Aaah, so you have seen the photos from the Mountain Slayers Uganda trip to the Rwenzoris and now you feel the FOMO bug bite harder than ever. You have sworn, “this time, even if I end up alone”, I’m going! You have checked with different tour agents, done some research on required gear (or not), sworn to hit the road running in preparation and all. It’s a mountain of stuff to consider but thanks to the excitement, it all seems so manageable. And it is.
As a club that is enthusiastic about the mountains (this was our 4th trip to the Rwenzoris), allow us to share some guidance that might make your first experience worthwhile.
1. The best time to go
Always best to go in the dry season. The mountain makes its own weather but generally follows climate patterns in the areas surrounding the foothills, i.e. Kasese and Bundibugyo. This 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 more slippery. Leave the kids behind so they won’t be confused seeing an adult ‘play around’ in mud ‘gogolo’. Gumboots and waterproof 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 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 before 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
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 eyeballs 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 acclimatise by building up more red blood cells to absorb the decreasing oxygen. Drink lots of water too and carry a daily dose of Diamox.
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 energising 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(and other fruits) with you.
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 lunch of a 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.
7. 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 several 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.
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!