RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Uganda Safaris featuring the Rwenzoris provides exhilarating rewarding experience but one, which must be Well planned. The key to an enjoyable Uganda tours must be prepared! The central circuit hike takes six nights/seven days and reaches an altitude of 14,000ft(4,267m) above sea level.
The conditions on the mountain are a challenge to even an experienced hiker because this mountain is known for its un-engeneered, steep and slippery trails, frequent rainfall, cold temperatures, bogs, mud, steep terrain and high altitude.
However you can try it, it's an exciting experience and since the periods of July-August, December-February are relatively dry for inexperienced hikers.
During any season, raingear, good sleeping bag, warm hat, gloves, heavy socks, gum boots, gaiters and a walking stick for balance are recommended plus a basic first aid kit.
Porters will be carrying your heavy equipment and food, leaving you with a small pack, rain gear, warm clothes, camera water and any other light luggage.
You can purchase your own food and Rwenzori mountaineering service can provide cooking utensils and cooks.
THE CENTRAL CIRCUIT TRIAL
Plan to arrive at Rwenzori Mountains National Park and the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) offices at Nyakalengija in the morning so as to have ample time to rent equipment and be availed with guides and porters.
Hiking begins from the park headquarters 5,400ft(1,646m) walking past typical "mud and wattle" Bakonzo homes and gradually moving upward through elephant grass and garden plots. It takes approximately 40minutes to reach the park boundary.
The trail then follows the Mubuku River crossing recent landslide areas and involves climbing over rocks and a bluff, before reaching the Mahoma River in about two and 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).
The total time for an average hiker from Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba is about 5-7 hours and total elevation gained is 4,000ft(1,200m). Slower hikers could take considerably longer so it is better to leave park headquarters before noon to avoid being on the trail after dark.
During this part of the trip, you may be able to hear chimpanzees and sometimes you may have a glimpse of the black and white colobus and blue monkeys behind the hut or the brilliantly coloured Rwenzori Turaco bird.
From Nyabitaba Hut the trail leads West ward for half a kilometer then drops steeply to Kurt Shaffer Bridge, crossing below the confluence of the Bujuku and the Mubuku rivers. By turning right to the bridge you begin to climb the central circuit anti-clockwise since the clockwise direction is much more difficult and risky.
After the Kurt Shaffer Bridge, the muddy slippery trail climbs steadily up through bamboo forest. After one and a half-hours you encounter an area of slippery boulder hopping which some hikers consider the most difficult and dangerous footing of the circuit.
After 5hrs of travelling from Nyabitaba you reach the hut at Nyamuleju and its accompanying rock shelter which may be a good night stop over. This point also marks the start of giant lobelia and groundsel zone, this remarkable vegetation type is found no where in the world except high-altitude tropical mountains.
The 1hour walk to John Matte hut (11,200ft/3,414m) is through a challenging bog, full of extra ordinary plants and the slow pace can be a delightful chance to examine and photograph this unique environment. Typical time to reach john matte is 7 hours. 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 Shafer 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 as a reasonable stopping point.
Leave John matte to cross the Bujuku River and enter the lower Bigo bog, where your first experience of jumping from tussock to tussock on a grassy bog begins. The trail is muddy and follows the left (southern) edge of lower Bibo bog until eventually it reaches the round metal "uniport" the bigo hut and its rock shelter.
A steep section past the hut leads to upper Bigo bog, 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. There is a beautiful narrow stream at the upper end of this bog that can make a lovely stop over for lunch.
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 Mount Baker to the south, Mount Stanley to the West and Mount Speke to the North.
The trail 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 a short distance further is Bujuku Hut 13,000ft (3962m), favourably located for parties climbing Mount Speke which requires technical skills and special equipment. However the shaded location and frequent mists can make Bujuku Hut quiet cold.
Time to reach Bujuku from John Matte is typically 3-5hours and the elevation gained is 1,800ft(560m) but the long stretches of bog and the mud along the lake make this another challenging day.
From Bujuku hut leave directly to a newer trail which rises and falls twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss draped Groundsel vegetation 14,345ft(4,372m) to Scott Elliot pass. At the steepest section is a short strong ladder after which a right hand branch will lead to Elena Hut 14,700ft(4,430m). This is a steep, rocky trail which when wet can be slippery but continuing straight and a few steps below the pass there is a sheltered spot good for a break.
Elena is the base camp for climbing 16,763ft(5,109m) to Margherita Peak in the Mount 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 Rwenzori Mountaineering Service guides.
The circuit trails continues to the left over Scot Elliot passes and enters an alpine zone of sparse low vegetation and stark rough boulders more familiar to high altitude climbers from northern altitudes. If the weather is bad here, the conditions for "hypothermia" are ideal.
As you leave the pass, you may enjoy the spectacular view of northward of Margherita peak, Elena and Savoia Glaciers, and Mount Baker 15,889ft(4,843m) towering above you to the east or left of the trail.
Having dropped a few hundred feet elevation from the pass, you cut below massive rock walls at the base of Mount 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 trail descends past upper lake Kitandara Hut 13,200ft(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 to Bujuku Hut usually takes 1,400ft(425m) and because Scott Elliot is the highest point so far, some hikers will be slower due to greater effort required at these altitudes. It is important to watch carefully the signs of altitude sickness.
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(4,282m) to the Freshfield pass. Viewing Westward on clear days leads into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and north, Margherita, and its glaciers still dominate the horizon.
Freshfield is a long traverse through beautiful high alpine mossy glades and more mud until after half an hour, when the trail begins the circuit's long two-day descent. Mist or rain can make tracing the trail difficult, and the first one-kilometer here can be very slippery. Rock shelters at Bujongolo and Kabamba are optional overnight stop overs but it is best to push on through the seemingly endless mud to newly constructed Guy Yeoman Hut 10,700ft(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.
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 sports. Helping each other and descending very slowly facing the slope instead of facing outward is recommended, especially as you approach Kichunchu where the trail parallels and twice crosses the Mubuku river mostly in deep mud until the last few kilometers of good dry trail. This follows the ridge down Nyabitaba, which completes the circuit.
Typical hikers make Guy Yeoman to Nyabitaba in 5 hours. Should you decide 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. One should especially be 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 and sharp eyes may catch a glimpse of the brilliant green but changeable Rhinoserous chameleon.
Descend to the park headquarters and it can take 2-3 hours.
Basic Information Access
By road; From Kampala via Mbarara to Kasese or from Kampala through Fort Portal and then 75km south on the Fort Portal/Kasese road. The park is 25km from Kasese town.
By air: Chartered planes are available from Entebbe/ Kampala to Kasese and then by road.
There are a variety of accommodation facilities in Kasese town (both upper and lower market). Rwenzori Mountaineering service operates accommodation facilities-huts with bunk beds along the central circuit
Health and safety on the trail
The high altitude and cold wet conditions of Rwenzori Mountains can adversely affect UN experienced visitors. The following are ailments, which may occur:
Hypothermia, Dehydration, Altitude sickness, AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) HAPE ( High altitude sickness pulmonary edema) and HACE (High altitude cerebral edema).
Good Behaviour at the huts and on the trail is appreciated
o Accept the park's limit of 15 people per hut per night. Delaying you first departure a day may mean less congestion at huts and much more pleasant trip.
o Don't litter the park with non-burnable or biodegradable items like tins, plastic and silver foil. Personally collect these things and make sure you or your porters take them out of the park.
o Please use the latrines for all body waste.
o Respect others in the huts by sharing space, stoves, talking quietly
o Observe the prohibition of wood fire. Making fires using local wood is prohibited in the park. Use your own paraffin stove or gas or charcoal provided and please be considerate to your porters by bringing minimum equipment. Extra personal gear means heavier loads or extra porters, which is bad for the porter but also for the environment.
o Minimise damage on trails by following your guide closely-avoid making new paths. Each time a hiker makes a new route, the paths get wider and more vegetation turns to mad.
o Ask your guides on how to conduct yourself.