Hiking the mountains of the moon

Trip Start Feb 25, 2007
Trip End Nov 12, 2007

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Flag of Uganda  ,
Monday, August 27, 2007

The Rwenzori Mountains in Southwest Uganda is where I decided to spend
a week hiking the central Bujuku-Mubuku circuit. The range is
nick-named the "Mountains of the Moon" because they are so rarely scene
due to almost constantly being covered in thick mist. The first to spot
the mountains was Henry Stanley in 1888. It wasn't until the Duke of
Abruzzi 1906 expedition completed there survey that the range was
actually explored, making it the last mountain range in Africa to be
explored be westerners.

I set off from Kampala to Kasese (the
access town) the day before the trek started. Not much to say about
Kasese other than it is less than a one horse town but served its
purposes nonetheless. I left the next morning to head to the RMS
(Rwenzori Mountaining Services) office at the base of the national park
in Nyakalengija. Here I was given a short briefing, introduced to my
guide and had my bags weighed for the porters. RMS is the only company
the mountains and when you pay the ridiculously high fees you get the
mandatory guide and two porters thrown into the deal. I decided to be
lazy and higher a cook
for the journey as well (which turned out to
be a fantastic idea that was worth every penny). After everything was
sorted out we started the hike.

Day 1:
Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba Hut. Today was the first
introduction to the Rwenzori hiking. It only took 4 hours to complete
the first leg which covered 10km and climbed 1000m (from 1650m to
2650m). After arriving at the camp site and having time to cool off
from the hike I realized it was already cold at this altitude and I
pondered whether or not I brought sufficient warm clothes.

Day 2:
Nyabitaba Hut to John Matte Hut. 7km. 700m ascent. Today was my first
introduction to the mud of the Rwenzori mountains. I managed to go down
to about mid-shin on some of the trails. Today it was novel and I even
took a picture of my legs after I finished the days trek. The novelty
quickly wore off on the ensuing days as the mud only intensified and
went from shin deep to knee deep. As we climbed higher today I knew it
was getting colder but my body was so hot from the work of hiking I
didn't notice. When we would stop for short breaks to catch our breath
I could see steam coming off of my upper body which was interesting to
say the least. Again, the cold at altitude was getting worse.

3: John Matte Hut to Bujuku Hut. 6km. 630m ascent. Today was a very
rough day of hiking. We climbed from 11,000ft to 13,000ft through the
worst mud and bog I've ever scene. Two sections of bog were actually
bridged... sort of. The first section, the lower Bigo bog had a nice
new bridge over it that made it very easy to cross. The upper Bigo bog
a bridge but was older and the bog has pretty much "eaten" the remains
of the bridge. It was during the crossing of the upper bigo bog that my
guide actually fell ass first into the bog soaking him in mud. The last
hour of the trek we skirted along the edge of Lake Bujuku
which is a
beautifully set mountain lake. The great scenery was quickly ignored
once I realized the last hour along the side of the lake was entirely
deep bog and extremely rough going. Finally arriving at Bujuku hut,
exhausted and muddy, I was finally able to enjoy the view looking down
on the narrowing Bujuku valley. This was close to as far west as the
trek would go since the Congo border was about 1 km more west. From
here we have to go south before turning back to the beginning. 

4: Bujuku Hut to Kitandara Hut. 6km. 825m ascent, 740m descent. Today
was another long day but with a great reward. Leaving Bujuku hut in the
morning we slogged through the bog again as were skirted around the
other side of the lake and then made an almost straight vertical ascent
up a narrow pass to the top of the ridge overlook the valley. From here
we took the route to Elena Hut. Elena hut is a small hut used by
climbers making a summit on Mt. Stanely. The hut sits at 15,000ft. The
great part about this is the last 1,00ft of climbing was in the alpine
zone which meant there was no more vegetation and more importantly,
no more mud!!! The climb was slow going and at the top is was indeed
very cold. Unfortunately, as we approached the hut a massive sheet of
fog and mist rolled in completely obstructing any views of the
surrounding peaks. After having lunch at the hut we started out descent
down to the Scott-Elliot Pass and then onwards to Kitandara hut. The
descent went quickly as the surrounds changed from arid alpine zone back
into the lush green forest and mud covered trails I had come to know.
There were a few up and downs over various ridges was we made our way
to the hut. When we finally arrived, again exhausted and muddy, I was
thrilled at the location. The hut where'd I'd be sleeping was right on
the edge of a gorgeous mountain lake. It was also at this hut that I
realized I could no longer take the boredom of not hiking in the
afternoon. In spite of being tired and beat up from a long stretch of
hiking the remainder of the afternoons in the hut were really boring.
Since I was keeping my pack light for the trek I had absolutely no
entertainment and the porters and guide kept to themselves in their own
hut. I ran into virtually no other travelers on the trip so I had
nothing to do in the afternoon and evenings. After four days of this I
was ready for a change. I talked my guide into doing to segments of the
trek the next day so the entire day would be spent hiking and I'd have
limited time to myself (i.e. being bored).

Day 5: Kitandara Hut to Nyabitaba Hut. 11km. 10 hrs. Today we started
early leaving the beautiful set Kitandara hut and headed straight up to
the Freshfeild pass. This was a grueling climb but offered nice views
once we completed the ascent. From there... it was literally all
downhill. Only, it didn't get any easier. The morning section involved
a long descent through mud and boulders and slogging through more bog.
The afternoon section involved an even steeper descent down a long wet
rock face where I spent more time on my ass than on my feet (most of
the time on purpose). The hike continued into the early evening through
dense bamboo forest with howling blue monkeys around us. We made it to
camp right as the darkness was falling over the forest. This night I
slept very well!!!!

Day 6: Today was a short 3 hour hike, down 1000m, to cross the last
10km to the Nyakalengija RMS base. Here I said good bye to my porters
and guide and took the 30 minute ride back into Kasese where I checked
into my hotel and took a VERY long much needed shower. This would be
the first of three showers it would take to get all the mud off of me.
I'm still working on getting the mud out of my clothes.

All said and done the trek was 50km that took me up to 15,000ft. I'm
glad I did it and certainly look back on it with fond memories in
retrospect... but there were times when I was slogging through knee
deep mud and bog that I was none too happy. The Rwenzori mountains
really were a place out of this world. It is so wet that plants grow to
abnormally huge sizes. Its so remote and isolated you really feel like
you're on another planet.
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