Mountains of the moon: climbing Uganda’s highest top

The remote Rwenzori mountains, on the Uganda/ DRC frontier, volunteer treks through run and stunning sceneries and a satisfying but objection summit, with none of the crowds are available at Kilimanjaro

Claudius Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman mathematician, astronomer and father-god of geography, “ve called the” Rwenzori range the Mountains of the Moon, and I think he got it about right. Starlight beamed down on the convex glaciers circumventing our camp near Uganda’s western mete, causing them to glow like remaining lunar crescents.

I should have been sleeping the nighttime before my assault on the Rwenzori’s loftiest crest, 5,109 -metre Mount Stanley’s summit, Africa’s third-highest mountain, but altitude headaches prevented me awake. I pondered back to a similar sleepless darknes at Kilimanjaro some years earlier. I remembered then find sure I would supplant, and when elevation period started, I duly trudged along in a torchlight procession to the meridian, one of 50, 000 climbers who attempt Kilimanjaro each year.

Uganda delineate

Yet this endeavour whisked self-doubt. Little-known and less frequently clambered, the 120 km-long Rwenzori range, on their own borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo( DRC ), isn’t as high-pitched as Kilimanjaro but involves greater technical knowledge and an tenacity I wondered if I owned. The name Rwenzori makes “rainmaker” and the mountain can be notoriously muddied and tiring to climb, though this was the relatively dry season, from December to February.

Rwenzori national park, nine hours’ drive west of Kampala, offers crowd-free hiking and a sense of wilderness absent-minded on Kilimanjaro. Official statistics show that between January and October 2017, simply 693 beings trekked its higher reaches. During this eight-day trek with a pal, we assembled precisely 10 other hikers- and not one tearful luminary doing their bit for charity.

Climbers sleep in static tents or wooden shacks, spacious enough for bunkbeds

So why do so few people succeed trekking here? Australian, John Hunwick, 69, who runs Rwenzori Trekking Business, first came in 1991.” I encountered so much better hope and wanted to open up the ways, but then the Rwenzoris were overrun by Congolese rebels ,” he said.

In around 1996, as retaliation for Uganda substantiating breakaway nation South Sudan, the North Sudanese facilitated Allied Democratic Coerces( ADF) mavericks in Congo to launch attacks from the Rwenzoris aimed at destabilising Uganda.” It surely wasn’t safe to trek then ,” Hunwick alleged. Uganda drove the ADF back into Congo in around 2001 but they continued to open sporadic forays.

Hunwick assured me the Rwenzoris have been safe and tranquil since 2009, and his outfit has opened courses and camps all the way to Mount Stanley’s highest spike, Margherita Peak. The FCO advice on calling western Uganda has softened in recent years: it reports no incidents involving visitors but cautions travellers to be vigilant of political demonstrations.

The bamboo zone, at 2,800 metres

Hunwick’s treks range from one or two days to full-on seven- or eight-day safaruss to summit Margherita. But even those only dipping a toe inside the national park will be awed.

During two breathless first days we moved through tropical forests of gargantuan fig trees that tattled with blue-blooded apes into the bamboo zone at 2,800 metres, with percussive accompaniment from stems rattling in the crosswinds. The ascending is steep and trekkers requirement a certain degree of stamina-based fitness training to cope with the speedy additions in altitude. A head for summits is preferred for the summit thrust, but no technical clambering knowledge are required.

The mossy heather zone, above 3,500 metres

The mossy heather area above 3,500 metres was surreal: Unesco announces it” Africa’s botanical big game “. Its supersized heather trees looked like Dartmoor on steroids, and lobelias the dimensions of the Mexican cacti were all covered with lichen beards more Gandalf than hipster. In these higher zones we obtained scat from a rarely determined feline, the Rwenzori leopard, and marvelled at the iridescent colour of endemic sunbirds probing buds with their arcked bills.

The daily number substantiated simple-minded. We’d go up to eight hours between campsites with static tents resembling Anderson shelters or wooden shacks, spacious enough for bunkbeds with comfortable mattresses. Eras began with porridge and ended with hearty pasta bowls or local menu such as rolex ( eggy chapatti covers ). At Mutinda Camp, on day two, I showered under a glacier-fed cascade, my yelp possibly outperforming the nocturnal rock-and-roll hyraxes, whose default summon is just like they’re being brutally murdered.

Porters cooking on the ascent.

My presence was also contributing to the financial prospects of the neighbourhood Bakonjo parties, a Bantu ethnic group who farm the descents of the Rwenzoris. My guide, Bwambalee Joshua, was thoughts groupings of nine porters.” I was a geography schoolteacher but the wages were poor, so I became a guide ,” he mentioned. He told me that mineworkers at the Chinese-owned Kilembe copper mine in the foothills are paid about 3,000 shillings( 66 p) a daylight, while porters make PS3 a daytime and navigates double this, plus a PS20 bonus for get clients to the summit.

After five days, my first panorama of Mount Stanley from the 4,450 -metre Bamwanjara Pass was of a slightly ominou and ruminate multi-peaked massif shrouded in gloom, with glaciers that is actually did glint like little moons.

A vistum from one of the mountain camps

Mike from Minnesota was on his behavior down: searching much younger and fitter than me, he pulled me out of my daydream.” What a climbing ,” he declared.” Man that was tough clambering over rocks and frost. I entail this to be a warm-up for Kilimanjaro, but I should have done it the other way round .”

The last vegetated scenery before the rocky Margherita summit camp at 4,485 metres is the magnificent Scott Elliot pass, stately as a Scottish glen with cliffs discoloured orange with lichen. Elliot was part of the team who firstly curbed Mount Stanley in 1906. It was led by an Italian aristocrat, the Duke of Abruzzi, who called the highest point after Queen Margherita of Italy.

Margherita clique, towards the summit

Summit day started around 3am with the rattle of reins and crampons being fitted. Joshua calmed my anxiety by prompting me that 90% of climbers establish the summit. In the happening, while the morning supported many times more gruelling than summiting Kilimanjaro, it was stimulating to derive from trekker to mountaineer.

Several non-taxing scurries on fixed lines took us in quiet darkness to Stanley glacier. With crampons secured, we crunched across an frost grassland of disintegrating slush.” These glaciers have halved in sizing over the past 5 year ,” observed Joshua.

On Stanley glacier heading towards the summit. Photograph: Mark Stratton

Dawn cracked over Margherita glacier: a steep icy stairway towards the summit that took us two hours to ascent. I scaled it gradation by weary gradation, gulping air deep, temples pounding as we approached 5,000 metres, crampons burning from time to time into 40 -degree gradients. Joshua proceeded onward belaying by rope and fixture ice-pins. Crevasses disclosed imp grottoes of blue-blooded icicles.

Beyond a crest joining Alexandra( 5,091 metres) and Margherita pinnacles, I scrambled over frozen stones to the summit. Upon determining the sign welcoming me to Uganda’s highest point I welled up like a, umm,” tearful celebrity”, intense delight combining with fatigue. The clouds had cleared to disclose a vistum more complex and impressing than I remembered from Kilimanjaro’s volcanic boundary. Encircled by glaciers and bumpy meridians, I stared south down the Albertine rift valley to Lake George and west into DRC.

A number of escapade tour operators have added the Rwenzoris to their pamphlets for 2018, so its notoriety seems set to increase. But for those working instants standing fatigued and preferably psychological at having completed one of Africa’s greatest adventures, we revelled in being the only summiteers that day.

Way to go

The trip was provided by UK tour operator Gane& Marshall, which provides for eight-day treks to Mount Stanley for PS1, 098 pp for two , not including flights. Flights were provided by Visit Uganda: Ethiopian Airlines hovers from Heathrow to Entebbe( via Addis Ababa) from PS483 return. Help with in-country logistics was provided by Rwenzori Trekking Assistance

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