Planning your Rwenzori trekking trip – Uganda

Rwenzori Mountains stand at a height of 5109m above sea level. Making Rwenzori the third highest mountain on the African continent. However, being none volcanic like the other two highest mountains Kilimanjaro and Kenya, this height makes it the highest block mountain on the African continent. The highest point of mount Rwenzori, margarita peak, stands at the boarder of Uganda and democratic republic of Congo being dissected by the two countries. Margarita peak can be reached on the fourth day of trekking from the base camp. The Rwenzori peaks trek can either be done through the central circuit route of Nyakalengijo gate or through the Kilembe southern route. Rwenzori mountain gateway is located in Kasese, 437 km west of Uganda’s capital Kampala and it normally takes you up to six hours from Kampala driving on a good tarmac road. Various marrum roads will lead to the trail head of the mountain. For those not interested in driving, one can fly to Kasese airstrip from Kajansi – near Entebbe   and it will take up to one hour to get to Kasese airstrip.

Besides reaching the peaks, Rwenzori has other alternative trails that can be trekked without reaching the high peaks. These include the nature walks that take you one day in and you return to the community, the Mahoma trail loop that takes two nights and three days south of the central circuit, the Buraru chimp trail and other short walks in the kilembe gate southern gate and the central circuit that takes seven days.

Rwenzori Mountains, also called the rainmaker was put on the world map on 24th May 1888 by explorer henry Stanley. The 996km2 Rwenzori has been described as the most challenging yet most interesting mountains in Africa. The mountain is a range of 120km-long and 65km-wide. This range holds multiple peaks that can be climbed including margarita peak. The terrain of the mountains is dominated by great scenery, bogs with beautiful yet challenging vegetation, unique vegetation and the Glacier Rivers.  After being gazzeted into a national park in 1991, Rwenzori Mountain is a world heritage site since 1994 and a ramsar site since 2008. Rwenzori Mountain is also called the mountain of the moon, as named by Ptolemy, the alexandrine geographer in 150 AD.

Trekking experience required:

Though trekking of the Rwenzori can be very demanding, it is on record that the experienced guides and porters sourced from the indigenous communities are a great resource to the trekkers of these mountains. This unique manpower has further been trained by the park, national outdoor leadership school, the service providers such as the Rwenzori mountaineering services and the Rwenzori trekking services. Other climbing experts have also been sourced to train them at different times to address special needs of trekking this mountains. As a result of the great effort, training and skills acquired, people of all ages from 8 to 78 years have been recorded climbing Rwenzori up to margarita peak without a problem. Sometimes, those who may not feel confident to climb to the highest of Rwenzori start to do acclimatization trips on the shorter hills in the community or in other mountains of Uganda. Some people have done acclimatization one Mgahinga volcano climbing in south western Uganda, Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda or the Ruboni community hill climb trail at the base camp. This then gives these trekkers the confidence to take the bigger mountain challenge and the results have always come out very good for them.

The trekking seasons:

Rwenzori Mountains can be trekked through the year, given the good infrastructure that has made the rivers passable even during the rainy season. The best trekking season for Rwenzori is about 6-7 months per year. The seven months are distributed in two seasons; December – March and June – august. During this time, it is nice dry and sunny on the mountains, unlike the remaining months that are rainy. However, with variations in the weather and change of seasons, sometimes it may be hard to speculate when the rain or the sun will come. Being that this timing is also influenced by the holiday season from the source of clients, this has remained the traditional Rwenzori trekking season.

Attractions in the Rwenzori:

Rwenzori Mountains is mainly a scenery and vegetation park. However, some unique wildlife can be rarely spotted and they vary basing on the altitude attained. These include; Chimps, monkeys, rock hyrax  the Rwenzori Turaco – endemic, the antelopes, other birds, insects and the elusive three horned chameleon that can be found at the lower altitudes of the forest zone. There is also mountain elephants though hard to see since they stay away from vicinity due to the long experience of poaching them. One can also spot the foot marks and dung of these Elephans, especially in the bamboo zone on the Mahoma trail. Other attractions include the mountain glacier lakes and the greatest of all attractions is Snow at the equator. Of course Rwenzori is not only about wildlife. It is also famous for the unique culture of the Bakonzo people. These are a mountain people mainly adapted to living on the mountains. They live on the foothills where they do all their livelihoods from farming to building homes. During the village tours or just socializing, one can meet a number of cultural encounters in this Bakonzo society.

The accommodation facilities and special equipment:

Rwenzori Mountains have improved accommodation huts for both the tourists and porters/ guides. All of the camps are housed by wooden huts, apart from the wilderness camps that have open campgrounds and latrines. The key equipment required for trekking Rwenzori are in two categories; for those climbing the high peaks and those doing the trekking without the peaks. Basing on this, your travel agent will need to make for you the rightful packing list for your trip. For peak climbing, the common equipment will include ice axe, crampons, snow glasses, gaiters, climbing rope, carabinas, gloves, water proofs and worm layers, harnesses,  good hiking boots, warm clothing warm sleeping bag, rain gear and a few others as you may know or as they will be on your packing list. Other common equipment will include but not limited to sleeping bag, sleeping mat, walking shoes or rubber boots, rain gears etc. Most of these equipment can be found at the base camp for hire at a set price. However, it is much better to come with your own if you can. Especially the personal items like walking shoes, climbing boots, sleeping bags are better brought if you have some space. Alternatively, it is better to clear with your agent before the journey, to confirm if specific equipment can be available for hire. Other equipment like the cooking ware will be provided within the trekking price if you have paid for a local chef to come along on the trek. It is important to confirm on what is catered for within the price and what is left out so as to avoid inconveniences.

Trail status:

The trail in the Rwenzori is one of the most challenging management issues due to the steep terrain and soft soils/ vegetation. In areas where there is no bog, there is step or rocky grounds. In the wetlands also, there are tufts of special vegetation that makes the trekking quite challenging when you reach these bogy areas. The park management and service providers have worked tirelessly to address this challenge as a way of giving a good holiday to the trekkers. Given the fragile environment, much humidity and also to keep the mountain ecosystem, this status can’t be addressed permanently thus making Rwenzori a unique trek. The trail is very safe for every trekker after being reinforced by board walks on the wetlands / bogs, ladders by the steep places, the parties go with ropes in case they need them on at the steep places, most rivers have been bridged with modern bridges to a good quality standard. The park ensures the camps and trails carry a limited number of people per day, especially during the busy seasons. This is so that the groups don’t go beyond the daily carrying capacity of the trail and other infrastructure.

Porters and guides:

On the trekking package, each tourist gets two porters and one guide. Basing on the guide availability and the seasonal timing, sometimes two tourists from the same group may get one guide. The guide will basically carry nothing apart from his personal ware and equipment. Each porter will carry 25kg. This will be including 12.5 kg of tourist luggage and 12.5kg of other luggage including personal belongings. This means, each tourist will be allowed 25kg of luggage. Any luggage more than that may require extra porters or you will choose to leave the extra luggage in the safe stores of the service providers at the basecamp. The difference between tourist’s luggage and other luggage is simple. Tourist luggage is the personal tourist items that they came with and or need on the mountains. The other luggage is the items of general use needed by the party or the porters. This may include; gas energy, food supplies, charcoal, cooking equipment, climbing equipment, safety equipment etc. I know strength and fitness is important for climbing the Rwenzori. The truth is, climbing any mountain requires confidence and determination. These two matched with a good diet and helpful people, you can also make it!!! Please ask any other specific questions and our team shall dispense the rightful answer. For more detailed and technical information about Rwenzori Mountains, you can visit the Uganda wildlife Authority website and see a page about Rwenzori by clicking here.