If you were given the chance to trek through lush jungle, driven on by the thought of snow capped peaks; to pick your way through a lunar landscape coloured by plants seemingly taken from a child’s imagination; or ice climb to see the curvature of the earth as it meets the heart of Africa – would you take it?
The Rwenzori Mountains are one of the most exciting and challenging mountain ranges to trek and climb in the world.
The height of the peaks may not match taller mountains elsewhere in the world, the highest point, Mt Stanley’s Margherita Peak is 5,109 metres), but their remote location, fluctuating weather conditions, startlingly diverse vegetation, and low visitor numbers combine to thrill adventurous trekkers looking for a very special experience.
Unlike free standing volcanoes like Mts Kilimanjaro and Kenya, the Rwenzoris are formed from uplifted rock squeezed by tectonic plate movement in the late Pliocene era. They are therefore the largest mountain range in Africa.
The atmosphere is moist; the mountains receive over 3 metres of rainfall a year. This makes the lower slopes lush with vegetation and the higher reaches covered in snow and ice. Although the glaciers have retreated massively over the last hundred years due to climate change, climbers in the wet season months will still have to navigate ice walls and significant snowfall to reach the peaks. This bit of Africa definitely isn’t hot.
The Rwenzoris must be explored on foot and you must be of above average fitness and used to endurance activities. Margherita Peak has recently been reclassified as a technical climb and although you don’t need to be an expert climber in winter conditions, some experience is recommended.
A good variety of different length treks, from one to twelve days, are available to suit different interests from ‘peak baggers’ to birders keen to trace the region’s endemic species. Routes can also be extended where necessary for private groups to provide more opportunity to acclimatise to the altitude or to simply enjoy the peace, seclusion and beauty of the mountains.
Trekking in the Rwenzori Mountains
Two trekking circuits provide access to the Rwenzoris peaks: the Central Circuit out of Nyakalengija and the Southern Circuit out of Kilembe.
While the Southern Circuit was the route first followed (largely) by Professor Scott Elliott in 1895, it is the central circuit, pioneered by Luigi di Savoia in 1906, that for many years provided the only access to mountains.
At Brilliant we only organise treks for the Southern Circuit. This is because it provides the most intense experience of almost virgin landscapes and longer routes that benefit acclimitisation (and the overall experience). But the most important reason is because the treks are operated by Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS). They pioneered the routes, opening trials long closed to all but the wildlife and working with local communities to understand the area and build strong relationships with the neighbouring Bakonjo villages.
RTS guides receive comprehensive general mountaineering and specific ice climbing training. They are trained in mountain first aid and so are able to spot and respond to the first signs of altitude sickness. Rescue procedures are practised and reviewed regularly. Equipment is well-maintained and frequently checked.
Since the trails opened in 2009, RTS has continued to share the benefit that tourism brings with the local communities. $5 from each climb cost goes towards local development projects, contributing over the years to the construction of community trails outside of the national park, spreading the potential benefit of tourism, and constructing school classrooms in multiple locations
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