Claudius Ptolemy, the Greco-Roman mathematician, astronomer and father of geography, known as the Rwenzori vary the Mountains of the Moon, and I believe he received it about proper. Starlight beamed down on the convex glaciers surrounding our camp close to Uganda’s western border, inflicting them to glow like resting lunar crescents.
I ought to have been sleeping the night time earlier than my try on the Rwenzori’s loftiest peak, 5,109-metre Mount Stanley’s summit, Africa’s third-highest mountain, however altitude complications saved me awake. I believed again to the same sleepless night time at Kilimanjaro some years earlier. I remembered then feeling positive I’d succeed, and when summit day got here, I duly trudged alongside in a torchlight procession to the highest, one in all 50,000 climbers who try Kilimanjaro every year.
Yet this endeavour stirred self-doubt. Little-known and fewer continuously climbed, the 120km-long Rwenzori vary, on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), isn’t as excessive as Kilimanjaro however requires better technical abilities and an endurance I questioned if I possessed. The title Rwenzori means “rainmaker” and the mountain may be notoriously muddy and tiring to climb, although this was the comparatively dry season, from December to February.
Rwenzori nationwide park, 9 hours’ drive west of Kampala, provides crowd-free mountain climbing and a way of wilderness absent on Kilimanjaro. Official statistics present that between January and October 2017, simply 693 individuals trekked its larger reaches. During this eight-day trek with a buddy, we met simply 10 different hikers – and never one tearful movie star doing their bit for charity.
Climbers sleep in static tents or picket huts, spacious sufficient for bunkbeds
So why achieve this few individuals come trekking right here? Australian, John Hunwick, 69, who runs Rwenzori Trekking Services, first got here in 1991. “I saw so much promise and wanted to open up the trails, but then the Rwenzoris were overrun by Congolese rebels,” he stated.
In round 1996, as retaliation for Uganda supporting breakaway nation South Sudan, the North Sudanese helped Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels in Congo to launch assaults from the Rwenzoris aimed toward destabilising Uganda . “It certainly wasn’t safe to trek then,” Hunwick stated. Uganda drove the ADF again into Congo in round 2001 however they continued to launch sporadic forays.
Hunwick assured me the Rwenzoris have been protected and tranquil since 2009, and his outfit has opened trails and camps all the best way to Mount Stanley’s highest spike, Margherita Peak. The FCO recommendation on visiting western Uganda has softened in recent times: it experiences no incidents involving guests however warns travellers to be vigilant of political demonstrations.
The bamboo zone, at 2,800 metres
Hunwick’s treks vary from a day or two to full-on seven- or eight-day expeditions to summit Margherita. But even these simply dipping a toe contained in the nationwide park can be awed.
During two breathless first days we moved by way of tropical forests of gargantuan fig bushes that chattered with blue monkeys into the bamboo zone at 2,800 metres, with percussive accompaniment from stems rattling within the crosswinds. The ascent is steep and trekkers want a level of stamina-based health coaching to deal with the fast positive factors in altitude. A head for heights is preferable for the summit push, however no technical climbing abilities are required.
The mossy heather zone, above three,500 metres
The mossy heather zone above three,500 metres was surreal: Unesco calls it “Africa’s botanical big game”. Its supersized heather bushes appeared like Dartmoor on steroids, and lobelias the scale of Mexican cacti had been all draped with lichen beards extra Gandalf than hipster. In these larger zones we found scat from a not often seen feline, the Rwenzori leopard, and marvelled on the iridescent colors of endemic sunbirds probing flowers with their curved payments.
The each day routine proved easy. We’d stroll as much as eight hours between campsites with static tents resembling Anderson shelters or picket huts, spacious sufficient for bunkbeds with comfy mattresses. Days started with porridge and ended with hearty pasta dishes or native fare resembling rolex (eggy chapatti wraps). At Mutinda Camp, on day two, I showered beneath a glacier-fed waterfall, my yelps probably outdoing the nocturnal rock hyraxes, whose default name appears like they’re being brutally murdered.
Porters cooking on the climb.
My presence was additionally contributing to the financial prospects of the native Bakonjo individuals, a Bantu ethnic group who farm the slopes of the Rwenzoris. My information, Bwambalee Joshua, was heading a gaggle of 9 porters. “I was a geography teacher but the wages were poor, so I became a guide,” he stated. He informed me that mineworkers on the Chinese-owned Kilembe copper mine within the foothills are paid about three,000 shillings (66p) a day, whereas porters earn £three a day and guides double this, plus a £20 bonus for getting shoppers to the summit.
After 5 days, my first view of Mount Stanley from the four,450-metre Bamwanjara Pass was of a barely sinister and brooding multi-peaked massif shrouded in cloud, with glaciers that basically did shine like little moons.
A view from one of many mountain camps
Mike from Minnesota was on his approach down: wanting a lot youthful and fitter than me, he pulled me out of my reverie. “What a climb,” he exclaimed. “Man that was tough scrambling over rocks and ice. I meant this to be a warm-up for Kilimanjaro, but I should have done it the other way round.”
The final vegetated panorama earlier than the rocky Margherita summit camp at four,485 metres is the magnificent Scott Elliot move, stately as a Scottish glen with cliffs stained orange with lichen. Elliot was a part of the workforce who first conquered Mount Stanley in 1906. It was led by an Italian aristocrat, the Duke of Abruzzi, who named the best level after Queen Margherita of Italy.
Margherita camp, in direction of the summit
Summit day began round 3am with the clatter of harnesses and crampons being fitted. Joshua quelled my anxiousness by reminding me that 90% of climbers make the summit. In the event, whereas the morning proved many occasions extra gruelling than summiting Kilimanjaro, it was thrilling to evolve from trekker to mountaineer.
Several non-taxing scrambles on mounted ropes took us in quiet darkness to Stanley glacier. With crampons secured, we crunched throughout an ice plain of disintegrating slush. “These glaciers have halved in size over the past five years,” famous Joshua.
On Stanley glacier heading in direction of the summit. Photograph: Mark Stratton
Dawn cracked over Margherita glacier: a steep icy stairway in direction of the summit that took us two hours to climb. I scaled it step by weary step, gulping air deeply, temples pounding as we approached 5,000 metres, crampons biting at occasions into 40-degree slopes. Joshua went forward belaying by rope and fixing ice-pins. Crevasses revealed fairy grottoes of blue icicles.
Beyond a ridge becoming a member of Alexandra (5,091 metres) and Margherita peaks, I scrambled over frozen boulders to the summit. Upon seeing the signal welcoming me to Uganda’s highest level I welled up like a, umm, “tearful celebrity”, intense pleasure mingling with fatigue. The clouds had cleared to disclose a panorama extra complicated and placing than I remembered from Kilimanjaro’s volcanic rim. Surrounded by glaciers and rocky peaks, I stared south down the Albertine rift valley to Lake George and west into DRC.
A lot of journey tour operators have added the Rwenzoris to their brochures for 2018, so its recognition appears set to extend. But for these moments standing fatigued and slightly emotional at having accomplished one in all Africa’s best adventures, we revelled in being the one summiteers that day.
Way to go
The journey was offered by UK tour operator Gane & Marshall, which provides eight-day treks to Mount Stanley for £1,098pp for 2, not together with flights. Flights had been offered by Visit Uganda: Ethiopian Airlines flies from Heathrow to Entebbe (through Addis Ababa) from £483 return. Help with in-country logistics was offered by Rwenzori Trekking Services