Hiking the Insanely Underrated Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda: A How-To Guide

Who knows about the Rwenzori Mountains? I didn’t. When I thought about in hiking in Africa, I used to think about Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya in the East, the Drakensburgs in the South, and the Atlas Mountains in the North of the continent, but I certainly didn’t associate Uganda as top-notch hiking destination country. Holy schmoly, was I wrong!

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4 Days into the hike you start getting to snow!

Why the Rwenzoris?

The Rwenzoris are one of Africa’s best-kept secrets for those seeking spectacular mountain scenery without the crowds. Spectacular, as in I would rate my hiking experience in the Rwenzoris right up there with hiking in the Himalayas. The scenery is super unique with the high altitude mountains being right on the equator, and I think the pictures speak for themselves on this front. And as for people, only about 1,000 people (according to our guides) venture into Rwenzori National Park annually, which is very few when you compare it to the ~100 people attempting to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro each day. Although the tallest peak of the Rwenzoris, Margherita, isn’t as high as Kili, there are a lot more of them, at least 6 significant peaks over 4,000m, which means you can do trips bagging multiple peaks (we did 4 on our 9-day trek). Finally, although you do have to go with a tour company and guide, the prices are still much cheaper that the more well known mountains (we ended up paying ~144USD/day, while Kili has now soared to ~400USD/day). So, if you are looking for a trekking and mountaineering adventure in Eastern Africa, I would definitely recommend that the Rwenzoris be at the top of your list.

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The landscapes are like no other.  There is a reason the Rwenzoris are nicknamed “mountains of the moon”

Here is some general information to get you started:

Getting there and away:

You’ll probably fly through Kampala. From here, you head about 6 hours west to a small town called Kasese (Link Company busses for 20,000 -30,000ugx). Then, you’ll head to Kilembe (by private hire, boda boda, or shared taxi), which is where you’ll want to stay the night before you start hiking

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How long does it take? What are the trekking options?

It depends on what you want to do. Hikes range from 3 to 9 days, but you could spend up to 2 weeks summiting all of the peaks if you have the time. Most 5-day treks will get you back into the taller mountain scenery and allow you enough time to summit Weismann’s Peak (4,620m), while our 9 day trek gave us enough time to summit 3 of the tallest 6 peaks in the range – Margherita (5,109m), Speke (4,890m), and Weismann’s. I would say that, like most hiking trips, the more time you’ve got to spend there, the better.

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Crossing the second glacier on Margherita Summit Day

Here is a quick and dirty summery of our 9-day trip:

Day # Highlights Start time / elev. End time / elev. / camp name Highest elevation for the day Daily elevation gain / loss Hrs. spent hiking Challenges
1 ·  Check in/sort out guides, fees, and porters

·  Saw a black mamba!

·  Bathing in Enocks Falls at the end of the day

10:00am /

1,450m

2:30pm/

2,585m/ Sine Camp

2,585m Gain: ~1,000m 4.5 hrs. ·   Elevation gain
2 ·  Bamboo Forest

·  First peak: Mutinda Peak

9:00am / 2,585m 4:00pm/ 3,688 m/

Mutinda Camp

3,975m Gain: ~1,200m 6 hrs. ·   Elevation Gain

·   Altitude

3 ·  First big mountain scenery

·  High altitude swims on a sandy beach

9:00am / 3,688m 2:30 pm/

4,062m/ Bugata Camp

4,062m Gain: ~500m 5 hrs.
4 ·  Summit Day (Weismann’s Peak) 8:00am /

4,062m

5:30pm

3,974m / Hunwicks Camp

4,620m Gain: ~600m

Loss: ~700m

8.5 hrs. ·   Altitude

·   Weather

·   Footing (some slippery/scrambling sections)

5 ·  First Glaciers 9:00am /

3,974m

2:30pm / 4,485 m/ Margherita Camp 4,485m Gain: ~500m 5 hrs.
6 ·  Summit Day (Margherita Peak)

·  2 Glacier crossings each way

·  Snow!

3:45am /

4,485m

6:30pm / ~4,000m / Self-made camp sides on the side of a mountain (not the best sleep…) 5,109m Gain: ~600m

Loss: ~1200m

13 hrs. ·   Long Day

·   Altitude

·   Glacier crossings & equipment

·   Weather

·   Walking/hopping through bogs

7 ·  Summit Day (Speke Peak) 5:30am /

~4,000m

6:30pm

3,974m / Hunwicks Camp

4,890m Gain: ~1,300m

Loss: ~1,300m

13 hrs. ·   Second long day in a row

·   Altitude

·   Bogs

·   Cold/Wind

·   Scrambling/footing

·   One rock climbing and abseil section

·   Walking/hopping through bogs

8 ·  Final pass with view of all mountain peaks (Bamwanjara Pass) 8:00am /

3,974m

6:00pm

3,147m / Samalira Camp

3,974m Gain: ~500m

Loss: ~1,300m

10 hrs. ·   Third long day in a row

·   Steep pass (this was the most challenging day of the entire hike for me)

9 ·  Last day, lots of descent back into warm Uganda 9:00am /

3,147m

12:00pm / 1,450m 3,147m Loss: ~ 1,700m 3 hrs. ·   Steady downhill (hard on the knees)
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Weismann’s Peak. My pack looks excessively big in this picture – haha.
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Speke Peak
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Margherita Peak right on the Uganda/Congo borderline

Trekking company options?

There are a couple of trekking company options, but from what I have seen and heard (Mountain Club Uganda rumors), Rwenzori Trekking Services is one of the best (service and price) options for the mountain. This was the company our group used, and other than the shitty sleeping-bags and questionably un-water proof tents if you were renting, it was a great experience. The guides were all very knowledgeable, accommodating, and friendly along the way, the food way pretty decent (especially if you are vegetarian), and the whole trip was easy and straightforward to custom plan with them. They have an office located at the start of the trek, at the backpackers in Kilembe as well as at the backpackers in Rubaga, Kampala.

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My first time seeing a rainbow through the snow.  Does that make it a snowbow?

Is it hard?

Obviously this depends on what route you do, which peaks you summit, and how quickly you decide to do it all, and I think that there are plenty of options depending on what shape you are in and how much you want to challenge yourself. If you are new to hiking, I recommend a 3-5 day option, but if you want to push yourself, doing Margherita peak in 7 days, or adding additional peaks, like we did, can definitely step up the difficulty level. In addition, I opted to go porter-free, carrying all of my stuff for the duration of the hike, which definitely made it all a lot more challenging. Overall, I would rate my experience in the Rwenzoris as much more challenging then other similar guided experiences, which I often find restrictive and way too easy. So, if you are like me in that sense, and find yourself frustrated by hikes that require guides and either a lethargic pace or a 2-hour hiking day, the Rwenzoris will be a pleasant surprise in terms of how challenging they are.

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Coming down the last glacier on Margherita Summit Day

What gear do I need?

Required Gear:

  • Good sleeping bag, rated to at least -10°
  • Cold weather hiking gear
  • Warm weather hiking gear
  • Rain gear
  • Head torch (with charger)
  • Snacks
  • Hiking boots AND Rubber boots
  • Basic personal first aid kit
  • Sunglasses

Recommended Gear:

  • Trekking poles
  • Your own ice axe, crampons, harness, and helmet
  • Thermos
  • Camera
  • Water hydration bladder
  • Bathing Suit
  • Reading materials and/or cards

Optional Gear:

  • Tent and sleeping pad
  • Water treatment
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Headstands on Mutinda peak because we can!

That’s about it! I would highly recommend this hike, just a little off the beaten track in Eastern Africa. Let me know if you have any questions about trekking in the Rwenzoris and I hope you get a chance to check them out one day!

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