How to reach there:
By road from Kampala via Mbarara to Kasese or from Kampala through Fort Portal and then 75 km South on the Fort Portal / Kasese road. The park is 25 km from Kasese town, then turning left inside to reach Ibanda and Niakalengija, following the sign post on the Kasese Road. Chartered planes are also available from Entebbe /Kampala to Kasese and then by road.
What to do:
A trip into the Rwenzori Mountains is a rewarding experience, which allows you to see the main peaks of the largest mountain range in Africa. The most common trial, the so called central circuit, starts at the National Park Head Quarter in Niakalengija and lasts on average 7 days six nights, hut after hut, reaching at an altitude of up to 4.372 metres at Scott Elliot Pass. You experience five different vegetation zones, from the tropical and bamboo forests up to the alpine zones. The hike does not require any specific climbing experience or training, but it is easy to whoever likes mountaineering. It is possible to complete the trial by ascending the main peaks, like Margherita on Mount Stanley (5.109 m), Mount Speke (4.890 m.), Mount Luigi di Savoia (4.627 m.).
When to go:
the best advisable time is the dry season from December to February and from May to August.
Equipment and organization:
You are recommended to have with you or to hire at the National Park headquarter rucksack, sleeping bag for low temperature and sleeping mat, one plate, cutlery, mug, knife, gumboots, water proof trousers, poncho or rain coat, heavy worm jacket, hand gloves, scarf and cup, jumper, torch, bottle of water.
For whoever will climb the peaks some specialised equipment is required in addition: a pair of crampons, snow gloves, snow goggles, climbing boots, rope and ice axe, as you reach the glacier area.
The entrance package gives to each person the support of an experienced guide plus four porters, which will carry most of the luggage, so that you are not supposed to have a bag heavier than 15kg.
Food and Accommodation:
The food during the trekking can be organized by the tour operator or the association of the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), or you can purchase locally before starting the trial. Cooking utensils are available at the huts. A cook can be hired to help the preparation of food.
You will spend the nights in huts, which are basic and environmentally friendly structures. Some water supply or stream are located around the huts to provide drinking water and for other purposes. Toilets are also found close to the hut.
Before and after the hike on the mountains you can find good and comfortable accommodation in Kasese, Fort Portal or even at Ibanda before entering the park.
THE CENTRAL CIRCUIT TRIAL
Plan to arrive at Rwenzori Mountains National Park and the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) offices at Nyakalengija in the morning so as to have ample time to rent equipment and be availed with guides and porters.
Hiking begins from the park headquarters 5,400ft (1,646m) walking past typical “mud and wattle” Bakonzo homes and gradually moving upward through elephant grass and garden plots. It takes approximately 40minutes to reach the park boundary.
The trail then follows the Mubuku River crossing recent landslide areas and involves climbing over rocks and a bluff, before reaching the Mahoma River in about two and half-hours. After crossing the river there will be a steep climb through open bracken fern slopes and Podorcarpus Forest up to Nyabitaba Hut 8,700ft (2652m).
The total time for an average hiker from Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba is about 5 hours and total elevation gained is 4,000ft (1,200m).
During this part of the trip, you may be able to hear chimpanzees and sometimes you may have a glimpse of the black and white colobus and blue monkeys behind the hut or the brilliantly coloured Rwenzori Turaco bird.
From Nyabitaba Hut the trail leads West ward for half a kilometer then drops steeply to Kurt Shaffer Bridge, crossing below the confluence of the Bujuku and the Mubuku rivers. By turning right to the bridge you begin to climb the central circuit anti-clockwise since the clockwise direction is much more difficult and risky.
After the Kurt Shaffer 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.
After 5hrs of traveling from Nyabitaba you reach the hut at Nyamuleju and its accompanying rock shelter which may be a good night stop over. This point also marks the start of giant lobelia and groundsel zone. This remarkable vegetation type is found no where in the world except high-altitude tropical mountains.
The 1hour 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 is 7 hours.
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 feel they have reached their limits by this point should consider John Matte as a reasonable stopping point.
Leave John Matte to cross the Bujuku River and enter the lower Bigo bog, where your first experience of jumping from tussock to tussock on a grassy bog begins. The trail is muddy and follows the left (southern) edge of lower Bibo bog until eventually it reaches 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 is an ugly intrusion, it makes walking easier and prevents the hikers from further damaging the bog. There is a beautiful narrow stream at the upper end of this bog that can make a lovely stop over for lunch.
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 Mount Baker to the south, Mount Stanley to the West and Mount 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 short distance further is Bujuku Hut 13,000ft (3962 m), favorably located for parties climbing Mount Speke which requires technical skills and special equipment. However the shaded location and frequent mists can make Bujuku Hut quiet cold.
Time to reach Bujuku from John Matte is typically 3-5 hours and the elevation gained is 1,800ft(560m) but the long stretches of bog and the mud along the lake make this another challenging day.
From Bujuku Hut leave directly to a newer trail which rises and falls twice before finally climbing steeply through magical moss draped Groundsel vegetation 14,345ft(4,372m) to Scott Elliot pass. At the steepest section is a short strong ladder after which a right hand branch will lead to Elena Hut 14,700ft (4,430m). This is a steep, rocky trail which when wet can be slippery but continuing straight and a few steps below the pass there is a sheltered spot good for a break.
Elena is the base camp for climbing 16,763ft (5,109m) to Margherita Peak in the Mount Stanley 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 Rwenzori Mountaineering Service guides.
The circuit trail continues to the left over Scot Elliot pass and enters an alpine zone of sparse low vegetation and stark rough boulders more familiar to high altitude climbers from northern altitudes.
As you leave the pass, you may enjoy the spectacular view of northward of Margherita peak, Elena and Savoia Glaciers, and Mount Baker 15,889ft (4,843m) towering above you to the east or left of the trail.
Having dropped a few hundred feet elevation from the pass, you cut below massive rock walls at the base of Mount Baker, here dramatic “impact craters” have been caused by large rocks falling from above and your guide may caution you against loud noises.
Rising and falling, the trail descends past Upper Lake Kitandara, then Lower Lake Kitandara and Kitandara Hut 13,200ft (4,023m). This lovely site is surrounded by towering peaks but the sun sets early and the nights can be cold. Time to reach Kitandara from Bujuku Hut usually takes 1,400ft (425m).
Mount Baker Bujuku
An early start is advisable to avoid over heating on the steep but lovely hour-long climb from the Lake Kitandara which is 14,050ft (4,282m) to the Freshfield pass. Viewing westward on clear days leads into neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and north, Margherita, and its glaciers still dominate the horizon.
Freshfield is a long traverse through beautiful high alpine mossy glades and more mud until after half an hour, when the trail begins the circuit’s long two-day descent. Mist or rain can make tracing the trail difficult, and the first one-kilometer here can be very slippery. Rock shelters at Bujongolo and Kabamba are optional overnight stop over but it is best to push on through the seemingly endless mud to newly constructed Guy Yeoman Hut 10,700ft (3,261m). Some hikers make the 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 a much longer day.
As you approach Kichunchu river 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 condition of your knees and your desire to reach a comfortable bed and bath.
Near Nyabitaba Hut is located the beautiful Lake Mahoma, which can be reached with a short walk of 40 minutes return through the bamboo forest. Late evening walking can be good for watching birds and you may sight the occasional blue tailed monkey and sharp eyes may catch a glimpse of the brilliant green but changeable Rhinoserous chameleon.
Descend to the park headquarters and it can take 2-3 hours.
Good Behaviour at the huts and on the trail is appreciated:
-Don’t litter the park with non-burnable or biodegradable items like tins, plastic and silver foil. -Personally collect these things and make sure you or your porters take them out of the park.
-Please use the latrines for all body waste.
-Respect others in the huts by sharing space, stoves, talking quietly
-Observe the prohibition of wood fire. Making fires using local wood is prohibited in the park. Use your own paraffin stove or gas or charcoal provided and please be considerate to your porters by bringing minimum equipment. Extra personal gear means heavier loads or extra porters, which is bad for the porter but also for the environment.
-Minimise damage on trails by following your guide closely-avoid making new paths. Each time a hiker makes a new route, the paths get wider and more vegetation turns to mad.
– Ask your guides on how to conduct yourself.
The Rwenzori Mountains lie along the western border of Uganda and rise to a height of 5,1OO metres. Here are the legendary ‘Mountains of the Moon’, a World Heritage Site – and these incomparable, beautiful, mist-shrouded peaks provide a unique backdrop to one of our most magnificent national parks.
In the centre of the range, which boasts Africa’s third highest mountain, some of the peaks carry permanent snow and glaciers, while the lower slopes are covered with dense forest. Walking trails on the lower slopes do not call for mountaineering experience, although the higher you go the fitter you need to be. Excellent walking routes, including the Bujuku circuit, are provided through wonderful and unique scenery.
For those who want to attempt a climb, several peaks provide challenges that match those in the Alps.These fabled mist-covered “Mountains of the Moon,” 120 km in length and 48 km in width, were formed from a block which was thrust up during the creation of the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley. At the centre of the range, there are six peaks carrying permanent snow, three with glaciers.The highest of these peaks, and the third highest peak in Africa, is Mt. Margherita rising 5100 metre above sea level.
The Rwenzori Mountains were gazetted as a National Park in 1991. The Park covers 996 km2 of rugged mountain terrain. Whether they are experienced climbers or casual day-hikers, Rwenzori Mountain National Park offers visitors a unique experience of an Afro-Montane rainforest.
The main attraction is the luxuriant vegetation found above 3000 m which includes the giant forms of Lobelia, Heather and Groundsel. Rwenzori Mountains National Park is also home to the hyrax, blue monkey, chimpanzee, giant forest hog and many unique bird species such as the Rwenzori touraco, the handsome francolin and the olive pigeon.
The best time for mountaineering is during the dry seasons from mid-December to the end of March and from June through mid-August.
By Road: From Kampala via Mbarara to Kasese, then continue 18km to Ibanda. Also from Kampala through Fort Portal and then 75km on the Fort Portal/Kasese road south. The Park is 25 km from Kasese. Take a left turn 4 km after leaving Kasese on the Kasese-Fort Portal road.
Rwenzori Mountaineering Safari Tour Uganda
Air: From Kampala to Kasese and then by road.