The Rwenzori Mountains, or the Mountains of the Moon, are easily Africa’s best kept secret. Rarely visited and isolated, they contain much of Africa’s permanent ice and the most varied mountain scenery as we climb from tropical rainforest, through alpine valleys to the glaciers. Our trek in the Rwenzori includes a challenging ascent on Margherita (5109m), Africa’s 3rd highest mountain. This is a demanding ascent with muddy conditions and variable weather almost guaranteed. The real beauty of the trip is the ascent up the Kilembe route where the diverse flora in the forests and valleys includes giant heather, lobelia, groundsels and exuberant ferns. Under the watchful eye of our experienced mountain guides, we attempt the final ascent up to the summit of Margherita, which will require us to rope up and use crampons. However scaling the actual peak is more of a hard scramble than a climb and the exhilaration of reaching the top is enormous, as you look across Albert Peak to the Congo then east across the chain of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Day 1: Entebbe Airport transfer to Kampala
Upon arrival at Entebbe airport, you will be met and transferred to the group hotel in Kampala (approx 40 mins) for overnight accommodation. There will be a briefing with our guide before dinner at the hotel. (Please note: there will be one guide for Kampala and Fort Portal, who does not trek with us. We will meet our mountain guide on Day 3 at the trek start point). Overnight: Humura Resort (or similar)
Day 2: Drive to Fort Portal and Preparation
This morning we will meet our local guide at the hotel for the transfer to Fort Portal (about 2-3 hrs, depending on road conditions). The remainder of today is for relaxing and making final preparations. Overnight: Fort Motel (or similar)
Day 3: Transfer from Fort Portal to Kilembe by road (approx 2 hrs drive), trek to Sine Camp (2596m, 9.5 km, approx 5 – 7 hrs)
This morning at approx 7.00am, we will transfer (approx 2 hrs drive) from Fort Portal to the trek start point at Kyanjuki (1450m), near the town of Kilembe. Here we will meet our mountain guide and have a full trek briefing. After a short walk of 2.2km (about 1 hr) we will reach the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ranger post (1727m). There are some more formalities here before we really commence our trek. It is mandatory to be accompanied by a park ranger as well as a mountain guide for the duration of the trek. As we leave the ranger post the path winds through tall grassland and ferns, giving way to magnificent pristine forests. The forests are pristine and harbour a wide variety of trees and plants. Many species of birds can be heard and seen in this rich environment. The first few kilometres climb steadily, crossing several small streams and rivers. There are then a couple of trail options to reach tonight’s camp and our trek guide will advise which is best, depending on local conditions on the day. One option is to start climbing and go up along a ridge. The trees here become taller and straighter and are home to many types of primates. It may be possible to see chimpanzee, troupes of black and white Colobus Monkeys and Blue Monkeys as they dash through the trees. The other option stays a bit lower, also through the same pristine forest with lichen-covered vines, and skirts the contours before a final steep pinch to the camp. For either option we will stop for lunch along the way. Sine Camp is our overnight stop (2596m) and the wooden hut here is set between tall forest trees on a narrow ridge. It has a large verandah where we can sit and enjoy the beauty of the Afro Montane forest while overlooking the fantastic Enock’s Falls just 200m from the hut. Sine is just below the Bamboo zone and the area around has many different bird species. (NOTE: trek times throughout this document are approximate only; actual times will vary according to trail and weather conditions and group fitness)
Day 4: Trek to Mutinda Camp via Kamusoni Valley (3688m, 8 km, approx 4 – 5 hrs)
After breakfast today’s trek begins with a steep climb and many high steps into the Bamboo Zone. In the wet season the bamboo area is muddy and slippery making the going slow. Your gaiters will come in handy here or you may even like to wear your rubber/gum boots. Occasionally unwary trekkers have sunk up to their knees. The atmosphere of the forest is beautiful as we climb 551m and approx 1.8km to Kalalama Camp (3147m). In the Heather-Rapanea Zone we can take a rest and a quick hot drink here before continuing towards Mutinda Camp, which is our final destination today. The trail meanders up and over several small knolls along a ridge then drops down the side of a valley before climbing again, crossing several small streams and passing close to moss covered waterfalls. We then climb steadily beside a beautiful mossy river which tumbles over rocks under Giant Heather trees whose branches are covered in “old man beards” (Usnea Lichen). The trail twists and turns as we climb up the deep valley, which has an enormous variety of plants and flowers. Finally we reach Mutinda Camp (3688m) which is set near a small river flowing over a waterfall. There is a chance to wash and refresh in the river (warning – it’s cold) and then relax or alternatively climb to the top of Mutinda Lookout (one and a half hours up; one hour down) The view is amazing at 3975m with views across the Rwenzori Mountains and down to Kasese town and Lake George.
Day 5: Trek to Bugata Camp (Camp 3) (4062m, 5 km, approx 4 – 5 hrs)
Today, as we climb steadily higher, we will enter the Alpine Zone. The trail this morning is again boggy, but with a little skill we can step from tussock to tussock to make the going easier. We cross the Mutinda Valley through the tussock grass and everlasting flowers interpersed with many Giant Lobelias before we climb a steep section up to the Namusangi Valley (3,840m), which ends abruptly with sheer waterfalls and fantastic views of Mutinda Peaks. The Namusangi Valley is a wide valley with many ups and downs and several peat sections. The trail then climbs steadily to Bugata Camp (formerly known as Camp 3) at 4,062m. Bugata Camp is situated part way up Bamwanjara Pass, high above Bugata Lake, with views across Lake Kopello to the often snow-covered Weismann’s Peak. There are also spectacular views down the valley over Lake Africa and Lake Kanganyika and the many small peaks towards Mutinda Camp from whence we came. There are a many Red Forest Duiker which are endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains. In the past they have been very hard to see due to the thick vegetation but since a wild fire that burnt a large section of the Alpine Zone, they are now more easily seen in the new shorter growth. Bugata Camp has good facilities with solar lights, toilets and bathrooms (cold water). Bugata also has a heli pad for emergencies only.
Day 6: To Hunwick’s Camp (Camp 4) via Bamwanjara Pass (3974m, 6km, approx 5 – 6 hrs)
Going steadily up again to start the day, we climb towards Bamwanjara Pass. The area is covered by everlasting flowers and Giant groundsel with tussock marshland typical of the region. Giant Lobelia are again seen here, its nectar being the main food source of the Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, another species endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains. As we climb we can look back to see many glacial lakes far below. At the top of Bamwanjara Pass (4450m) there is a small shelter where we can rest while enjoying the superb views of all the main peaks: Mt Stanley, Mt Speke and Mt Baker. We can also see McConnell’s Prong named after a British explorer and geologist. The view is truly spectacular. From the Pass we descend steeply to Kachope Lakes. The trail is often very muddy but affords fantastic views of the lakes and McConnell’s Prong. The Kachope Lakes area is one of only three areas where, on a misty day, it is possible to catch a rare glimpse of the Rwenzori leopard. Little research has been done on this animal and it is rarer than the snow leopard of the Himalaya. After passing Kachope Lakes we climb to Hunwick’s Camp (formerly Camp 4) at 3974m where we overnight. The camp is set on a ridge high above Butawu River and has excellent views of the snow capped Mt Baker. Mount Rwenzori Climbing
Day 7: Via Scott Elliott Pass to Margherita Camp (Camp 5) (4460m, 4km, approx 3 – 5 hrs)
Today is a relatively easy walk past Kitandara Lakes with an enjoyable climb through Scott Elliott Pass (4335m) to our base at Margherita Camp (formerly Camp 5) (4460m). The camp is below historic Elena Hut and is sheltered with a ring of high rocks from the original camp used by the Italian Prince Luigi Amadeo di Savoia, Duke of the Abruzzi, who lead an expedition in 1906 of biologists, surveyors, a geologist and a photographer. The team opened a new chapter in mountaineering and exploration in Africa and some of the peaks still have the names, which the Duke chose to honor the Italian Kingdom and Queen Margherita. The camp is in a flat sheltered position suited to attempting a good sleep before climbing any of the peaks on the Mt Stanley range including Margherita Peak. There are more great views, this time of Mt Baker, Scott Elliot Pass and some of the high glaciers on Mt Stanley.
Day 8: Summit Margherita Peak 5109m, descend to Hunwick’s Camp (3974m, 7km, approx 11 – 13 hrs)
We wake very early (between 1:00 – 2:00 am), have a hot drink and a light, high energy snack before setting off. It takes about one and a half hours to reach Elena Hut (4540m) which we bypass on the way to the peaks. After Elena the climb is steep and can be tricky if covered in ice but is firm underfoot as the trail is on hard rock. Margherita Peak is a technical summit and we will use ropes, harnesses, carabiners, ice axe, helmets, ice screws, figure 8’s, ascenders and slings. At the edge of the glacier (4765m) we will need to put on crampons and harnesses and walk at set distances apart. There are not many crevices but it is important here to follow instructions from the guide closely. The scenery is spectacular as the sun begins to peep over the horizon near the upper areas of the glacier, affording fabulous photographs of the sun-tipped main peaks – Alexandra and Margherita. The climb down to Margherita glacier can be challenging. A new fixed static rope has recently been installed with bolts every two metres leading down a ledge to the top of a six-metre aluminum ladder. This route is much safer than the original ladders and we can attach to the fixed static rope with twin lanyards from our harness. It is not classed as a technical climb and it is straightforward in dry conditions. The climb up Margherita glacier is steep with the first part around 30 degrees gradient. The toe of the glacier is much steeper and does require some effort. Generally we walk across the newly exposed rocks to the other side of the glacier where it is less steep. Near the top of the glacier we then need to climb around an exposed section, which is also bolted and roped, before following the ridge running to the top of Margherita Peak. The exhilaration of reaching the top (5109m) is enormous as we look across Albert Peak to the Democratic Republic of Congo then east across a huge expanse of the Rwenzori Mountains. After enjoying the scenery we then descend directly to Hunwick’s Camp. (Note that in the case of bad weather, it may be necessary to stay in Margherita Camp again instead of going lower to Hunwick’s Camp. On the following day it will then be necessary to pass Hunwick’s Camp and continue to Bugata Camp). Mount Rwenzori Climbing
Day 9: Descend to Bugata Camp (Camp 3) (4062m, 6 km, approx 5 – 6 hrs)
After a big day yesterday, a late breakfast (8.30am) is in order before starting on the trail by 9:00am. We retrace our steps over Bamwanjara Pass – a steep pinch at this stage of the trek. While crossing the pass we may see hyrax warming themselves on the rocks in the midday sun. Their main predator is the Rwenzori Leopard which is rarely seen, especially on a sunny day. The leopard has been heavily poached in the past and there are few left however, on a rare occasion on a misty or overcast day, we may be lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse as they move between the rocks. Once over the pass, we drop down to Bugata Camp again (4062m) for overnight.
Day 10: Descend to Kiharo Camp (3518m, 7 km, approx 4 – 6 hrs)
We will take a different route to that of our ascent, from Bugata to the base of the mountain which will make for some variety on our return walk. We will set off around Lake Bugata and the tributary of Kopello Lake then climb 200 metres to the confluence of the Namusangi and Nyamwamba Valleys. As we descend the upper areas of the Nyamwamba Valley, beneath the rocky Observation Peak and others, there is a large area of thick Giant Groundsel with dense evergreen undergrowth and moss. The terrain in the valley is made up of several flat, boggy areas where millions of years ago glaciers melted, leaving a wall of big rocks as a reminder of the power of Nature. The valley is home to many Red Forest Duiker and we may be see some as we pass through. Tonight we will stay at Kiharo Camp (3518m), an area rich in evergreen plants and babbling streams. At night the air is filled with the calls of the rock hyrax as they sit in the cliffs high above. Mount Rwenzori Climbing
Day 11: To Samalira Camp (3170m, 7.5 km, 4 – 6 hrs)
We wake this morning to the shrill calls of the Rwenzori Turaco and other birds. After a hearty breakfast we commence walking down the valley accompanied by many species of birds diving in and out of the thick vegetation. Chameleons are a common sight as they crawl along the branches feeding on insects. In the clearer areas we may catch a glimpse of a Duiker quietly feeding amongst the Giant Lobellias and a variety of flowering plants. After descending a short way we climb two hundred metres to a ridge overlooking the valley before crossing several smaller valleys and streams to Kyalavula, which means “view or lookout’ in the local Bakonzo language. From here there are beautiful views across to Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is not too far from here to Samalira Camp (3170m) where we stay tonight. The camp is situated in a closed valley at the top of several waterfalls and is a lovely place to spend our last night on the mountain.
Day 12: Final day of trekking (8.6 km, approx 3 – 4 hrs), return to Fort Portal (approx 2 hrs drive)
Our final day of trekking takes us down a long ridge through the bamboo forests and the afro montane forests back to the UWA Ranger Post. Some fast walkers have descended to the rangers post by midday however the majority of people arrive at the rangers post around 1pm. After debriefing, we sign off and walk the remaining 2.2km to our start point, weary but exhilarated. We can rest and reflect on our achievements as our vehicle transfers us to Fort Portal for a welcome shower, bed and clean clothes. Overnight: Fort Motel (or similar)
Day 13: Drive to Kampala, trip concludes
Today we will return to Kampala by road where our trip concludes on arrival at Entebbe airport late in the afternoon. There is no accommodation booked for tonight. Please ask your consultant if you would like post-tour accommodation and we will be happy to arrange it (additional cost applies). There are many options near the airport in the Entebbe suburb or in Kampala city proper. Please do not book departure flights before 5:00pm as it may not be possible to transfer you to Entebbe Airport in time to meet flights prior to this, alternately an internal morning flight (additional cost applies) may allow for departure flights before this time.