The distinctive glacial peaks are visible for miles around, but the slopes above 1,600m are the preserve of hikes, who rate the Rwenzoris to be the most challenging of all African mountains. The Rwenzori Mountains can only be accessed from Kasese, and can be reached by road either via Mbarara or Fort portal, It can also be reached by Air from Entebbe to Kasese and it is 25km from Kasese.
Day 1: Kasese is about 8-hour drive from Kampala. You head west from Kampala through magnificent hill country and lush cultivation. You pass through the market town of Masaka, stop at the equator for photographs and have lunch at Mbarara. Proceed through the volcanic formations of the Great Rift Valley escarpment. The hills and valleys and crater lakes scenery on the way offer splendid viewing and enter the spectacular Queen Elizabeth National Park. Arriving in Kasese late afternoon, dinner and overnight stay at Hotel Margherita. Commence the 7 days trekking on central circuit. The tour price includes park fees, guide, 2 porters, accommodation (in huts), rescue fees and fuel. Extra time on the mountain will incur extra charges. The park offers unique experience of afro-montane rain forest.
Day 2: Plan to arrive at Rwenzori Mountains Service (RMS) offices at Nyakalengija in the morning so as to have ample time to rent equipment and be availed with the guides and porters. Hiking begins from the park headquarters 54,000ft (1646m), walking past typical "mud and wattle" Bakonzo homes and gradually moving up through elephant grass and garden plots. It takes approximately forty minutes to the reach park boundary. The trail then follows the Mubuku River, crossing recent landslide areas (to be negotiated care fully), and involves climbing over rocks and bluff, before reaching Mahoma River in about two and a half hours.
After crossing the river there will be a step climb through open bracken fern slopes and podorcarpus forest up to Nyabitaba hut 8,700ft (2,652m). Total time for an average hiker from Nyabitaba is about 5-7 hours, and total elevation gained is 4000ft (12000m). Slower leaving part headquarters before noon to avoid being on the trail after dark. During this part of the trip you may be able to hear chimpanzees, and sometimes you can black and white colobus and blue monkeys behind the hut, and catch glimpses of brilliantly colored Rwenzori Turuco (a bird of the treetops). Across the valley to the north of Nyabitaba hut lies the rocky and largely unclimbed portal peaks, which rise above 14,000ft (4,627m).
Day 3: From Nyabitaba Hut the trail leads westward for half a kilometer, the drops steeply to Kurt Shafer Bridge, crossing below the confluence of the Bujuku and Mubuku rivers. By turning right to the bridge you begin to climb the central circuit and ant-clockwise since the clockwise direction is much more difficult and adds considerable danger for you and your porters. After crossing a Kurt Shafer Bridge, the muddy, slippery trail climbs steadily up through bamboo forest. After one and a half hours you encounter an area of slippery boulder hopping which some hikers consider the most difficult and dangerous footing of the circuit.
After five hours of travel from Nyabitaba, you reach the hut at Nyamuleju and its accompanying rock shelter. If you had a late start or know that there is a large group a head of you at the next hut, you might consider spending a night here. Nyamuleju also marks the start of the giant lobelia and groundsel zone, this remarkable vegetation type I s found nowhere else in the world except high-altitude tropical African Mountains.
The one-hour walk to John Matte Hut (11,200ft/3,414m) is through a challenging bog, full of extra ordinary plants, and the slow pace can be a delightful chance to examine and photograph this unique environment. Typical time to reach John Matte from Nyabitaba is about 7 hours. Some hikers consider this to be the most thing and longest day of the circuit, so an early start is important. The loss of altitude to Kurt Shafer Bridge means the total elevation to be gained on this day is about 3,000ft (915m). Hikers who consider John Matte a reasonable stopping point. You can just enjoy the unique vegetables in the bog and the great view, the following day begin your return to Nyabitaba.
Day 4: Leave John Matte Hut to cross the Bujuku River and enter the lower Bigo bog, where your first real experience of jumping from tussock to tussock on a grassy bog begins. The trail is muddy and follows the left (southern) edge of lower Bigo bog until eventually it reaches the round metal "unport" The Bigo Hut and its rock shelter. A steep section past the hut leads to upper Bigo bog.
In the last half of this bog, a boardwalk has been constructed. Though some may think it an ugly intrusion, it makes walking easier and prevents the hikers from further damaging the bog. A beautiful narrow steam at the upper end of this bog makes a good lunch break. An hour and a half beyond the upper bog, and after climbing through drier ground and criss-crossing the river, you reach lake Bujuku. The southern end of the lake is in a majestic setting, with Mt. Baker to the south, Mt. Stanely to the west, and Mt. Speke to the north.
The trail route along the lake’s northeastern shore crosses the worst mud on the trip. Beyond the north end of the lake is a rock shelter called cooking pot and a sort distance further is Bujuku Hut 13000ft (3962m), favorably located for parties climbing Mt. Speke (which requires technical skills and special equipments). Time to reach Bujuku from John Matte is typical is typically 3-5 hours, and the elevation gained is 1800ft (560m). But the long stretches of bog, and the mud along the lake make this challenging day. The shaded location and frequent mists can make Bujuku Hut quite cold. If one moved around on a nature walk, the chances of seeing Red duikers are high, and at night, calls of all the Rock hyraxes are common.
Day 5: From Bujuku Hut leave directly to newer trail, which rises and falls twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss draped Groundsel vegetation 14345ft (4372m) to Scott Elliott pass. At the steepest section is short strong ladder after aright hand branch will lead to Elena Hut 14700ft (4430m). This is a steep, rocky trail which when wet or icy can be slippery.
Continuing straight, and a few steps below the pass, there is a shelter spot for a break; from here, there is a second trail to the right to Elena Hut. Elena is the base camp for climbing 16763 ft (5109m) to Margherita peak in the Mt. Stanely complex, which requires an additional day or two and can only be attempted with an ice axe, mountain boots, crampons, ropes and prior arrangements with RMS guide. The circuit trail continues to the left over Scott Elliot pass and enters an alpine zone of sparse low vegetation and stark rough boulders more familiar to high altitude climbers from north latitudes. If weather is bad here (rain snow and wind can occur in any season) the conditions for “hypothermia” are ideal.
Do not delay your decent towards lake kitandara. As you leave the pass, you may enjoy spectacular views northward of Magherita peak, Elena and Savoia Glaciers, and Mt. Baker 15889ft (4843m) towering above you to the east (left) of the trail. Having dropped a few hundred feet in elevation from the pass, you cut below massive rock walls at the base of Mt. Baker. Her dramatic “impact craters” have cause by hard rocks falling from above, and your guide may caution you against loud noises! Rising and falling, the trail descends past upper Lake Kitandara through thick mud to low lake and Kitandara Hut 13200ft (4023m). Towering peaks surround this lovely site, but the sunsets early and the nights can be cold.
Time to reach Kitandara Hut from Bujuku Hut usually takes 3-5hours. The elevation gain to the pass from Bujuku is 14000ft (425m), and because Scott is the highest point so far, some hikers will slower due to greater effort required at these altitudes. Watch carefully for signs of altitude sickness.
Day 6: An early start is advisable to avoid overheating on the steep but lovely hour-long climb to the fresh field pass. Viewing westward on clear days leads into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and northward, Margherita and its Glaciers still dominates the horizon. Freshfield is along flat traverse through beautiful high alpine mossy glades (and more mud) until after a half an hour, when trail begins the circuit’s long two-day descent. Mist or rain can make tracing the trail difficult, and the first one-kilometer can be very slippery.
Rock Shelters at Bujongolo and Kabamba are optional overnight stopover but it is best to push on through the seemingly endless mud to newly constructed Guy Yeoman Hut 10700ft (3261m). Some of the hikers make Kitandara-Guy Yeoman trip in 5 hours, but any stops to enjoy the pass, bad weather on descent, and the slow conditions in the last two hours of deep mud can make this much longer day, which some visitors considers as difficult as day two.
Day 7: Hikers should begin their journey back early, so as to get to Nyabitaba Hut before dark. In any case the path from the Guy Yeoman is quite difficult in some spots. Helping each other and descending very slowly facing the slope instead of facing out wards is recommended, especially as you approach Kichunchu where the trail parallels and twice crosses the Mubuku River mostly in deep mud, until the last few kilometers of good dry trail.
This follows the ridge down Nyabitaba, which completes the circuit. Typical hikers make Guy Yeoman to Nyabitaba in 5 hours. Should you decide to continue to Nyakalengija it is another two or three hours depending on the conditions of your knees and you desire to reach a comfortable bed and bath! Be especially careful about your vines and brush and resist the urge to hurry out of the mountains. Late evening walking can be good for watching birds and you may sight the occasional Blue tailed Monkey. Sharp eyes can catch a glimpse of the brilliant green but changeable Rhinoserous chameleon.
Day 8: Descending to park Headquarters can take 2-3 hours
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