Backpacking Africa Part 2.....The Rwenzori Mountains

Uganda Travel Blog

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The Rwenzori Mountains in Southwest Uganda is where I decided to spend a week hiking the central Bujuku-Mubuku circuit. The range is nick-named the "Mountains of the Moon" because they are so rarely scene due to almost constantly being covered in thick mist. The first to spot the mountains was Henry Stanley in 1888. It wasn't until the Duke of Abruzzi 1906 expedition completed there survey that the range was actually explored, making it the last mountain range in Africa to be explored be westerners. I set off from Kampala (the access town) the day before the trek started.


Not much to say about Kasese other than it is less than a one horse town but served its purposes nonetheless.

I left the next morning to head to the RMS (Rwenzori Mountaineering Services) office at the base of the national park in Nyakalengija. Here I was given a short briefing, introduced to my guide and had my bags weighed for the porters. RMS is the only company servicing the mountains and when you pay the ridiculously high fees you get the mandatory guide and two porters thrown into the deal. After everything was sorted out we started the hike.




Day 1: Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba Hut.

Today was the first introduction to the Rwenzori hiking. It only took 4 hours to complete the first leg which covered 10km and climbed 1000m (from 1650m to 2650m).

After arriving at the camp site and having time to cool off from the hike I realized it was already cold at this altitude and I pondered whether or not I brought sufficient warm clothes.




Day 2: Nyabitaba Hut to John Matte Hut. 7km. 700m ascent.

Today was my first introduction to the mud of the Rwenzori mountains. I managed to go down to about mid-shin on some of the trails. Today it was novel and I even took a picture of my legs after I finished the days trek. The novelty quickly wore off on the ensuing days as the mud only intensified and went from shin deep to knee deep. As we climbed higher today I knew it was getting colder but my body was so hot from the work of hiking I didn't notice.

Butterfly 1
When we would stop for short breaks to catch our breath I could see steam coming off of my upper body which was interesting to say the least. Again, the cold at altitude was getting worse.




Day3: John Matte Hut to Bujuku Hut. 6km. 630m ascent.

Today was a very rough day of hiking. We climbed from 11,000ft to 13,000ft through the worst mud and bog I've ever scene. Two sections of bog were actually bridged... sort of. The first section, the lower Bigo bog had a nice new bridge over it that made it very easy to cross. The upper Bigo bog had a bridge but was older and the bog has pretty much "eaten" the remains of the bridge. It was during the crossing of the upper bigo bog that my guide actually fell ass first into the bog soaking him in mud.

Butterfly 2
The last hour of the trek we skirted along the edge of Lake Bujuku which is a beautifully set mountain lake. The great scenery was quickly ignored once I realized the last hour along the side of the lake was entirely deep bog and extremely rough going. Finally arriving at Bujuku hut, exhausted and muddy, I was finally able to enjoy the view looking down on the narrowing Bujuku valley. This was close to as far west as the trek would go since the Congo border was about 1 km more west. From here we have to go south before turning back to the beginning.

Day 4: Bujuku Hut to Kitandara Hut. 6km. 825m ascent, 740m descent.

Today was another long day but with a great reward. Leaving Bujuku hut in the morning we slogged through the bog again as were skirted around the other side of the lake and then made an almost straight vertical ascent up a narrow pass to the top of the ridge overlook the valley. From here we took the route to Elena Hut.

Elena hut is a small hut used by climbers making a summit on Mt. Stanely. The hut sits at 15,000ft. The great part about this is the last 1,00ft of climbing was in the alpine zone which meant there was no more vegetation and more importantly, no more mud!!! The climb was slow going and at the top is was indeed very cold. Unfortunately, as we approached the hut a massive sheet of fog and mist rolled in completely obstructing any views of the surrounding peaks. After having lunch at the hut we started out descent down to the Scott-Elliot Pass and then onwards to Kitandara hut. The descent went quickly as the surrounds changed from arid alpine zone back into the lush green forest and mud covered trails I had come to know. There were a few up and downs over various ridges was we made our way to the hut. When we finally arrived, again exhausted and muddy, I was thrilled at the location. The hut where I'd be sleeping was right on the edge of a gorgeous mountain lake. It was also at this hut that I realized I could no longer take the boredom of not hiking in the afternoon.
Everlasting flower 1
In spite of being tired and beat up from a long stretch of hiking the remainder of the afternoons in the hut were really boring. Since I was keeping my pack light for the trek I had absolutely no entertainment and the porters and guide kept to themselves in their own hut. I ran into virtually no other travelers on the trip so I had nothing to do in the afternoon and evenings. After four days of this I was ready for a change. I talked my guide into doing to segments of the trek the next day so the entire day would be spent hiking and I'd have limited time to myself.



Day 5: Kitandara Hut to Nyabitaba Hut. 11km. 10 hrs.

Today we started early leaving the beautiful set Kitandara hut and headed straight up to the Freshfield pass.

Everlasting flower 2
This was a grueling climb but offered nice views once we completed the ascent. From there... it was literally all downhill. Only, it didn't get any easier. The morning section involved a long descent through mud and boulders and slogging through more bog. The afternoon section involved an even steeper descent down a long wet rock face where I spent more time on my ass than on my feet (most of the time on purpose). The hike continued into the early evening through dense bamboo forest with howling blue monkeys around us. We made it to camp right as the darkness was falling over the forest. This night I slept very well!!!!



Day 6:

Today was a short 3 hour hike, down 1000m, to cross the last 10km to the Nyakalengija RMS base.

Here I said good bye to my porters and guide and took the 30 minute ride back into Kasese where I checked into my hotel and took a VERY long much needed shower. This would be the first of three showers it would take to get all the mud off of me. I'm still working on getting the mud out of my clothes. All said and done the trek was 50km that took me up to 15,000ft. I'm glad I did it and certainly look back on it with fond memories in retrospect... but there were times when I was slogging through knee deep mud and bog that I was none too happy. The Rwenzori mountains really were a place out of this world. It is so wet that plants grow to abnormally huge sizes. Its so remote and isolated you really feel like you're on another planet.






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Butterfly 1
Butterfly 1
Butterfly 2
Butterfly 2
Everlasting flower 1
Everlasting flower 1
Everlasting flower 2
Everlasting flower 2
one of the porters
one of the porters
Fresh Field sign
Fresh Field sign
Groundsel Forest close-up
Groundsel Forest close-up
Groundsel forest
Groundsel forest
Falls
Falls
another porter at bigo bog
another porter at bigo bog
stream again
stream again
Lobelia
Lobelia
a refreshing stream
a refreshing stream
view from karangora peak
view from karangora peak