Mountain Rwenzori National Park
A trip into the Rwenzori is an exhilarating and rewarding experience but one, which must be well planned. The key to an enjoyable visit is to ‘be prepared’. the central circuit hike takes six night/seven days and reaches an altitude of 14,000ft (4,267m) above sea level. The conditions on the mountain are a challenge to even unexperienced hiker. This mountain is re-known for its un-engineered, steep and slippery trials and frequent rain. Rainfall and cold temperature, bogs, mud, steep terrain and high attitude make it a challenging trip. Never the less it is exciting. You just need to try it, since during much of the year mud, rain, mist and wind occur daily, adequate clothing (and a mental attitude). For these conditions are a must. The periods of July-August and December – February are relatively dry and for un experienced hiker the best seasons for trek. During any season, raingear, good sleeping bag, warm hat, gloves heavy socks, gum boots, gaiters and a walking stick for balance (and to probe the mud) are recommended. A basic first aid kit is a necessity. Porters will be carrying your heavy equipment and food, leaving a small pack with rain gear, warm clothes (on higher sections), camera, water, bottle, snacks and lunch. (purchase your own food in Kasese or Kampala). Rwenzori mountaineering service (RMS) can provide cooking utensils and cooks. Rwenzori central circuit trail Day one: Start planning from whenever you are in Uganda to get the Rwenzori mountains National park and the Rwenzori mountaineering service (RMS) offices at Nyakalengija in the morning so as to have ample time to rent equipments and be available with guides and porters. Hiking begins from the park headquarters 5,400 ft (1,646m), a walking past typical mud and wattle Bakonzo homes and gradually moving upward through elephant grass and garden plots. It takes approximately forty minutes to reach the park boundary. The trial then follows the Mubuku River, crossing recent landslide areas (to be negotiated carefully) and involves climbing over rocks and bluff, before reaching the Mahoma River in about two and a half hours. After crossing the river there will be a steep climb through open bracken fern slopes and podorcarpus forest up to Nyabitaba hut 8,700ft (2652m) .Total time for an average hiker from Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba is about 5-7 hours, and a total elevation gained is 4,000 ft (1,200m). Slower hiker could take considerably longer, so insist on leaving park headquarters before noon to avoid being on the trial after dark. During this part of the trip, you may be able to hear chimpanzees, and sometimes you can see clack and white colobus monkey and blue monkeys behind the hut and catch glimpses of brilliantly coloured Rwenzori Turaco. Across the valley to the north of Nyabitaba Portal peaks, which rise above 14,000ft (4,627m) Day two: From Nyabitaba hut the trials leads westwards for a half a kilometer then drops steeply to Kurt Shaffer Bridge, crossing below the confluence of the Bujuku and the Mubutu rivers. By turning right to the bridge you begin to climb the central circuit ant-clockwise since the clockwise direction is much more difficult and adds considerable danger for you and your porters. After crossing Kurt Shaffer bridge the muddy, slippery trial climbs steadily up through bamboo forest. After one and a half hours you can encounter an area of slippery boulder hopping which some hiker consider the most difficult and dangerous footing of the circuit. After five hours of travel from Nyabitaba, you reach the hut and Nyamuleju and its accompanying rock shelter. If you had a late start or know that there is a large group ahead of you at the next hut, you might consider spending the here. On a rare clear day, Mtn Stanley and Speke can be seen from the top of the rock near the hut. Nyamuleju also marks the start of the giant lobelia and groundsel zone, this remarkable vegetation type is found no where else in the world except high altitude tropical African mountains. The one-hour walk to john Matte hut (11,200ft) or 3,414m is through a challenging bog, full of extra ordinary plants and the slow place be a delightful chance to examine and photograph this unique environment, typical time to reach John Matte from Nyabitaba is about 7hours. Some hikers consider this to be the most tiring and longest day of the circuit, so an early start is important. The loss of altitude to Kurt Shaffer Bridge means the total elevation to be gained on this day is about 3,000ft (915m). Hikers who feel they have reached their limits by this point should consider John Matte reasonable stopping point. You can just enjoy the unique vegetation in the following day begin your return journey to Nyabitaba. Day three : Leave John Matte hut to cross the Bujuku River and enter the lower Bigo bog, where you first real experience of jumping from tussock to tussock on a grassy bog begins. The trial is muddy and follows the left (southern) edge of lower Bigobog until eventually it reaches the round metal uniport. The Bigo hurt and its rock shelter, a steep section past the hut leads to upper Bigobog. In the last half of this bog, a boardwalk has been constructed. Though some may think it is an ugly intrusion, it makes walking easier and prevents the hikers from further damaging the bog. A beautiful narrow stream at the upper end of this bog makes a good lunch break. An hour and a half beyond the upper bog and after climbing through drier ground and criss - crossing the river, you reach Lake Bujuku. The southern end of the Lake is in a majestic setting, with Mt. Baker to the South, Mt. Stanley to the West and Mt. Speke to the north. The trial route along the lake’s northeastern shore crosses the worst mud on the trip. Beyond the north end of the lake is a rock shelter called cooking pot and short distance further is Bujuku Hut (13,000ft or 3962m), favourably located for parties climbing Mt. Speke (which requires technical skills and special equipments). Time to reach Bujuku from John Matte is typically 3-5 hours and the elevation gained is (1,800ft or 560m). But the long stretches of bog and mud along the lake make this another challenging day. The shaded location and frequent mist can make Bujuku Hut quite cold.v If one moved around on a nature walk, the chances of seeing Red duikers are high and at night, calls of the Rock hyraxes are common. Day four: From Bujuku hut leave directly to newer trial which rises and falls twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss draped groundsel vegetation (14,345ft or 4,372m) to Scott Elliot Pass. At the steepest section is a short strong ladder after which aright hand branch will lead to Elena Hut (14,700ft or4,430m). this is a steep, rocky trial which when wet or icy can be slippery. Continuing straight and a few steps below the pass, there is a sheltered spot for a break, from here, there is a second trial to the right to Elena Hut. Elena is the base camp for climbing (16,763ft or 5,109m) to Margherita Peak in the Mt. Stanley complex, which requires an additional day or two and can only be attempted with an ice axe, mountain boots, crampons, ropes and prior arrangements with RMS guides. The circuit trial continues to the left over Scot Elliot Pass and enters an alpine zone of sparse low vegetation and stark rough boulders more familiar to high attitude climbers from northern latitudes. If the weather is bad here (rain, snow and wind can occur in any season) the conditions for ‘hypotheramia’ are ideal. As you leave the pass, you may enjoy spectacular views northward of Margherita Peak, Elena and Savoia Glaciers and Mt. Baker (15,889ft or 4843m) towering above you to the east (left) of the trial. Having dropped a few hundred feet in elevation from the pass, you cut below massive rock walls at the base of Mt. Baker. Here, dramatic ‘impact craters’ have been caused by large rocks falling from above and your guide may caution you against loud noises, rising and falling, the trial descends past upper lake kitandara through thick mud to lower lake and kitandara Hurt (13,200ft or 4,023m). This lovely site is surrounded by towering peaks, but the sun sets early and the nights can be cold. Time to reach Kitandara Hut from Bujuku Hut usually takes 3-5 hours. The elevation gain to the pass from Bujuku is (1,400ft or 425), and because Scot Elliot is the highest point so far, some hikers will be slower due to greater effort required at these altitudes. Watch carefully for signs of altitudes sickness. Day five: An early start is advisable to avoid over heating on the steep but lovely hour-long climb from the lake Kitandara which is (14,050ft or 4,282m) to the fresh field pass. Viewing westwards on clear days leads into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Cong (DRC) and northward, Magherita and its glaciers still dominate the horizon. Fresh field is along flat transverse through beautiful high alpine mossy glades ( and more mud) until after a half-hour, when the trials begins the circuit’s long two-day descend. Mist or rain can make tracing the trial difficult and the first one Kilometer here can be very slippery. Rock shelters at Bujongolo and Kabamba are optional overnight stop over but it is best to push on through the seemingly endless mud to newly constructed GuyYeoman Hut (10,700ft or 3,261m). some hikers make the Kitandara – Guy Yeoman trip in 5 hours, but any stops to enjoy the pass, bad weather on descent and the slow conditions in the last two hours of deep mud can make this a much longer day, which some visitors consider as difficult as day two. Day six: Here hikers should begin their journey back early, so as to get to Nyabitaba Hut before dark. In any case the path from the Guy Yeoman is quite difficult in some spots. Helping each other and descending very slowly facing the slope instead of facing outward is recommended, especially as you approach Kichunchu where the trial parallels and twice the crosses the Mubuku River mostly in deep mud until the last few kilometers of good dry trial. This follows the ridge down Nyabitaba, which completes the circuit. Typical hikers make Guy Yeoman to Naybitaba in 5 hours. Should you decides to continue to Nyakalengija, it is another two or three hours depending on the condition of your knees and your desire to reach a comfortable bed and bath. Be especially careful about vines and brush and resist the urge to hurry out of the mountains. Late evening walking can be good for watching birds and you may sight the occasional blue tailed monkey. Sharp eyes can catch a glimpse of the brilliant green but challengeable Rhinocerous chameleon. Day seven: Descend to park Headquarters, it can take 2-3 hours. Health and safety on the trial The high altitude and cold wet conditions of Rwenzori Mountains can diversely affect un-experienced visitors. The following are ailments, which may occur; Hypothermia, Dehydration, Altitude sickness, AMS (Acute mountain sickness) HAPE (High altitudes pulmonary edema) and HACE (High altitude cerebral edema).