In AD 150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range, deep in the heart of Africa that he claimed was the source of the Nile and which he called the Mountains of the Moon. Over the Centuries this curious notion of tropical snow faded into mythology and when John Speke found the Niles exit from Lake Victoria, a place in fiction for the Mountains of the Moon seemed assured. But then, in 1889, Henry Stanley emerged from Central Africa to announce that such a mountain did exist. He mapped it by its local name of the Rwenjura or ‘rainmaker’. In due course mountaineers explored Ptolemys Mountains of the Moon. Just miles North of the Equator they found the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose melt waters represent the highest springs of the Nile. These trickle downwards into U-shaped glacial valleys where, supplemented by up to 2500mm of rain per year, saturate the broad valley floors to form great soggy bogs. Within these rain and mist filled troughs, looms specimens of Africa’s bizarre high altitude vegetation and stunted trees enveloped by colorful mosses and draped with beards of lichen. This remarkable landscape is bisected by the Uganda-Congo border which passes through Mt Stanley the highest peak. The Ugandan Rwenzori is protected by the Ruwenzori Mountains National Park and in Congo by the Virunga National Park. The Park can be explored along a 7 day trail that meanders along the Mubuku valley and Bujuku valleys beneath the highest peaks. Though distances are short, the terrain, altitude and weather combine to create a tough trek, the difficulty of which should not be underestimated. After sighting by Stanley, the weather confounded several attempts to scale or even observe the Mountains main peaks. In 1906, the Italian duke of Abruzzi timed his expedition more carefully, making his attempt during JUN and JUL. He and his companions succeeded in scaling, mapping and photographing all of the main Peaks and establishing the layout of the high Rwenzori.
The Rwenzori National Park lies a few kilometers north of the Equator, rising over 4000m above the floor of the Albertine Rift valley. The Park trailhead at Nyakalengija can be reached from Kampala from the North via Fortportal (375Kms) or the south passing through Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park (450Kms). Nyakalengija is 17Kms off the Kasese-Fortportal road and 25kms North of Kasese town. Charter Flights to Kasese can also be arranged from Kajjansi or Entebbe Airport.
FLORA AND FAUNA IN RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The Rwenzori National Park is remarkable for its Flora rather than its Fauna. Elephant, Buffalo, giant forest Hog, Bushbuck, Chimpanzee and Leopard are present but are rarely seen. Primates such as black and white colobus and the blue Monkey may be seen as well as the Hyrax, the Elephants diminutive cousin. The Rwenzori National Park is home to 241 bird species of which 19 are endemic to the mountains as several birds are limited to just a few forests along the Albertine Rift, notably the Rwenzori Turaco while in the Alpine zone tourists may sight the Malachite sunbird. An ascent of the Mountain passes through a series on increasingly dramatic vegetation zones. Above the Bakonzo farmlands, montane forest ( 1500-2500M ) gives way to bamboo stands and messy tangles of Mimulopsis ( 2500-3000m ). This is followed by the lovely Heather-Rapenea zone ( 3000-4000m ), which is characterized by giant tree-heathers ( Erica spp), garishly coloured mosses and drab beards of lichen. Spectacular forms of giant lobelia ( Lobelia spp ) and groundsels ( Senecio spp ) are first found in this zone. These plants persist into the highest Alpine zone ( 3800-4500m ) where they are joined by wiry but pretty thickets of Helichrysum or ‘everlasting flowers’. The Big Bogs in the upper Bujuku Valley are colonized by tussocks of sedge (Carex spp) which provide climbers with useful if disconcertingly wobbly ‘stepping stones’ with which to negotiate these notoriously muddy sections.
ACCOMMODATION IN RWENZORI NATIONAL PARK
The Rwenzori Mountains National Park are provided with basic mountain Huts as the form of Accommodation where Tourists are required to take their own sleeping bags and sleeping mats. Camping sites are available and rental rooms at Nyakalenginja the circuits trailhead, at Ruboni campsite and at the Rwenzori Mountains Services ( RMS ) Guest House. The Kilembe trail is served by the Rwenzori Backpackers Hostel while other options of Accommodation ranging from luxury to budget exist in Kasese like Rwenzori International Hotel, Saad Hotel, Magherita Hotel, Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Simba Safari Camp and Tembo Safari Lodge from where Tourists can easily access the Rwenzori Mountains.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES IN RWENZORI NATIONAL PARK
A). THE CENTRAL MOUNTAIN CLIMBING CIRCUIT
The Central circuit is one of the major mountain climbing activity which starts from the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services ( RMS ) offices at Nyakalengija. While those with the inclination can scale the main peaks, most Tourists are content to follow the Central circuit trail for their magnificent setting. It is advisable for Tourists to plan their ascent in the driest months which are JUL to AUG and DEC to FEB. During this Mountain trail the RMS will provide a guide, cook and sufficient porters to carry heavy equipments and food, leaving Tourists to carry a small pack with rain gear, spare clothes, camera, water bottle and snacks while Uganda Wildlife Authority provides an armed ranger escort for security purposes in case of any attacks or danger. This Central circuit has a duration of Seven days and moves in the following points within the Rwenzori Mountain;
• DAY 1: Nyakalengija ( 1615m ) to Nyabitaba hut (2651m )
• DAY 2: Nyabitaba ( 2651m ) to Mubuku River ( 2600m ) and John Matte hut ( 3505m )
• DAY 3: John Matte ( 3505m) to Bujuku ( 3962m )
• DAY 4: Bujuku ( 3962m ) to Scott Elliott Pass ( 4372m) and Kitandara ( 4023m )
• DAY 5: Kitandara ( 4023m ) to Freshfield Pass ( 4282m) and Guy Yeoman ( 3505m )
• DAY 6: Guy Yeoman (3505m ) to Nyabitaba ( 2651m )
• DAY 7: Nyabitaba ( 2651m ) to Nyakalengija ( 1615m )
B). THE KILEMBE TRAIL
This is an alternative circuit from where to climb the Rwenzori Mountains and starts from the Kilembe mines.
HEALTH AND SAFETY ON THE TRAIL
Hikers are advised to familiarize themselves with the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia and the various forms of altitude sickness. Above 2500m altitude sickness can affect anyone, irrespective of age, fitness or previous mountain climbing experience for which the most effective treatment is descent to a lower altitude. ( See Osmatsons Guide to the Rwenzori ).
BEHAVIOUR AT THE TRAIL
Good behavior on the trail and at the huts is appreciated. The Park operates a “Leave no trace” policy whereby you are expected to collect all waste and make sure you or your porters take it out of the Park.
Make use of the toilets provided at the huts and respect other by sharing space at the stoves and talking quietly. You should observe the prohibition on wood fires which degrade the Parks vegetation by using the Gas cookers provided.
During periods of bad weather, it may be necessary to wait more than one night at huts to ease congestion ahead. You should also minimize damage to the trails by following your guide closely and avoid making new paths.