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9 DAYS MT RUWENZORI HIKING ADVENTURE

In AD150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range, deep in the heart of Africa that, he claimed, was the source of the Nile and which he called the Mountains of the Moon. Over the centuries this curious notion of tropical snow faded into mythology and, when John Speke found the Nile's exit from Lake Victoria, a place in fiction for the Mountains of the Moon seemed assured. But then, in 1889, Henry Stanley emerged from central Africa to announce that such a mountain did exist. He mapped it by its local name of Rwenjura – or 'rainmaker'. In due course mountaineers explored Ptolemy's Mountains of the Moon. Though just miles north of the Equator, they found in the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose melt waters represent the highest springs of the Nile. These trickle downwards into U-shaped glacial valleys where, supplemented by up to 2500mm of rain/year, they saturate the broad valley floors to form great soggy bogs. Within these rain and mist filled troughs, loom specimens of Africa's bizarre high altitude vegetation and stunted trees enveloped by colourful mosses and draped with beards of lichen.

The remarkable landscape is bisected by the Uganda-Congo border which passes through Mt. Stanley the highest peak. The Ugandan Rwenzori is protected by the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and, in Congo by the Virunga National Park. The park can be explored along a 7-day trail that meanders along the Mobuku and Bujuku valleys beneath the highest peaks. Though distances are short, the terrain, altitude and weather combine to create a tough trek, the difficulty of which should not be underestimated.

ITINERARY

Day 1: Kampala – Kasese

Depart early morning for western Uganda. The ride is comfortable with a stopover at the Mpambire drum makers, coffee plantation and the Equator for photography and stretching. Proceed to Mbarara for lunch and then continue through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is set in the western rift valley at the base of Mountain Rwenzori. Arrive Kasese and check in at Margherita Hotel / Rwenzori International Hotel or proceed to Rwenzori Base Camp from where you will also make preparations for your hiking equipment that will be used the next morning. Have dinner and overnight.

Day 2: Nyakalengija – Nyabitaba Hut, 2.652 m.

Drive from Margherita hotel or transfer from Rwenzori Base Camp – Ibanda, to the park headquarters at Nyakalengija in the early morning from where you will receive a briefing from the guides, rent equipment and select porters. The hike begins at the park headquarters 1,646m ASL. Walk past typical "watt and mud daub" Bakonjo homes, through elephant grasses then arrive at the park boundary in about 40 minutes. The trail follows the Mubuku River crossing recent landslide areas. Reach the Makoma River after 2½hrs.

After crossing the river you will have a very steep climb through open bracken fern slopes and podocarpus forest up to Nyabitaba Hut, 2,652 m., which is the arrival point for the day. This will take from 5 to 6 hours. Have dinner and overnight.

Day 3: Nyabitaba – John Matte Uganda Safari Hut, 3,414 m.

Leave Nyabitaba Hut on the trail leading westwards for half a kilometer then drop north steeply to Kurf Shafer Bridge. Can overnight at Nyamileju Hut or proceed. The Hut marks the start of the giant leather, lobelia and groundsel zone; the remarkable vegetation types found only on high altitude tropical African Mountains. If you decide to proceed, arrive at John Matte for dinner and overnight. From Nyabitaba Hut to John Matte, it can take approximately 6 hours. Tired hikers consider this as a reasonable stopping point.

Day 4: John Matte – Bujuku Hut, 3,962 m.

Leave John Matte and cross the Bujuku River from where you will enter the lower two Bigo- Bogs where your first real experience jumping from tussock to tussock in a grassy bog begins. The trail is muddy to the south until the Bigo Hut. This is the favorable spot for parties climbing Mt.Speke (with special equipment). And is very cold for hikers. Proceed to Bujuku Hut (3, 962m) for dinner and overnight. This day's hike can take up to 5 hours.

Day 5: Bujuku – Elena – Kitandara

To continue the circuit you leave directly west of Bujuku Hut on newer trails, which rises and falls twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss-draped Groundsel Gully towards Scott Eliot Pass (4,372m)., the highest point of the loop trail. After the Gully head to Elena Hut (4,372m). This is the base camp for climbing Margherita Peak (5,109m), and will require special hiking gear).

Day 6: Elena – Kitandara Hut, 4,023 m.

Do not delay your descent towards Kitandara lakes below. Having dropped a few hundred feet in elevation from Scott Eliot pass you cut below massive rock walls at the base of Mt. Baker. Here "dramatic craters" have been caused by large rocks fallen from above and your guide may caution you against loud noises. Pass by upper Kitandara Lake through bad mud to the lower lake and Kitandara Hut where you will have dinner and overnight. From Kitandara Hut you can proceed for climbing Mount Baker or Mount Luigi di Savoia and the peak Vittorio Sella.

Day 7: Kitandara – Guy Yeoman Hut, 3,261 m.

Advisable to start early to avoid overheating on the steep- long climb from the lake to fresh field pass (4,282m). Fresh field is along flat traverse through beautiful high alpine mossy glades (more mud). This is also considered as difficult as day two due to the seeming endless mud. May overnight at Bujongolo and Kabamba rock shelters but it is better to push on to Guy – Yeomen Hut (3,261m) which can take up to 6 hours. The hut is surrounded by beautiful landscape of mountains and rivers.

Day 8: Guy Yeomen–Nyakalengija–Rwenzori Base Camp or Margherita Hotel.

In order to make it to the park Headquarters begin your trek very early in the morning. The path from Guy Yeomen is very dangerous a spot. Reach Kachuchu where the trail parallels and twice crosses the Mobuku River mostly in deep mud until the last few kilometers to Nyabitaba. May overnight Nyabitaba Hut if you wish or proceed to Nyakalengija park headquarters from where you will transfer to Rwenzori Base Camp for a warm shower and comfortable bed. You may also drive to Margherita Hotel or Rwenzori International Hotel in Kasese.

Day 9: Kasese – Kampala

After late breakfast depart for Kampala with a lunch stop on the way. Make a brief stopover at Mpambire Drum makers or any crafts display centre along the road, in case you need to buy souvenirs.

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