My mystical challenge: The 4-day hike up the Rwenzori Mountains

Guest blogger Asedri Philip Drad shares his experience on the notable Mount Rwenzori in Uganda.

 

The purpose of life is to live, to experience, to reach out eagerly and without fear. For the joy of life comes from new encounters. There is no greater joy than having an endlessly changing horizon, or a new and different view of the sun each new day.

 

This is my search for an ever changing horizon on a hike to Uganda's highest point, The Rwenzori, also referred to as the “African Alps” or the Mountains of the moon and the snowy source of the Nile, one of Africa's few remaining glaciers in the tropical Savannah; surrounded by all that Mother Nature has to offer.

As I embarked on this journey, I truly believed that this was my last chance to catch a glimpse of this magnificent and spectacular marvel of glaciers in the tropics, the beauty of the glacial lakes and rivers, the heather and different vegetation zones with a wide variety of flora

 

Driving through Fort Portal and Kasese, to the foothills of the mountain ranges with my pals, Michael and Daniel, I wondered how there could possibly be ice capped peaks and snow falling somewhere around this hot tropical savannah grasslands. As we drew closer to the base camp, it was unbelievable how much the land, the air and the plants quickly changed. 

 

Swimming in the glacial waters of the river Mobuku at the foothills of the mountain ranges, with a perfect view of the ranges surrounding me at all sides, I could feel the difference from the city life that I am so used to. Sitting on the boulders after my cleansing swim and savoring this great moment, life seemed to slow down to a speed at which my mind could comprehend each and everything I could see, feel, hear and smell.  

Day 1

 

It was surreal. I couldn’t believe we were finally hiking the Rwenzori. It didn’t feel like it was really happening. But sure enough, once we crossed the river Ruboni, and got to gate of the National park, within a few minutes, it was obvious that we were in a completely different environment.

 

The temperatures were lower, the air moist and this was felt almost instantly. We trekked alongside the River Mobuku with ease and excitement. The trail like any other tropical mountain, has a range of exotic vegetation organized in discrete vegetation belts distributed across the altitudinal gradient. The montane forest with scattered trees, dense forest to shrub dominated areas welcomed us to the first section of the trail. This zone extends from about 1,800 to (2,200) 2,400 masl.

As we trekked, we were treated to the sight of the three horned and two horned Johnson chameleon that’s endemic to the Rwenzori. Soon, we reached our resting point at River Mahoma which was also the third and final river we encountered on day 1.

 

Here, we had our lunch at the rest house as some of my folks had a cool refreshing bath in the glacial waters of the River Mahoma. From then on we kept on a steep ascent until we reached Nyabitaba camp at about 16:00hrs. Although this trek dragged on for a while, it soon came to pass and soon, I was 2651masl. 

The hike up Mount Rwenzori

 Day 2

 

There is no greater joy than waking up to the view of a mountane forest and high peaks surrounding you.

 

On that day, we left the lush green mountain forests, trekking past the bamboo and marching into the heather zone. 

 

We had a great challenge ahead of us. The John Maate Hut, our goal for the day, was a good six hours and 900 vertical meters away. But this was to be an interesting and dramatic walk. 

Our head guide, Josephat made it clear that this was going to be one of the most trying days of our lives. We had to move slow but sure.

 

We hiked gently besides the Mobuku River, then made a steep descent to the junction of the two rivers Mobuku and Bujuku, then crossed them at the Kurt Schaffer Bridge. Thereafter, we made a steep hike to the bamboo zone in the Bujuku valley, and continued hiking until we reached the resting point. 

As we trekked, some of the summiteers were returning. Two Germans, one reached Margherita peak, the other fell sick and had to stop at Bujuku camp. “It was great and awesome” said the German who reached the summit, “but also steep, freezing and very bad weather” he added.

 

At this point, we were in the heather forest zone, the “cathedral” like we like to call it. If this were to be compared to any living thing, it would be a woman’s body. “So sacred, a work of art, and a life giving vessel,” like Suzy Kassem says.

With my team in the Heather Zone

There were places in this heather zone that looked like they had never witnessed a human footprint, over 100,000 acres of virgin wilderness, all this a jewel, just like the great Gothic cathedrals, like a flawless diamond, it seemed like the artistic work conceived with passion by an architect, the real estate equivalent of a unicorn, beautiful! What a pristine unexplored area! I thought to myself.

 

In the heather zone, it was a steady walk onwards, with the view of the beautiful giant heathers, the giant lobelias and the palm like forests of Senecio. We made the steep hike for about 30 minutes and finally reached the John Maate Camp at 2:35pm. 

Day 3

 

The next two days saw us hike from the heather zone over the board walks, stride into the afro alpine zone, right past the middle of the mystical challenge; Bujuku camp. Then past this camp through the tops of the ridges, right into Mount Di Savoir glacier where we spent the night at Elena hut prior to the final ascent to Magherita peak.

At the Elena hut with Mount Di savior in the background (Elena hut is the last camp before you begin your hike to Margherita)

Day 4

 

The following day, we woke up at 4:00 am to a snow covered hut and rocks covered by snow. With this unexpected reality, I braced myself for the worst but alas, hoped for the best. This was going to be the most demanding day as you will soon find out. The surrounding rocks that I had stood on as I took pictures the previous day were nonexistent. They were all covered in snow.

 

With the moon and our dim headlamps as our guide, we scrambled up mount Stanley and reached the snowline famously known as the Stanley plateau. We were now in unfamiliar territory, away from the afro-Alpine zone and in a snow weathered zone. Up here, we were alone – no friendly senecios for company and without other hikers in view: we could just make out a few shadows and headlamp flashes bobbing far ahead of us. At that moment, we were the highest souls in the country, probably on the continent!

 

When we reached the mountain’s upper end after the glacier, the going turned to rock. We had to scramble over uneven stone just when the air was at its thinnest. 

Just before we embarked on the Margherita glacier, we took a rest and had our lunch, then got our crampons, harnesses in place. The many layers of insulating clothing I had that had been doing a great job were starting to lose the battle, my fingers and toes were getting painfully cold. I couldn’t feel them anymore, it felt like the blood in my fingers had crystallized.

 

It wasn’t good. I was not fine. With only a few vertical meters to go, the altitude had become intense and physically demanding.  The snow cold weather was psychologically torturing and taking its toll on my body. But we were so close!

 

I pushed on as the falling snow intensified and the oxygen became scarce. Soon, we reached the end of the Margherita glacier, and came to the turn that would eventually lead us to the summit; our last steep scramble to the peak. When we scrambled upwards and crested the ridge to the bad weather, the Margherita peak that is visible on a clear day, was hidden.  To all intents and purposes, this was a truly Mystical challenge.

 

Fortunately, at this point, the peak was in perfect view. The energy that filled me as I looked up was so immense and so gratifying because, I was at Uganda’s rooftop. 

Reaching the peak gave me a great sense of accomplishment and I was filled with so much energy. The sheer scale of what I was looking at! 

 

At the Margherita Peak, the highest point in Uganda

“Welcome to MARGHERITA PEAK 16763ft (5109masl), the highest point in Uganda”. I can’t explain my feelings as I read this.

 

Unfortunately, our stay on the peak was short lived due to bad weather. We soon began our descent back to the Elena hut. As we descended, every step filled me with so much joy and happiness.

 

Before long, we were at the Elena hut, feasting on white porridge and later had dinner. Although I wasn’t feeling so well, I was in a good and buoyant mood. The journey had taken a toll on my body but my spirit was so alive. We still had a long way down back to the base camp at Nyakilengijo but that didn’t matter much to me because walking in the opposite direction gave a new perspective, looking down into the bountiful valley below rather than to the harsh heights above.

 

Resting up at Mount Stanley

The Descent …

 

The last night at Elena hut didn’t go well for me as altitude sickness set in. I got a massive headache and breathing complications, and this altered my course of descent. I had to split from the rest of the team on my way down, as this was the only way to remedy the altitude sickness.  I had to follow the same trail that we had used climbing up in an effort to reduce the altitude. 

 

At first, I was disappointed because I would miss out on a new adventure. But trekking down past the giant lobelia, senacios and the flowers was like greeting old friends and the good news is: I made it!

 

To make my experience even more worthwhile, a flock of Rwenzori turacos and duikers graced my sights as I traversed the lower bigo boardwalk.

 

The beauty of the Rwenzori resides in its lush valleys, abundant fauna and views up to the summit. Getting to the top was great (that view!) but the real joy was in the journey itself.

It didn’t hit me that I had actually descended from the Rwenzori; that I was actually at the foot of the mountain ranges. It felt like I was still somewhere lost in the middle of the mountains. It only actually set in when I was in the back seat of our Nissan safari car commonly called the “the beast”. I was staring out the window and looking on as the mountain became smaller and smaller behind me. 

About the author:

Asedri Philip Drad is an adventure drunkard with a passion for travel in search for newer experiences. His search for newer experiences has led him into a love affair with adventure.

 

He is also into the business of chasing the sun wherever it goes.  You can reach him on Twitter.

 

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