Published: September 4th 2011August 30th 2011
A short history of the Rwenzori Mountains
The Rwenzoris is the highest mountain range in Africa with Mt. Margherita at 5109 as the highest summit point and third highest mountain in Africa. It's situated west in Uganda on the border to DRC. You can actually walk across to DRC on the summit day if you do the Margherita peak. Unlike the two higher peaks, the Rwenzori Mountains are not of volcanic origin but rise directly from the Rift Valley floor. The formation is linked to the geological upheaval that created the Rift. Rwenzoris several altitude zones has their own distinct micro climate and flora and fauna, including 70 mammals and 177 bird species.
The Rwenzori Mountains are thought to have been the source of the legend of the Mountains of the Moon, the snow-capped range cited as the source of the Nile by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy
around AD150. Arthur Jephson and Thomas Park was the first Europeans to see these legendary mountains. They were members of Stanley's cross-continental expedition to rescue Emin Pasha
, which passed through the area in 1889.
RMS vs. RTS
As I mentioned in the last entry I would recommend
RTS (Rwenzori Trekking Services)
based on what I saw in Kilembe, and the feedback from clients I met. After been doing the trek myself with RMS (Rwenzori Mountaineering Services)
I don't know anymore... But I think I will recommend both, based on what you are looking for. RTS offer more options when it comes to days in the park, and their trail are more "unexplored" since they are new in the business (from 2009). But the trails are steeper, and you have to spend the nights in tents since they haven't built any huts yet. RMS has been on for many years, have simple huts on their central circuit (some might also have an interesting wildlife inside...), and they run a more comfortable lodge by the gate, than RTS. So for the comfort sides I can recommend RMS, and for the adventurous ones I can recommend RTS.
Another aspect though is the professionalism of the two companies. I am now putting on my western glasses, and I'm critical too! As I said in the last entry it seems like RTS is running a rather professional service. But you have to keep an eye on them
anyway, since I haven't done any trekking with the company. With RMS I had a mixed feeling about their professionality. First of all they sell the central circuit including Margherita Peak as a 8 days/7 nights trek, but I don't think many people use 8 days! The guides will try to "sell in" doing the last two days in one, which I think most people do and will have no problem of doing. So why sell 8 days in the office!? You will end up paying for one night extra to UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) as well (35 USD per night). The information on the RMS internet site is not correct any more... Maybe an update would be nice?
I asked my guide before we started off if there were places on summit day that we had to pass over rock with the crampons. I have some lightweight aluminium crampons not very suitable for walking on rock so I wanted to hire some if we had to walk on rock with them. My guide said no, so I brought them anyway. On the summit day it turned out to be rocky parts anyway! It wasn't a big deal because
I simply just took off my crampons, but why couldn't my guide just give me a correct answer to this simple question?
There is one part of the summit day were you have to climb some fixed ladders on a steep rock section. Be aware how you pass this section. I was not really happy with the way my guides solved this part. They even asked me for advices on the way back up... The will, or in this case lack of will, to do anything about this section (probably from both companies...) is also something I question when it comes to professionalism. They simply said that this was not their responsibility, but UWAs. One rope and one extra ladder would be enough! (Because of the glacier retreating/melting, the ladders didn't reach all the way down, and this is causing problems for people that are not used to climbing).
The last case is about tipping. Make sure you count all the people in your crew when they are presented the first day! And give the tip personally to each person in the crew at the end of the trip! I think I got i right with my crew,
but my new friends on the trip was almost cheated by their crew. Their crew had added some extra names to the list of porters. When they was giving out the tips the names on the list didn't match the number of people who was actually there. It didn't really match with the number of people they counted the first night either... So they tried to get some extra income by adding to many people on the list!
Central Circuit and Mt. Margherita
RMS is offering the central circuit with or without Mt. Margherita on the halfway. I booked my trip in Kasese, not a town I would recommend to spend any time in! The day after we set off to the mountains. I had a very enthusiastic driver from Kasese. He explained me everything we saw on the way. And that included; "That's a man on a bike", "That's an African cow", "That's a man on a bike, with bananas on the back of it", "This is the main road", That's Rwenzori Mountains", "This is a house", and so on. I got well informed as you probably understand : )
At the gate I met up
with some in my crew, the cook and the guide. After a little introduction of the trek in the office we set off towards Nyabitaba Hut at 2650m. Halfway up I met three other people who had the same itinerary as mine. In the evening we decided to trek as one group and tried to explain this to the guides and cooks. The cooks did a good job trough the trek and prepared all meals for us as a group. The guides had a bit more problem to understand what a group means, and what teamwork is... But it worked fine anyway.
Trekking in Rwenzori means trekking in mud, mud and then a bit of mud the next day as well. The only day I actually needed my mountain boots was on the summit day. I was very happy that I bought rubber boots at the market in Kasese before the trip. But after getting used to all the mud, it's actually not that bad to trek in these conditions. And since the scenery is so different from other nature experiences I have, you will be busy looking at things around you and forget about the mud. It's also
far from the same amount of people compared to Kilimanjaro. We were actually the only 4 tourists doing the circuit at that time. We met a few people on the first hut both on the way up and on the way down, because this hut is the only one that people use twice (or pass if they do the last two days in one).
Actually I met Ulf on this hut on the way down. He was my excellent contact in Norway before I left, and provided me with all my good contact in Uganda. He was a guide for a crew from BBC that was going to spend 15 days up there to film the snow and glaciers. It's going to be a documentary on BBC in 2013, so look out for that!
Anyway, I'm supposed to write about the trek here.... But, I think that the pictures are actually doing a better job! I can inform that we had cloudy weather on the summit day, so we didn't see anything... Enjoy the pictures!
There are more photos below