Scaling Uganda’s moon mountains

Saturday January 25 2020

Tourists trekking through the rainforest on Rwenzori Mountain.

Tourists trekking through the rainforest on Rwenzori Mountain. PHOTO | JONATAHN KAMOGA | NMG 

JONATHAN KAMOGA
By JONATHAN KAMOGA
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Climbing one of Africa’s highest peaks would be a great start to a year of mountaineering.

Before taking on Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains, commonly known as the Mountains of the Moon, I felt a mixture of anxiety, fear, excitement and self-doubt.

The Rwenzori Mountains, located in Uganda’s south west, are the region’s tallest mountain range with the highest peak Magherita at 5,109m above sea level.

Unlike many of my unfit colleagues, I embarked on two weeks of jogging as well as playing football over the weekends before taking on the challenge.

The anxiety of the climb saw me Googling the different challenges and many of the difficulties seemed manageable except for altitude sickness, which scared me.

Our team was made up of reporters and renowned mountain climber Tim Macartney-Snape who was in the country on a mission to conquer the Magherita peak. Tim together with another colleague were the first Australians to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1984.

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According to Tim, one simply doesn’t climb a mountain without prior preparation.
“It takes several weeks of both mental and physical preparation,” he told us.

Out trek started in the town of Kasese in Kilembe right at the base of the mountain. Equipped with walking sticks and luggage, we walked to the first camp named Sine, located at about 2,000m above sea level where we spent the night. According to the guides, it was a four-hour walk for fast trekkers but it took us close to seven hours.

We set off in single file around midday and followed a small, soggy trail that passes through the thick rainforest of the Rwenzori National Park at the foot of the mountains.

Because our speeds varied, the group started breaking up hours after and I found myself with two younger colleagues ahead of the main group.

Rwenzori trekking services have set up several camps at different altitudes, furnished with beds, solar power and warm baths. It takes about eight days to get to the peak, but several packages are available for between one and eight days.

The rainforest at the base of the mountain is home to about 217 species of birds, 17 of which can only be found here. There are also forest elephants, chimpanzees, hyrax, black and white colobus, L'Hoest's monkeys, duiker, and Rwenzori turaco.

The site is a Unesco heritage site.

The trek to Sine camp exhausted many of us. According to the guides, this is one of the hardest and longest although it is not a very steep course. By the end of the day, we were holed up in the shelter beside the camp’s dormitories telling stories about the day’s adventure and having a warm meal of beef, rice and bananas.

On the second day we headed to the next camp and many opted out at this point and decided to descend because the next course was steeper. The next day we climbed to the Kalalama camp, a steep hike that required us to use ladders.

The two-day experience up the Rwenzoris was challenging, but it motivated us novice mountaineers to return and conquer the mountains’ highest peak Magherita.

Rwenzori packages

One-day trek: $40 per person and involves a forest walk.
Two-day trek: $200 per person and involves climbing up to 2,500m above sea level.
Three-day trek: $350 per person and involves climbing as high as 3,100m.
Eight-day trek: $1,200 per person and involves conquering the Magherita peak.

What to carry:
• Sleeping bag
• Overhead torch
• Rain coat and rain proof pants
• Heavy jackets
• Gumboots or good hiking boots