Hiking up the Rwenzori, Africa’s tallest mountain range, is not for the faint-hearted. It is a thrilling and rewarding achievement to reach the 5,109-metre-high Mount Stanley summit — the highest of the six “Mountains of the Moon”. To get there, climbers have to face the risk of altitude sickness, aching limbs and unpredictable weather.
In addition, climbing the Rwenzori is one of the most expensive expeditions in Uganda, costing about $1,200 for a seven-day hike. These are some of the factors that have kept many adventurers away from summiting Uganda’s legendary snow-capped peaks.
However, for those who are not up to the challenge but still want to get a close look at the Rwenzoris, there are trails on the foothills of the mountains that offer an almost equally thrilling adventure — on a less crowded, off-the-beaten track.
The one-day Kabango Trail on the foothills of the Gesa and Karangwa mountains is one of the alternatives available.
Unlike hiking the Rwenzoris, the risk of altitude sickness on the Kabango Hill in Kabarole district — which rises 1,790 metres above sea level — is slim, the cost is affordable, and no technical climbing skills are required.
In addition, no acclimatisation is needed and the hike only takes between one and two hours: The Rwenzoris need between seven and nine days to make it to one of the summits.
At least 10 percent of climbers never summit the Rwenzori mountains, according to our guide Joseph Amanyire, who also runs the Rwenzori Unique Campsite, the only accommodation facility in the Kabango Hill area.
Not a walk in the park
Still, the trails on the foothills of the Rwenzoris are not a walk in the park. I climbed Kabango Hill with two of my friends and soon realised that one needs to be physically fit to make it to the top.
The steep stairway took us about one hour to scale, step by weary step, gulping air deeply. When we finally reached, we were extremely tired.
The climb was worth it as the panorama was striking. We could see Fort Portal City in the distance, iridescent streams, and the Kibale Forest National Park.
Because the Kabango Hill trail is outside the boundaries of the Rwenzori National Park, it costs $10 for a guide.
With more than 6,000 hikers attempting to climb the Rwenzori mountains each year, the foothill trails are less busy, allowing travellers to discover the wild.
From a humanitarian point of view, a trip to Kabango contributes to the economic prospects of the local Bakonjo people, who farm on the slopes of the Rwenzoris and earn extra income working as tour guides and porters.
Spending time here will introduce you to their way of life.