t be confused seeing an adult ‘play around’ in mud ‘gogolo’.
Gumboots and water proof gear (be careful to check the authenticity) are a must have, regardless of the season.
2. The Duration Of The Hike.
If you are a summit-bagger (one who is only motivated by getting to the top), plan for 7 days on the mountain’s most popular trail and 2 for travel on the road.
If you are a happy hiker content to experience the mountain’s beauty without the summit, plan for fewer days. There is a popular 3-day Mahoma circuit trail guaranteed to breathe new life into the soul with far less energy to expend for the reward.
3. The Costs.
That’s between you and your agent. We are not here to kill people’s businesses
Expect to spend anywhere from 2-3m if you’re going to the summit since it’s more than likely you may not have all the necessary gear. Less if you plan on spending fewer days there.
‘Tipping’ is not a city in China. Please be gracious enough to tip your guides, chefs and porters for an excellent service. For a pittance, they break their backs and brave the cold for you. Your 10% or more on top of what they are paid will go a long way to impact their lives and those of their families.
4. Gear Requirements
Without packing a full house, have the following essentials in your waterproof duffle bag; hiking boots, sleeping bag (down to -10C), warm jacket, pants, tops, rain cover from head to toe, gumboots, warm gloves, thick socks, beanie hat, warm scarf, water bottle. Also good to take a camera for the memories and energy bars for when the tank feels empty.
The detailed list can be agreed upon with your agent. Renting good gear could be tricky but have faith something will work out.
Feel free to reach out to MSU for advice on gear.
5. Physical Shape
We’ve seen some of the most unfit people summit. It happens but it is not the norm. Best make sure you’re in decent physical shape before you take on the mountain in order to improve your chances. Running, cycling and generally aerobic exercises build endurance. No guarantees here but it’s better than starting from zero.
Please have a doctor check your vitals before you hit the road and report any existing conditions that might affect your breathing and circulation.
The mountain can be a brutal place.
You don’t have to hit the summit to love it. Rwenzori is a place of beauty at every turn you take. The ridges and gorges are ridiculously exaggerated in size, the vegetation zones are nothing like you have ever seen and the mountain has a surprising diversity of animal species if you care to look. Above all, the air is clean. You can see Margherita’s glaciers on just the second day of hiking. If you have nothing to prove, spend time looking out for wonderful sights for your camera. You will not regret it.
There is more than one summit.
Rwenzori is a mountain of 6 different massifs each with numerous peaks (16 in total). Although Margherita on Mt. Stanley remains the most popular owing to its altitude (5109m ASL), mountains Speke and Baker, peaks Portal and Alexander are also major attractions for seasoned hikers. We might fail at convincing you to try the rest before Margherita. It’s your money, after all
7. Altitude Sickness
Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness when the shit really hits the fan, is always a concern above 4000m ASL. Above that altitude, the air becomes noticeably thinner meaning there is less oxygen for your brain. In severe cases, it begins to swell and press against your eye balls causing the eyes to turn red and your head to throb with the mother of all migraines. Luckily, you can reduce the chances of this happening by ascending slowly in order to give the body time to acclimatize by building up more red blood cells to absorb the decreasing oxygen. Drink lots of water too and carry a daily dose of Diamox.
8. The Weather
The cold weather goes without saying. It tends to get colder in the wet season but the dry season is no slouch either.
Good luck getting it up if you’re horny toad.
Also say goodbye to the shower for the next 6 nights🕺🏾. Wet wipes will have to do. Don’t waste the porridge water on a painfully cold shower. It’s not worth the risk of hypothermia or pneumonia
Feeding on the mountain primarily serves the purpose of energizing you to walk long hours. It is not a luxury. Do not expect a 5-star service but the meals are balanced and decent enough considering the difficulty of preparing them at high altitude in camps that shift by the day. Take some oranges with you.
10. Sour attitude
Watch out for these types. There is no telling what comportment people will let on after a cold night without a shower followed by a lunch of cold sandwich. Some will remain cheerful, others apprehensive while others will be party poopers. Take it all in stride for the mountain treats us all in different ways. Rwenzori behaves like a wife beater. We don’t even know why we keep going back.
11. You can never know it all even after you experience it
Sometimes we warn people about the difficulty only for them to breeze right through it. Other times, we tell them it will be easy only for them to go after our heads upon descending from the mountain. The truth is, much of the advice you will hear is a hit and miss because the mountain behaves differently almost all the time. Its mood changes with the weather, the time of year, the state of the hiker, the kind of guides you get, the trail you choose, what the chef cooks, how prepared you are, the amount of snow, etc. It’s crazy but that’s why we do it.
There are service providers available.
- Rwenzori Ranges Hikers Association (RRHA) is who we partnered with this time. We have established a great working relationship with them.
- Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) is another we have worked with in the past.
- Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) also provides an excellent service.
You can also partner with Mountain Slayers Uganda for advisory services as we have members with a wealth of experience climbing mountains in East and Southern Africa as well as excellent working relationships with the best mountain staff on ground.
It is our mission to promote mountaineering and the outdoors in Uganda as an alternative pastime by providing safe affordable hiking trips and offering advisory services to that effect.
We also advise that you try hiking smaller mountains first before taking on the big challenge that is Rwenzori. And if you want to do that with us, you are more than welcome. Some rock climbing experience with the Mountain Club of Uganda will also come in handy for some of the trickier parts of the Rwenzori trails.
Famous last words: Happy climbing and welcome to a very addictive sport. Let’s discover Ptolemy’s Mountains of the Moon together. The more the merrier!
What needs to change/improve:
There is a lot that needs to change to make the Rwenzori a bigger draw for hikers and other tourists alike. Thankfully, most of these have been noted by the service providers of Rwenzori Ranges Hikers Association and Mountain Slayers Uganda, as well as reports by UWA and WWF (World Wide Fund for Conservation).
Evacuation is the most obvious concern here. While the human ambulance system of 9-10 strong young men has filled in for motorized ambulances, it still does not match the speed and safety expected on a mountain of such stature. While cognizant of the difficult terrain -roads and motor vehicles are out of the question in the deep gorges and gigantic ridges- we believe the park could benefit from air ambulances as this would be the quickest, albeit expensive, way to evacuate hikers who suffer injury and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Time counts for a lot in both situations more so should the emergency require specialized attention within the golden hour.
Communication and evacuation go hand in hand. Most parts of the mountain trails are in ‘air gaps’ which make it impossible to communicate by phone or radio call. This forces the guides to send porters skipping down the mountain to fetch the human ambulance from the base on a run reminiscent of Paul Revere’s ride. While we are not telecommunications expert, we think the park desperately needs to cover these communication gaps in order to instill confidence in evacuation services.
Considering that most Ugandan visitors to the park are still new to mountaineering, they are also given to luxury tourism. The central circuit trail could be made a little easier for this category of visitors by adding ladders to the remaining steep and slippery sections especially on the Kitandara-Guy Yeoman side of the mountain. A separate trail for the more adventurous tree-hugging hiker can then be established and promoted as such. This will ensure that both categories are catered for.
We are, however, aware of the challenges the heavy rains pose when they trigger floods and the attendant landslides that washed away the most scenic bridge on the mountain and part of the trail in the section close to Mihunga gate.
While the camps can get by and some like Nyabitaba have been refurbished, there is more that can be done to expand them to accommodate bigger numbers while making them warmer where practical. Elena Hut could take more than its maximum of 14 people if efforts are directed to this endeavour. There is a warmer outside Bujuku hut that is not installed.
There are more tourism options than hiking in the Rwenzoris. Rwagimba hot springs near the Bukurungu trail, chimpanzee tracking close to the same trail, bird watching, education tourism are some of the few that come to mind. These need to be developed in order to increase the viability of the mountain as a major attraction.
For a mountain of Rwenzori’s outstanding beauty, it is terribly under-marketed. Many tour operators concentrate on the beaten path – gorilla tracking, bird watching, game drives, chimpanzee tracking, source of the Nile – while neglecting another unique attraction that offers glaciers at the Equator and some endemic bird and plant species. The park and/or UTB should spearhead a well-targeted marketing campaign to make the Rwenzoris an attractive destination on tour operator’s offerings.
There is a lot of history about the mountain that is hard to come by unless one has a very well informed guide. There isn’t a single plaque at any camp or bridge that explains the motivation behind the naming of these places, the visitor information centre at Mihunga gate is more of a registration office than an information office, there is no explanation anywhere in the park of the names of the various mountains and peaks nor notable anecdotes and figures in the history of the park with the exception of Henry Osmaston. The only detailed information exists on the rwenzoriabruzzi.com and RTS websites and this completely ignores local content from the Bakonjo community. We believe the stories have to be told right in order to make the park more attractive to visitors.
Neither the park nor its surroundings have souvenirs of the mountain for people to take home and spark others to come. This needs to be addressed.
The guides and porters do a lot of work that usually goes unnoticed or gets taken for granted. These folks go up and down the Rwenzoris so frequently, carrying lots of weights while looking out for the safety of the visitors. A lot more needs to be done to ensure their work conditions are improved. To this end, the club, in partnership with Nile Special has secured some funds to go towards purchasing gear and equipment to improve safety in these mountains.
Hiker of the trip
The club is filled with brave, daring humans who defy some of the most seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve whatever goals they set their minds to. This trip had many deserving of the title “hiker of the week” but for overcoming double knee surgery and still being able to make it to the top, it’s hard to see past Pablo Ssempa. As he himself will remind you, with a touch of surprise in his voice, he summitted!” While at it, he was able to whip up a quick meal at the top of Margherita, something hitherto not seen at these heights. Some sort of Rwenzori record, surely!
Honourable mentions go to Herman Kambuggu for standing in the gap when a fellow hiker needed a hand or push and of course Richard Byamugisha for putting his quest to get to the highest point of Mountains Stanley, Speke and Baker in one trip on hold in order to ensure the safety of a fellow hiker. Having conquered the first two mountains, Richard was on the last journey to the third challenge when his quick thinking and mountaineering experience helped lead an evacuation of a member who was coming down with a particularly serious bout of Acute Mountain Sickness. These two individuals embody the true spirit of being a slayer.
Last but not least, kudos to Liz Mutesi for organizing what was a flawless expedition. It is thanks to her great organizational effort that the record of the biggest number of local tourists to summit the Rwenzoris was set.
These 26 individuals were: Felix Andama, Hannah Murungi, John Paul Ikanza, Patrick Mbonye, Angela Kodet, Paul Lumala, Richard Byamugisha, Jovita Babirye, Philip Kayiwa, Liz Mutesi, Viola Akuma, Anthony Natif, Evelyn Namara, Sarah Jean Bebb, George Fundi, Pablo Ssempa, Tony Mulinde, Meital Tvor, Charity Alesi, Macwilliams Edward Mwembu, Jimmy Kabagambe, Victoria Ariho, Rose Wanyana, Jacqui Nasige, Suzannah Sanyu, and Herman Kambuggu.
In closing, we left this expedition with the same feelings we usually leave multi-day mountain hikes with. We continue to get awed at how mountains serve up a rainbow spectrum of meaning. They are gorgeous and ugly, peaceful and malevolent, in quick succession. Sometimes, they serve up all these emotions in one fell swoop. The unpredictable nature of mountains will continue to inspire us and arouse a sense of wonder from deep within us. They are forever threatening to turn us into constant wanderers.
Why do we climb, you ask? It’s hard to find an answer that covers every individual climber’s motivation. One thing we all may agree on is that the feeling of accomplishment usually found in the serene solitude of mountain tops is hard to replicate.
Brilliant article. As someone who has hiked several mountains before but not gone beyond 4200m, I can already picture all the struggles and challenges I will have when I finally get time to climb Rwenzori. I will definitely try and be better prepared! Thank you for this brilliant piece of writing!
Thank you, Ozelle! If you’ve already hiked some mountains you should definitely be well on your way to Rwenzori ready. Look out for our trip in June/July next year if you want to climb it with the Mountain Slayers!