From the Rwenzoris with Love: Journey to the highest point in Uganda

Although I deeply love oceans, deserts and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty” Victoria Erickson

AK reflections with the Portal Peaks in fore-sight

I have always been a dreamer, a wanderer, a deep-thinker, a wander-luster; even though I have only recently put these traits into action. One day many years ago, I drew out a bucket list with close to 20 things I want to do before that day when a large crowd gathers to meticulously spell out all the beautiful things about me (I can’t say the “D” word here 🙈🙉🙊). This list consists mostly of achievable exploits; some of which would give the average adult hiccups and migraines. With a smile on my face – I looked at this list and then quickly asked God if I was crazy? HE surely didn’t make me crazy because years later and a few checks on some of those items, I met the Mountain Slayers Uganda (MSU), a group of brilliant human-beings with a“hiking problem”. MSU is an answered prayer because I have been able to check off even more exploits on that“list” of mine. One of such exploits was my deepest desire to climb the famous“Mountains of the Moon” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountains_of_the_Moon_(Africa).This door of opportunity opened up for me at the perfect time and with the perfect people. Once our itinerary was relayed to us, I realized that it wasn’t a one day walk-in-the-park but a 7-day expedition to climb up and descend from the highest point in Uganda; which by-the-way is a UNESCO Heritage site!

Part of the glorious Rwenzoris
Taking it all in

Pre-Expedition Rwenzori:

In August 2018, an idea was birthed by Marcus to get together a few MSU members that had never climbed the Rwenzoris to take up the idea and put it into “go”. I for one had already made plans to travel to a beach somewhere in the middle of Asia over the December holidays but was quick to jump onto this wagon because “opportunity usually knocks but once” (I don’t know how true this is though). Immediately a whatsapp group (Expedition Magherita) was formed and a-planning we went!

Preparation included: 

1) Having the right gear (hiking shoes, hiking day-pack bag, warm comfortable and light clothing, hiking socks, rain-proof stuff,  socks and comfortable undergarments etc). 

2) Fitness and training – for me this included boxing class twice a week, an intense aerobics class and some yoga for maximum stretching.

3) Speaking to all loved ones and assuring them on how we would make sure to come back alive and well.

4) Most importantly, speaking to and reassuring yourself everyday that this was something you would and can do.

As the months turned into days, our plan was constantly being reinforced until the moment we actually paid up AND then there was no looking back. We used the services of Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS); a company that has been in existence for more than 5 years. They sent us our route-plan and our requirements. 

This is it Anita, you are finally going to climb Mt. Rwenzori” I kept nudging and reassuring myself.

Our small expedition team consisted of Davina, Dorothy, Henry (who made up his mind a few days to the D-Day), Liam and myself. 

Expedition Rwenzori:

On the fine Thursday morning of the 27th of December, 2018 after a long night of packing and saying goodbyes to my family (who still couldn’t believe I was doing this) and to the MSU friends that had gathered at Vivian’s the evening before for fun and food – I picked Davina (the reason behind my MSU membership) and Viv (who came on the journey just to see us off as she already had Rwenzori in the bag); and we made way to our departure point at The Shell Station, Lugogo. We were all on time, had our breakfast at Java House, rushed to the pharmacy to stock up on “Diamox” (an altitude sickness suppressant), said a prayer and hit the highway – destination KASESE district. 

Marcus (2nd L-R) flags us off after breakfast. Viv (leaping for joy) accompanied us up to Kasese for moral support

On arrival in Kasese district, I don’t know what happened but my nerves were on the edge. Could it be that a wave of doubt of accomplishing this feat was slowly creeping in and weighing me down or was it the fact that adrenaline was slowly trickling in and causing the brain to prepare my entire system. I chose to ignore all this and enjoy a chilled-out evening in Kasese town. RMS took us through a briefing on how the expedition was to happen, how many guides and porters had been assigned to us, the food and drinks that we would be indulging in and gear check. I had never seem crampons in my life, save for what I have seen on NatGeo and mountain movies. At about 11 pm after a great re-assuring chat with Viv (such a spot!!!) and a phone-call from Anthony; also reassuring about how we’d make it, I shut my eyes and fell asleep.

Pre-expedition briefing by RMS Tourism Officer
Crampons 101 by Dorothy

Expedition Rwenzori: Day One (28thDecember, 2018): Nyakalenginja (1615m) to Nyabitaba Hut (2651m) – 10 km walk

Waking up to a light breakfast, we loaded up and drove a cool 12kms out of town to Nyakalenginja, location of the RMS office and our first major point of briefing and take off. We weighed in our bags because each porter for their safety has to carry less than 20kgs. The RMS tourism Officer then gave us a detailed briefing on our route for the 7 days and what was expected to happen each day. We then made our way to Park gate (Rwenzori Mt. National Park), got a briefing from Uganda Wildlife Authority (who seemed to remember our old MSU friends that had climbed in 2017), said a prayer led by Viv and off we went into the wonder that is Mt. Rwenzori.

So… This is your route plan!!!
L-R: Dorothy, Liam, myself, Henry and Davina set and ready to go!
Briefing by Uganda Wildlife Authority
“See you in 2019”

At exactly 12 noon, we started our 10km ascent guided by Elly; as the other guides were to join us shortly. He patiently walked us through the cultivation areas and forest vegetation; willfully and proudly telling us the history of the mountain, the geographic zones we were to encounter and the different plant species and their effective medicinal use. One plant he showed us that is etched on my brain is this plant that pregnant women can blow into and get instant relief from labor pains (Elly, this was noted with thanks😆). This guy must have paid attention in geography class because he spoke with such confidence and knowledge. I couldn’t spare a moment but start taking pictures of the vegetation, of my friends goofing around, of the rickety bridges we kept crossing, of the great River Mobuku as she kept gushing pure, clear and sparkling water downwards to Kasese and anything else that caught my roving eye. 

“Say Rwenzoriiiiiiiii”
Liam’s rare cute poses
Pit-stop to taste the river waters, cool off and take some cool pictures 
Davina and Henry gracefully take the ascent

Elly was quick to spot a Rwenzori 3-horned chameleon in the lush green vegetation (how he did that, I don’t know). He dashed to it and gently lifted it bringing it to us to ogle at its beauty. 

Elly spotted it from miles. Can you see it?

Davina and I took turns to cuddle this beautiful Creature but it just meticulously coiled its tail and shyly walked away from all the attention. Its grip was quite something but – pop – went my fear for Chameleons (I sure hope so!). Also, apparently rubbing its belly ensures a successful expedition – puh! 😧. This wide-eyed beautifully elegant animal is endangered, I later found out 😕😕.

Bringing Brave Back
Affectionate moment between Davina and the little fella – awwwww
The Rwenzori Three-Horned Chameleon in its colorful glory

Walking through the forest wasn’t much of a challenge on this day as the terrain was a smooth one and hence a smooth ascent. After 3 hours walking, we made our first stop for lunch (“Rolex”, a banana, an apple and a drink) that we found nicely laid out for us on a table. At this point, our other guides Joram and Aloysius joined us. 

Lunch is served!!!!
Joram and Aloysius our awesome guides walking to us

We then continued our ascent, with some rain and plenty sunshine to balm our skins. We made small stops to rehydrate and catch our breaths; all the while admiring the vast awesomeness the Rwenzoris presented us. 

Rehydration and a moment to reflect

The environment is very serene with the orchestrated sounds of birds chirping away (over 90 bird species exist in the Rwenzoris fyi), the river beating at the rocks as it descends, the leaves rubbing against each other with the leading of the wind and our hiking boots gently and rhythmically hitting the ground with every ascending step. We were told of Rwenzori animals (elephants, black colobus monkey, turacos, wild bucks) that we didn’t see but we sure caught eye of their“remnants”. We arrived at Nyabitaba Hut at different times (different walking speed really) and found two other climbers – Andrew and Gabriel – from Switzerland; that were pretty friendly. 

Dorothy (hair laced with humidity) arrives at Nyabitaba Hut accompanied by Herbert
Liam arrives in style to Nyabitaba Hut
Henry (seated), Liam, Dorothy and Herbert sharing a light moment  with Andrew from Switzerland (holding a camera) at Nyabitaba Hut

We were treated to a cup of tea/coffee in the cabin; served on a neatly laid out table. Dinner of spaghetti, rice and chicken and dessert of watermelon was served an hour later. I was impressed at the amazing service with a smile from Morris our Cook but also at how we had managed to conquer the first day. Also, we had walked through 3 vegetation zones out of the 6 on the mountain i.e. grassland zone, elephant zone and mountainous zone.

We each picked out beds (double-decker beds), lay out our sleeping bags and at this point, I had surrendered to the fact that taking a bath was really an option. I had carried enough wet wipes and this was going to be the order of the day. Also, the cold at this point wasn’t as biting and I didn’t not feel any sense of altitude sickness – however, I had come prepared for it all. 

The cabin has names of people that had slept in them over the years and I was happy to see some Ugandan names. 

 Writings on the wall inside Nyabitaba Hut

We got our briefing for the next day’s trail and as I lay down to sleep, I thanked God for bringing me this far, prayed for strength and courage to be able to continue and then slowly I fell asleep to the sound of the Mobuku River in the background.

Stay tuned for more from the Rwenzori Expedition …….

Love 

AK©

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