Alfy K Nsamba
Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda's hidden gem
“I've been guiding and hiking, and I've been in the outdoors business for a very long time, but the vastness of the Rwenzoris is just breathtaking.” That was the description of Julian Wright after his record breaking trip to the Ruwenzori Mountain Range in Uganda.
We all know that Uganda is home to over half of the remaining mountain gorillas, multiple chimpanzee habitats, the big five, amazing birdlife and unrivalled traditional cultural activities. However not many people are aware of the incredible hiking and mountaineering experiences that can be done in Uganda. The East African mountaineering scene has been dominated by Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, but more and more seasoned mountaineering experts are visiting Uganda have been impressed with the landscape diversity, scenic beauty and technical challenges.
Uganda has four areas where Mountaineering and Hiking can be done. The Ruwenzori Mountain Range also known as the mountains of the moon, Mount ELgon, The Virunga Mountain Range and Hiking in Karamoja. The Ruwenzori Mountains Range is located inside Ruwenzori National Park which is120km-long and 65km-wide. It is the highest mountain range and the third highest point in Africa. The National Park is famed for being able to cater for casual walkers to technical climbers. There are has 6 permanently snowcapped peaks: Mt. Luigi di Savoia at 4,62m, Mt. Gessi at 4,715m, Mt. Emin at 4,798m, Mt. Baker at 4,843m, Mt. Speke at 4,890m and Mt. Stanley at 5,109m. 70 % of Rwenzori Mountains National Park is above 2,500m in altitude, making it Uganda’s highest park. The diverse nature of the mountain range enables visitors to be able to do anything from a one day hike to a 10-day excursion
Julian Wright a Professional Mountaineer, Lead Guide/ Field Expert for over 15 years, largely in Kenya and South Africa visited the Ruwenzori Mountains. He is one of a few people who has climbed all the highest peaks on Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro. Julian has climbed mountains all around the world, climbing routes all over Kenya, South Africa, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Canada, the Alps, Himalayas, Southeast Asia and most recently the Rwenzoris.
Julian summited eight peaks in the Ruwenzori Mountain Range within seven days with the previous record was four peaks in eight days. The peaks climbed by Julian were Margherita Peak, (5,109 m), Alexandra Peak (5,090 m), Albert Peak (5,087 m), and Cheptegei Peak (4,907 m) all on Mount Stanely. He also summited Mutinda Lookout (3,975 m), Vittorio Emanuele Peak (4890 m) the highest point on Mount Speke’s, as well as Lolanda Peak, (4,175 m) the highest peak on Mt. Gessi and finally Edward Peak (4,844 m) on Mount Baker.
After his record breaking trip to the Ruwenzori Mountains Julian spoke to the Uganda Tourism Board about his experience, below are snippets from the interview:
Q - First, tell us about yourself. A - My name is Julian Wright. I work as a mountain guide in various East African mountains, mainly Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. This is my first time to the Rwenzoris. My main motivation to come here actually started about six years ago. I have been wanting to come here for a very long time, but finally, I've been able to come out and see what this beautiful mountain has to offer. I have a lot of clients and visitors we've had on our mountains in Kenya and Tanzania, who are really interested to see this part of the world, so it was nice to see for myself and see what works for them. You guys really have an incredible resource here and it's nice to be able to experience it. I was a little bit constrained with time because obviously, this is our busy season, but I really needed to see the mountain. Unfortunately, I had eight days to come and explore this huge mountain range. But we managed to climb quite a lot of peaks and it gives me a good perspective of what Mt. Rwenzori has to offer. Q - In specific terms, what is it that is difference that you found with Mt. Rwenzori that has not been, or that you have not seen in the other parts of the East African mountains where we understand, you have been several times? A - It (Mt. Rwenzori) is more of a range of mountains in comparison to what we're used to. So, there are many peaks, and just the sheer ecological diversity, is mind-blowing. The leaves are bigger, the plants are bigger, everything is so lush, there's so much life, and it is totally unique. I've been guiding and hiking, and I've been in the outdoors business for a very long time, but the vastness of the Rwenzoris is just breathtaking. I mean, you go into some areas, and you really feel like, it feels very remote. It feels almost untouched, in a way. Starting at the bottom, walking up through the forests, going through the bamboo, going through the area where there are mostly rosewoods and you start seeing a lot more heather, the ericas and then you get into this very, very strange landscape with plants that you probably don't usually see- the lobelias, the giant groundsels and then you get into the zone where there's very little vegetation, it's very wet. Yes, the conditions can be quite harsh, but yeah, you adapt to it. And when you get up to the top, you have so many different mountains on the range itself and that is quite unique about your mountains.
Q - In terms of birding, are there any bird species you've seen that perhaps you have not seen anywhere else? A - Yeah, in terms of birding I have seen quite a few distinct species. I mean, in the last couple of hours, we've been staring up in the trees, and the guides know their birds so well, that I would just ask them, what is that calling, and somebody knew what it is. We have seen the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird and several others. And we have been listening to the Red-chested cuckoos all the way down. There are very many of them. There is just so much happening, it's difficult to try and understand everything. Q - For someone who wants to come to the Rwenzoris, how prepared should they come? A - That's a really good question. There are, some big days, but because the trails have been so well managed, and the huts have been so well established that even for somebody who's not incredibly fit, there are options in between. So, you can break the day up and take your time with it, which then allows you to acclimatise well, and it's something that I think you're very lucky with here. Because you have more ranges, this allows people more time to acclimatise. Q - Comparing the glaciers at the top of Rwenzori, how does it compare with other mountains that you have been to? Any notable differences especially with the other mountains with glaciers? A - The glaciers on the Rwenzoris are incredibly unique. They are a lot bigger than any other glaciers in East Africa. There's so much moisture coming up from the forests and the area around the Rwenzori that you get a lot more snowfall and a lot more rainfall and the glaciers are holding steady. Unfortunately, the glaciers on some of the Mountains in East Africa are virtually gone. We've got a very small section left. Because of the effects of whether you want to call it global warming or climate change or just general warming of the planet- the glaciers are receding quickly. Glaciers are certainly a massive attraction in beauty on our East African mountains. So, if you're out there and you're not yet decided or sure if you should come, you should come as soon as you can, because the glaciers are going fast
For more information about a trip to the Ruwenzori Mountains specifically for a mountaineering expedition or as part of a two day one night stopover integrated into a safari in Uganda please get in touch with Let's Go Travel by clicking on the link below.