Travelling and hiking in Africa-The Ruwenzori mountains
Trekking and ascent of the 5109 m high Margherita Peak
The Kilimanjaro is a synonym for mountain tours in Africa. You may have heard of the Ruwenzori mountain range before, but since it is not one of the 7 summits, it is rarely visited. Exactly for this reason the desire to take this exotic mountain under our feet has been in our heads for many years.
The Ruwenzori mountains represent with the 5109 m high Margheritaspitze both the highest elevation of the Congo and of Uganda. The border runs across the summit area. With one leg each we stood at the summit in two countries. After the 5895 m high Kilimanjaro and the 5199 m high Mount Kenya it is the third highest mountain of Africa, in addition the only high elevation of the continent which is not of volcanic origin.
With 320 rainy days it is hardly surprising that the summit is not overcrowded. In addition there is the quite difficult summit ascent with the safety technology and the handling of crampons are prerequisites. The Ruwenzori is surely the most demanding choice of the big mountains of Africa. The different peaks of the mountains are also known as moon mountains. The naming is possibly due to the fact that it often clears up at night and the glaciers reflect the moonlight. During the day, the mountain usually hides in clouds. So the translation also means about as much as cloud king or rain maker.
We started our journey to the Ruwenzori with Brussels Airlines and landed really excited at the airport Entebbe, not too far away from the capital Kampala. At the airport we were welcomed by the representative of the tour operator Wigwam Reisen and taken to the nearby Hotel Karibu. Already we started with the first photos, a shoebill landed in the garden and nectar birds nibbled at the flowers. The first beer was due, maybe there were several. In any case, the Club beer tastes best. A warm night at the equator under the mosquito net, the spicy air of the tropics and an exotic background noise as musical background – we arrived.
First and foremost we are trekkers and mountaineers, all the other interests are well-behaved. At least we thought but nobody expected to be surprised with elephants, zebras, antelopes or buffalos during the drive to the mountain. As the icing on the cake we spent a great evening with sunset on the terrace of Marafiki Safari Lodge. With the sundowner in hand and a view of the setting sun over the Riftvalley, it can go on like this.
The next day it went on, from now on at walking pace. In the office of the local agency we first took care of the formalities and divided the luggage of only five participants on 23 carriers. Our guide Uziah has been leading tours up the mountain for more than 20 years, he was rather small in stature and couldn’t be got smaller. There are two routes on the Ruwenzori, the Central Circuit and the Kilembe Trek. Both are run exclusively by different agencies. We decided for the Kilembe route on the advice of Helmut Büttner of Whistling Duck Tours, the Ugandan representative of Wigwam Reisen. Main argument were the allegedly better and above all heated huts of the agency “Ruwenzori Trekking Service”. On the way we could also see two huts on the Central Circuit and were happy about our decision.
The area in front of the national park is used agriculturally by the Bantus. One does not get out of the amazement. Everything seems a little unreal, like a ramble through a television documentary, but this time we are in the middle of it. Flocks of children wave friendly, women balance the most incredible things on their heads and men gossip happily.
At the park entrance we have to register again. But the procedure is entertaining, as chameleons hide from us in the surrounding vegetation. Like little children we were looking for them, but unfortunately we went empty-handed. On the way back we outwitted the cute little animals by promising the wearer a pair of rubber boots, the first one to discover a splendid specimen. In no time, we already had some in front of the lens.
The lower vegetation belt of the mountains is characterized by bamboo forests, which abruptly change into dense mountain rain forest. This rises with increasing height to incredible lobelia- and senezienwald. Not a day, not a moment goes by without astonishment. Hiking boots are hardly used, good rubber boots are in demand. I can only advise to take really good boots from home. It also works with the local bata boots, but something else is pleasant. The feet suffer from the strenuous smacking of the soles in the deep mud. With every step we pull our feet out of the mud, with cheap shoes it happens easily.
The huts are comfortable throughout, which is of course a relative statement. The mattresses are good and the dining room is usually equipped with a wood stove. Our team is also working on the preparation of the food. Apart from the taste, the stomach compatibility is of course important, so that we had almost no problems during the whole tour. To be on the safe side we had a water filter with us. In terms of taste, the water is not a great pleasure anyway. At the beginning we even thought it was tea because of the slightly brownish water colour.
We were lucky, the rain stopped completely after a few days. From now on it snowed mostly. Sounds now times not so good but scenically there is nothing more blatant than snow in Africa and that still on tropical lobelia leaves and Senezienbäumen. So we puffed ourselves up to the last camp, the Margeritha hut at 4485 m.
The summit day
The sixth day on the mountain should bring us to the summit. To start with, we had imagined the other way, easier. Only tourists talk about bad weather, real trekkers are silent and enjoy. With us the weather was a permanent topic. Around three o’clock in the morning we climbed up, soon there started a light snowfall and this should not end for today. The first glacier crossing over the Stanley Glacier was an easy one. The second crossing over the Margheritagletscher had a good 50 ° gradient and many crevasses. The Kopfkino played us the greatest movies, all ended somehow tragically. Totally futuristic the Seracs, shaped by the wind they hung over our heads. Above another fixed rope, another strong snort and already we stood from the roof of Uganda. Since the border runs over the summit we stood with a slide in two countries. At the summit we saw above all great fog but also beautiful snowflakes. As proof for later generations we photographed ourselves beside the sign with height indication. The descent was really not without it, a thin layer of snow lay on the smooth stone slabs. At several places we abseiled down, once we put ice screws to be on the safe side. After nearly 10 h the day had its end and was watered with a bottle of sparkling wine.
We split into two factions, one wanted to go down as fast as possible and the other wanted to go even faster. But it was supposed to be a three-day pleasure tour. The weather was as it was, humid and rainy, our mood adapted to these conditions. But how does it say so nicely: If you think it doesn’t work anymore, then a little light comes from somewhere. Colourful Ruwenzori Turakos came to us, a black-fronted duiker stood quietly beside the path and watched us curiously, colobus monkeys gymnastics over our heads and a pile of leopard shit lay in the middle of the way. Yes, you can say we were fine. When I had a chamaeelon in front of my lens we were almost euphoric.
This condition is not gone until today. Now I sit a few weeks later in my dry and warm home, thinking back to the funny chameleon on my hand, the raindrops that followed gravity from the tip of my nose, the great companions with whom I shared valuable lifetime and the moon mountains, which I may not have really seen now but still feel in me today.
Well people, this is Africa, this is the Ruwenzori. If you feel like copying, we have put the hiking map with the route and a detailed description online for you, click on it, it costs nothing.