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Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is a Ugandan national park; and one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, located in the Rwenzori Mountains. Almost 1,000 km2 (386 sq. mi) in size, the park has Africa’s third highest mountain peak and many waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. The park is also known for its beautiful plant life. Rwenzori Mountains National Park was established in 1991.

It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 because of its outstanding natural beauty described by UNESCO and as“an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness”. This ancient forest contains more than 160 species of trees and over 100 species of ferns – and more famously, almost half the world’s mountain gorillas.

Its location

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located in southwestern Uganda on the east side of the western (Albertine) African rift valley. It lies along Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and borders the DRC’s Virunga National Park also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for 50 km (31 mi). Further more, the park is situated in the Bundibugyo Kabale, and Kasese districts, 25 km (16 mi) from the small town of Kasese. This park is 996 km (246,117 acres) in size, 70% of which exceeds an altitude of 2,500 m (8,202 ft). The park is also 120 km (75 mi) long and 48 km (30 mi) wide.

What it comprises

The park comprises most of the Centre and eastern half of the Rwenzori Mountains, a mountain range rising above dry plains located just above the equator. The Rwenzori Mountains are higher than the Alps and are ice-capped. Mount Stanley is located in the park. Margherita Peak, one of Mount Stanley’s twin summits, is Africa’s third highest peak with a height of 5,109 m (16,762 ft). Africa’s fourth and fifth highest peaks (Mount Speke and Mount Baker) are also located in the park. The park has also got glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls, and lakes and one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain areas.

The park is noted for its botany, which has been described as some of the most beautiful in the world. There are five distinct vegetation zones in the park, which change according to changes in altitude. The park has 89 species of birds, 15 species of butterfly, and four primate species. Its wildlife varies with elevation, and its species include the forest elephant, chimpanzee, black and white Colobus, duiker and Rwenzori Turaco

The magical “Mountains of The Moon” lie in Western Uganda on the Congolese border, with snow-covered, equatorial peaks rising to height of 5110 m and lower slopes blanketed in moorland and rich montane forest with bamboo on the lower slopes. Most of the park is accessible to hikers with outstanding panorama and 19 Albertine Rift endemics, amongst them; Rwenzori Turaco and Shelley’s Crimson-wing, would be ample reward for the courageous, backpacking birder. The Rwenzori Mountains have been selected as one of the World’s Best Hikes by National Geographic. Rwenzori Mountain service in conjunction with Uganda wildlife Authority organizes the hikes.

Its Number of massifs

The Mountain has six massifs separated by deep gorges; Mount Stanley (5,109m), Mount Speke (4,890m), Mount Baker (4,843m), Mount Emin (4,798m), Mount Gessi (4,715m) and Mount Luigi di Savoa (4,627m). Mount Stanley is the largest and has several summits with Margherita being the highest point. Mountain is usually enveloped in clouds.

The park is a home to over 70mammals and 217 bird species. It has some of the world’s rarest vegetation. The mountains of the moon is world class mountaineering and hiking destination.

Mountains of the moon are better for visitation during January-February and July-August and takes 6- days for the mountain loop and 3 days for a hike. Margherita is the highest peak of Mt. Rwenzori and it can take a nine to twelve day trek to reach the peak.

Hiking The Peaks Or Mountains

Mt. Stanley (5109 meters)

Mt. Stanley is named for Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841 – 1904), a British explorer who is perhaps most known for finding Dr. Livingstone in 1871 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika during one of the six expeditions he took to central Africa during his life. In the mid 1870’s he circumnavigated Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika, and then continued to the west down the Congo River to the Atlantic.

On an expedition in 1888, he made a definite sighting of the Rwenzori Mountains (although others in his expedition reportedly saw the mountains first, and the local people already knew of them as well.) He was the one who reported the name of the range as the Ruwenzori to other Europeans on his return. The name is a collection of Bantu words that together mean ‘hill of rains’ but was not used for the range by the locals. Many currently in Africa hold a very negative view of Stanley and the colonialism that he brought.

Margherita and Alexandra Peaks

Mt. Stanley was first climbed by The Duke of Abruzzi, J. Petigax, C. Ollier, and J. Brocherel on June 18, 1906, and is a high massif of some eleven summits rising from numerous glaciers including the Stanley Plateau which is the largest mass of ice in the Rwenzori Mountains and is over a kilometer in length. The highest summit is Margherita Peak, which is usually climbed from the Elena hut up first rocks then across the snow and ice Stanley Plateau towards Alexandra Peak, the second highest summit of the massif.

Once nearly at the east ridge of this peak, the standard route for Margherita descends a steep gully then climbs the dramatic Margherita Glacier to the Col between Margherita Peak and Alexandra Peak. From here, one can ascend north to a short but steep rock wall which is climbed to the summit. A rope will be desired for the extensively crevassed glacier and the summit rocks. The peak itself forms the boundary between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The East Ridge of Alexandra Peak (4990 m.) is an excellent climb as well. To the south, there is another cluster of peaks topped by Savoia Peak (4977 m.). An ascent of any of these peaks across the great tropical glaciers is something otherworldly and an experience that will be savored by most fans of the exotic!

Mt. Speke (4890 meters)

Mt. Speke is named for John Hanning Speke (1827 – 1864) who explored central Africa with Sir Richard Burton in the 1850’s. Together, they reached Lake Tanganyika in 1858 then alone. He is believed to be the first European to see Lake Victoria at the source of the Nile. Although he strongly believed that this was the river’s source, he was never able to prove it and died in a shooting incident thought to be suicide by many.

Mt. Speke Height Rank

Mt. Speke is the Second highest Massif in the Range and one of two that reaches over 16,000 feet in elevation. Like most of the Rwenzori it is a long ridge with a number of high summits including Johnson (4834 m.), Vittorio Emanuele (4890 m.) and Ensonga (4865 m.). Like so many of the summits, its massifs was first climbed by the Duke of Abruzzi, J. Petigax, and C. Oliver on June 23, 1906.

The normal route to the summit climbs west from the Bujuku Hut to Stuhlman Pass. Then north up very steep slopes via a couple possible lines to the Speke Glacier which is climbed for a while. Once the top of this is reached, one continues up the Southwest ridge to the summit. Although this was formerly an extensive snow climb, it would be possible at this point to bypass the glacier entirely and make the entire ascent in tennis shoes from the hut if the mud isn’t too bad. The great glaciers that used to lie on the north side of Mt. Speke have now melted, leaving only a remnant of the Speke Glacier on the South, and several smaller bodies of ice in the direction of Ensonga Peak.

Mount Baker (4843 meters)

Mt. Baker is the mountain that most people who come to trek in the Rwenzori encircle during their hike through the range. It is the third highest massif in the range and was named after Sir Samuel Baker (1821 – 1893) who along with his wife were the first Europeans to see Lake Albert. It is to the North of the Rwenzori and Murchison Falls on the course of the Nile during an expedition to discover the source to the Nile.

Mt. Baker contains several peaks, including Edward (4843 m.), Semper (4794 m), Moore (4623 m.), and Wollaston (4626 m). The first ascent route and the standard means to reach the summit is up the south ridge of the peak. Most people start at the beautiful Kitandara Lakes. Then go up the trail towards Freshfield Pass to where the trail levels out. From here, it is possible to continue up the slope past several small ponds to a small saddle just west of the ridge. Continuing up to the west of the actual ridgeline it is then possible to reach the summit without ever stepping foot on snow or glaciers. Thus it is possible that you might encounter a few 4th class moves on this route.

Mt. Emin (4798 meters)

Mt. Emin is named after Mohammed Emin Pasha (1840 – 1892). Emin became a governor of the Equatorial Province in Sudan in 1878. He explored central Africa extensively, got isolated with rebel forces after an 1883 revolt. Then Emin Pasha was rescued by Sir Henry Marton Stanley in 1888 but declined to return to Egypt. Later that year he was caught in a second revolt, was imprisoned but eventually released. On a later trip into central Africa in 1892, he was then murdered in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Its height

The Peak is the fourth highest Massif in the range and like Mt. Gessi, it is composed of two main summits connected in this case by a very narrow ridge. Then the southern peak (Umberto) is slightly higher and was climbed first by The Duke of Abruzzi, J. Petigax, L. Petigax, and C. Ollier on June 28, 1906 by the Southwest Ridge. So, there have been no further ascents of the peak recorded by this route.

The standard route (again almost never climbed) is to ascend up the Mugusu Valley to Roccati Pass then turn West into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then climb steep slopes and thick groundsel to the vicinity of the pass between the two main peaks. Then turn left and work around a minor peak on ledges to the East. Eventually gain the ridge, and following it to the summit. There is a steep drop that might require a rappel. Thus there are several additional pitches of possibly 5th class climbing along the narrow ridge. Then there is a second major summit, Kraepelin Peak, 4791 meters that can be ascended by climbing a gully. So, the gully heads north-west from near the col between the two main peaks, and reaching the summit from the south in fairly short order.
Like Mt. Gessi, there are no longer glaciers on this massif.

Mt. Gessi (4715 meters)

This peak is named for Romulo Gessi (1831 – 1881) who was an Italian explorer of the Nile. In 1774 he made a circumnavigation of Lake Albert to the north of the Rwenzori. He did not see the mountains. For a number of years he was a governor of the Bhar-el-Ghazal Province of the Egyptian Sudan, but was later recalled in 1881 by the Egyptian government. Consequently, hundreds of people in his party died en route to Egypt, and he himself passed away shortly after his arrival in Egypt.

Mt. Gessi itself is located to the north of the Bigo Hut, and can be accessed by ascending the Mugusu Valley. There are two summits, Iolanda (4715 meters) and Bottego (4699 meters) slightly to its north. The first ascent of the peak was made by The Duke of Abruzzi, J. Petgax, L. Petigax and C. Ollier on July 17, 1906. The ascent route used by the Duke has melted out, though, is now a series of horribly mossy steep slabs and is not recommended. The standard route, if one could call it that, is to climb up the Mugusu Valley through spectacular Groundsel forests to Roccati Pass. Thus this way it is possible to turn south-east and ascend through thick brush and steep slabs, eventually reaching the ridge between the two peaks. As a result, all of the glaciers have melted from this once ice covered massif.

Mt. Luigi Di Savoia (4627 Meters)

This peak is named afrter the Duke of Abruzzi (1873 – 1933). Ironically, it is the only one of the six major massifs that he did not make the first ascent of. As a result, that honor went to others in his expedition: J. Brocherel, E. Botta and the amazing photographer V. Sella for whom the highest summit of the Massif is named aftrer. The Duke of Abruzzi is famed in mountaineering circles for making the first ascent of Mt. St. Elias in 1897, climbing high on K2 in the Karakoram, and nearly reaching the summit of Bride Peak on Chogalisa. Hence his expedition to the Rwenzori climbed all six of the highest massifs in the range. Furthermore, he was a military hero, rescuing thousands of Yugoslav refugees from Albania during World War I, and spent his final years in Ethiopia where he was much loved

In addition, the massif, like the others is a long ridge with many summits, including Stairs Peak (4545 m.), Sella Peak (4627 m.) and Weismann Peak (4620 m.). The easiest route of ascent is from the vicinity of Freshfield Pass, where it is possible to ascend up the northern aspect of Sella Peak to its summit. Hence it is the shortest of the six central massifs and was the first to lose its glacial ice.