Mountains of the moon

rwenzori mountains national parkTo the extreme west of Uganda, 25 km from the small town of Kasese on the border with the DRC, is the Rwenzori Mountains National Park.

The Rwenzori mountains are a World Heritage Site of outstanding natural beauty. These are the fabled, glacier topped 'Mountains of the Moon' that rise into almost permanent equatorial mists, their slopes covered with giant and strange vegetation.

At the centre of the range, there are six peaks carrying permanent snow, three with glaciers. Mount Margherita, at 5 100 metres, is the third highest mountain in Africa.

Beautiful, mist-shrouded jagged crags, enclosing numerous lakes, the Rwenzoris with their 'Lord of the Rings' atmosphere, are a distinct change in landscape from anywhere else in Uganda, or indeed East Africa.

The Rwenzori National Park was gazetted in 1991. It is 120 km long and 48 km wide, covering 996 sq kms of rugged mountains and rainforests. These forests start above 3 000 metres and include giant forms of lobelia and heather. Indeed all plant and tree species here seem to grow unusually big.

Unfortunately, the Rwenzori National Park was closed in July 1997 due to rebel activity in the DRC border region, but was re-opened in 2001, thanks to the security situation in the region improving.

The rwenzori national park now offers superb trekking and climbing with fabulous views and unusual scenery. The most popular trek is the 7-day circuit route. You are accompanied by porters and guides and overnight in mountain huts. The Rwenzoris are the main watershed for the River Nile and it rains throughout the year, with exceptional heavy rains from March to June and September to December.

Because of this, trekking here is possibly the muddiest in the world. And when the mud stops, it's replaced by watery bog. Hi-Tec mountaineering boots are well-nigh useless and most people trek in welly boots - even with crampons on! A walking stick is imperative, not only to steady yourself, but also to probe the thickness of the mud and bog in your path.

As you can imagine, it's slow going. Come prepared. However having said this, there have been recent improvements – some of the bogs have wooden walkways and there are new bridges over the trickier rivers. This 7-day trek doesn't climb any specific peaks but this can be organised for people with mountaineering experience.

The attempt at climbing Mount Margherita involves a night spent at Elena Hut at 4 540 metres; thereafter the use of crampons, ropes and an ice axe is essential.

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