Rwenzori Mountains of Central Africa

Rwenzori Gallery, my last trip there in 2006

The Mountains of the Moon

One of the last secrets of accessible African venture travel is the famed Central African Mountains Of The Moon. The Rwenzori Range, straddling DRC and Uganda, is a rugged range of snowcapped peaks that, although not the highest in Africa, are without doubt the most rugged and beautiful. The range itself is made up of a sprawling conglomeration of peaks comprising six massifs separated from one another by heavily forested gorges and laced together by a number of streams and alpine lakes. The six peaks of Rwenzori are Mount Stanley (5109m), Mount Speke (4890m), Mount Baker (4843m), Mount Emin (4798), Mount Gessi (4715m) and Mount Luigi di Savoria.

It is obviously Mount Stanley that attracts the mostattention and it is there that most climbers congregate if they are to say that they have summited.Most climbers, once they make it, will agree that getting to the highest point of this mountain outstrips any kind of challenge that Kilimanjaro has to offer. If fact some 90% of climbers reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on their first attempt against some 40% who succeed in conquering the Rwenzoris.

The Rwenzoris is an unforgiving climb

There are a number of reasons for this. Altitude is, of course, a factor, but more importantly it is just the sheer physical rigor of movement anywhere on the Rwenzoris that tend sto sap your will and challenge your physical capacity. This region of the Virunga Range – that region of mountains, forests and volcanoes that crown the western heights of the Great Rift Valley – experiences some of the highest annual rainfall rates in the world. The ecological diversity that this creates is astonishing to behold, and of course that landscape it nourishes is mind numbingly beautiful,  but a side effect of such enomous amounts of rain are the bogs.

The bogs of Rwenzoi are ubiquitous. The Bigo Bog is the most extensive, and the one that climbers are most forcefully warned about, but no part of the mountain is without bogs, and almost no hour of the climb is spend without sloshing to some degree through mud. Now I am not talking about a muddy trail such as you might find on a damp day in the Welsh highland – no, no no. These are proper bogs, and they suffer the heavy traffic of climbers and porters, and sinking in up to your ankles is usual, up to your knees not unusual, and occasionally up to your thighs. Once or twice this is ok, but hour after hour, with rare instances of respite, is very tough on mind and body.

Away from the madding crowd

The upside of this is that the kinds of numbers that flock to Kilimanjaro are absent in Rwenzori, and there is an air about the place of being right off the beaten track. It does hurt at all that Uganda is one of the most superb tourist destinations in Africa, and nor that the othe rthree big ones – Kili and Mount Kenya, are not too far away. A Big-Three Safari is one of the those trips that very few people ever achieve, and if you want to do something in your travels that really is worth talking about try the Rwenzoris. You will never forget it.

Well organized climb culture

Practically speaking I was very impressed with the standard of organisation in the National Park. Like Kilimanjaro you are obligated to travel with local guides and porters, but this is more understandable on the Rwenzori because navigation is not so simple and conditions are significantly tougher. While on Kilimanjaro the porters and guides are little more than a necessary annoyance, in the Rwenzori they are vital, and you will certainly appreciate them. It is also true that those people who work as porters and guides are mountain people who have an affinity with the mountain and know something about it – very much not the case on Kilimanjaro.

So have a go if you think you are hard enough. You might not summit, but the Rwenzoris is a hike and not a climb, and really it does not matter. It is a beautiful walk in one of Africa’s last protected tropical highland habitats, and it is definitely worth seeing.