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Rwenzori, a mountain where attitude determines altitude

By Solomon Oleny

Added 5th April 2016 01:10 PM

In the distance, loomed the towering and magnificent mountain ranges overlapping each other all the way to the cloud level.

Rwenzori, a mountain where attitude determines altitude

In the distance, loomed the towering and magnificent mountain ranges overlapping each other all the way to the cloud level.

Standing at the gate of Rwenzori Mountain National Park, which also doubles as the starting point for hiking the imposing mountain, we were as anxious as soldiers at a battle front.

In the distance, loomed the towering and magnificent mountain ranges overlapping each other all the way to the cloud level.

Masking their face was an impenetrable forest concentrated with gigantic trees, as old as time. Their canopies were unleashing a thick cloud of chilling vapour. It is through this wild jungle that I and my team of four adventurous namely Mugabe, Denzel and Dickson were to journey our way for the next five days as we trailed to Africa's third highest peak, Margherita.

Sitting at an altitude of 5109 meters above sea level, the peak is the highest place in Uganda. In total, we were to walk for about 30 hours during the media trip jointly organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Uganda Wildlife Authority.

First off, 5 hours of this was to be dedicated to penetrating through grassland and montane forest-vegetation zones—on the first day. Nyabitaba, the first of five camps along the Rwenzori Mountaineering services Trail was our destination.

Now that is something we prepared for. What we weren't prepared for though was walking through ambushes of safari ants. There is no way to describe how crazy this starter was without spoiling it for first time hikers. All I am going to say is that it was quite a sight watching men who are over 26, panic over creatures that were barely a month old. I can remember Joseph our ranger guide laughing himself senseless as I stripped off my jeans to get rid of the insects.

With this thorny start in mind, we couldn't imagine what other trials awaited us. Fear was dampening every part of us. It was like when you hear a hive of bees buzzing in the woods and you are not exactly sure where in the forest it is coming from. Yet that noise, the steady hum drum, hum drum, keeps you aware that their nest is nearby and that you better be alert. Wait a minute, isn't this the point Mugabe asked if there was any insect repellant to salvage the situation?

"Are we safe kweli?" He wondered aloud. His breathing was heavy.

Amazingly, the experience wasn't an excruciating pain in the wrong spot as it seemed. In general, each days hike felt like more of a mental challenge than physical one. It was effortless easy thanks to the many bridges and ladders that had been erected over impassable terrains like rivers and steep gradients.

We had guides and porters set to give a helping hand whenever the hike became unbearable like a pain in the wrong body spot. However, we completed it without any support let alone energy drinks. Our magic portion was enough drinking water.  

There wasn't much to see in terms of scenery on the first two days of the hike. Much of the trail was walled by a thick concentration of vegetation that blocked visibility across. This didn't translate into boredom though. Josephat Baluku our guide was a really funny storyteller with heaps of jokes to distract us from worrying about the hell that awaited us in days to come.

Lighting up this precursor was the constant appearance and disappearance of many chameleon species along the trail. One such includes the three horned chameleon, a creature that is so beastly in looks yet so friendly in personality.

From breakfast, lunch to supper, the menu mainly featured energy giving foods to keep us fired up through the trek. Those rich in protein content like eggs and meat were equally given priority.

The weather

In contrast to the tradition that the higher one climbs the cooler it becomes, the temperatures started to rise effective day three as we ascended past the altitude of 4500 meters above sea level. We were bridging our way from John Matte to Elena, the last camp preceding Margherita.  This gave us the much needed warmth that inspires one to carry on with an adventure. Accordingly, we kept peeling off our warm clothing like jackets with every progress.

The biggest highlight of this phase was when we run into hikers journeying their way back from Margherita. One such as Segal Olama, a South African gent in his mid-fifties. The positivity with which he talked about the hike stirred a deep quest in us to finish what had brought us here all the way from Kampala.

"You'll definitely make it. All it takes is a positive attitude!" he encouraged

Final day
Its 4am. The moonlight over the horizons starts to turn to day light, I do not have time to even share how subzero my night was.

Orders fly into the camp at full power—commanding we peel off our sleeping bags to face the toughest but also most exciting day of our adventure. Its Josephat commanding. The long awaited hike to the Promised Land will be preceded with a four hours trek past three climatic zones. The glaciers, snow and ice.

The moon was bright enough but didn't help much as we were hiking in the shadows of sky hugging ranges. To light up our way, strong torches with the ability to effortlessly penetrate into the smog come in handy.

In the interest of safety, our safety harnesses are pegged on ropes anchored along the rocky track.

It was a creepy experience. A couple of times, we walked on the rugged edges of steep rocks. Lucky though, it was still too dark for us to see the hell that awaited us below. As such, we didn't panic. A thirty minutes' walk ushered us into the first stretch of glaciers and there we met a clique of six mountaineers. They were headed the same direction.

We started with baby steps. To avoid any injuries, we kept a minimal five steps from each other. Soon, the sun became bright enough but didn't do any miracle when it came to rising the temperatures. It was tough, I was struggling to breathe.

To make it through, we kept having stopovers after every thirty minutes to allow our bodies acclimatize.

Without this approach, I doubt we would have kissed the ultimate prize for the day, the billboard that welcomes us to Uganda's highest point.

The feeling of victory was immense. When you're literally on top of the continents Pearl, what else could you ever want? We couldn't be more excited beholding our majestic continent from its third highest summit. Well, we couldn't see far as we were besieged by a thick cloud of fog. However, at least we could inhale breezes flowing in from as far as Tanzania.
Too bad though, by this time, we had run out of energy to dance or let alone jump in triumph. We just sat there panting while reflecting on the far we had come.

Long story short, we strongly recommend this adventure.

Travel tip

Mountaineering costs around $550 and covers for the entire hike. It entitles one to four meals a day, accommodation and guiding. However, it excludes hiking boots and transport to and fro the mountain.

Tag along with enough warm gear that can sustain the body at winter temperatures. Rwenzori's weather is moody. One minute is sunny, the next minute it is freezing.

The adventure is pre-booked.

The best time to hike Rwenzori are months in the dry season such as June to August and December to February. In the wet season, the floor of the mountain is slippery and thus hard to maneuver over.

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