The mystical challenge

As early as 150 AD, alexandrine photographer, Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range deep in the heart of Africa, which he claimed was the source of the world’s longest river, The Nile. He called it “Mountains of the moon”

Indeed, over centuries, mountaineers who later explored Ptolemy’s mountains found the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose melt waters certainly represent the highest springs of the Nile. The alpine highland of glaciers, snowfields, hot springs and blue cirque lakes make Rwenzori one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain parks. Reaching an elevation of 5,109m, Rwenzori is Africa’s tallest mountain range exceeded in altitude by Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, carrying Africa’s third, fourth and fifth highest peaks that are visible for miles around. Some of its peaks incomparable, beautiful and mist- shrouded carry permanent snow and glaciers, while the lower slopes are covered with dense forest.

Mt. rwenzori glacial peakThe mountain’s slopes above 1,600m are the preserve of hikers who rate the Rwenzoris to be the most challenging of all African mountains. A variety of large mammals inhibit the lower slopes but the Rwenzori are notable more for their majestic scenery and varied vegetation zones montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heath-bog, Hagenia-Rapanea scrub and afro-alpine moorland provide a unique backdrop to one of the most magnificent national parks in the world. Several endangered species and very unusual cloud forest flora like giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias, characterize the ranges as ‘Africa’s botanic big game’. This park was gazetted in 1991 as the National Park and is both a World Heritage and RAMSAR site.

ACCESSIBILITY OF THE PARK: The Park is located near Kasese, western Uganda, bordering Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the west, the Nyakalengija trailhead which is 22km off the Kasese-Fort portal road and 25km off Kasese town can be reached from Kampala via Fort portal road (375km) or via Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park (450km).

The park can also be accessed by air; chartered flights can be arranged from Kampala at either Kajjansi or Entebbe International Airport to the nearest Airstrip in Kasese.

ATTRACTIONS TO THE PARK: The most attractive activity in the park is mountain climbing on the legendary “mountains of the moon” that lies between altitudes of 00 06 and 00 46’ north and longitudes 290 47’ west and 300 11’ east. The presences of heavily snowcapped peaks are one of the few pristine and spectacular landscapes of the world.

The majestic scenery and varied vegetation makes it more attractive with some large mammals that inhabit the lower slopes. The range are spectacular, scenic with pristine landscape that comprise of waterfalls, hot springs, blue cirque lakes, snow clad peaks, and stratified vegetation which is an attraction not only for visitors, but also creates potential for research as well as resources for the nearby communities.

The park is also harbors 18 species of mammals, 217 species of birds, 9 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians. Elephants, buffalos, giant forest hogs, bush bucks, chimpanzees and leopards are present but rarely seen. However primates such as the black and white colobus and blue monkey may be sighted. There are some unique but rare animal species like the three horned Chameleon, the Rwenzori colobus, Rwenzori Turaco and the Rwenzori double collared sunbird.

The park is also a Cultural heritage for the neighboring communities. Eighteen sacred sites have been identified, mapped and protected as worship areas.

ACTIVITIES IN THE PARK: Aesthetic values of the Rwenzori’s can be put into three categories of trekking, nature walks and peak climbing.

TRECKING: this is done along two routes; a 7-day trekking of the central tourism circuit, and 5-day trek along Kilembe route to the southern part of the park. Shorter hikes can be arranged.

NATURE WALKKS: There are trees in the park which allow visitors up close interaction with nature.

PEAK CLIMBING: the six- day loop trail is a tough but rewarding hike taking in all vegetation zones and the glacier peaks. There are both ascents to major peaks within the Rwenzori ranges along both routes. These include ascents to Magherita (5,109m) on the Mountain Stanley, Vittorio Emmanuelle (4,889m) on mountain Speke and Edward (4842m) on Mountain Baker. These hikes offer commanding and panoramic views of the other peaks within the ranges. However, high peaks should be attempted by experienced mountaineers.