Rwenzori trekking

In a few words: it’s tough country, muddy, cold, wet and high.

Though located just North of the Equator, the Rwenzori is famous for its harsh climate, wet and cold: regular rain has to be expected almost every day, with snowfall above 4000m. The tough trek, with several steep and muddy parts, will enrich the experience. However the landscape is truly wonderful and fascinating: even if a similar afroalpine vegetation can be encountered on other major African peaks, the size and exuberance it reaches on the Rwenzori is unique, making a Rwenzori trekking a wonderful experience. The Rwenzori lies within national parks both on the Uganda and Congo sides and no independent trek can be undertaken. The trek can only be done with the help of local guides and porters, along 3 main routes, two from Uganda and one from Congo. The political difficulties of the region and the strenuous hike ensured the range remained largely unvisited.

Trail in the enchanted cloud forest in the mist on the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda

The trail winds through the enchanted forest of heather and moss on the Rwenzori

Boots: this is probably the most important item to choose. A good choice would be an appropriate pair of hiking boots and a pair of gumboots, which can also be rented locally: the hiking boots to be used around the huts or at the lower and higher elevations, the gumboots everywhere else. Going with gumboots will be almost a necessity, as right from the cloud forest up to the glaciers, you will be walking constantly in knee-deep mud. Even the most advanced hiking boot in Goretex will not work well in the muddy trails of the Rwenzori as the membrane cannot breath through thick mud. Besides, the boots will be constantly soaking wet whereas gumboots can be cleaned and dried quickly and will not weight much because of the mud. A pair of gumboots with a good grip and sole is highly recommended (hard to find in Africa), as there are a several parts which literally require you to jump from wet fallen tree to wet fallen tree: if you fall, you sink in waist-deep mud…

Backpack. The trek can only be undertaken with the help of local guides and porters, which will also carry most of the weight (food, fuel, cooking items, etc.). A simple daypack for camera, raingear, water bottles or some snacks would suffice. A rain cover for the backpack and some plastic bags to envelope the sleeping bag and other important items carried by the porters is recommended. The porters will not carry a backpack but a system of belts and suspensions to carry everything.

Muddy trail on the Rwenzori Mountains

Close up of rubber boots along the trail on the Rwenzori Mountains

Sleeping gear. There are several huts along the trails, all within a day walk from each other. Therefore a tent is not needed, unless you need some privacy. The nights can be quite chilly, especially at higher elevations, so a good and warm sleeping bag would be suitable. All the huts have bunk beds with matrasses.

Clothes. Raingear is a must. Even though the rain seasons runs from March to May and from September to December, it can rain almost every day of the year and the dry season only means “less rain” and not “no rain”. I went at the beginning of the dry season and met rain on 5 days out of 8. An appropriate combination would include a jacket and rain trousers. Good strategy will be to dress in layers, if it’s sunny it can be pleasantly warm during the day while at night temperatures can drop below zero.

Photography: due to the high altitude and the strenuous trek, my kit selection was kept to the minimum: a full frame body and 3 Zeiss lenses, 28mm, 50mm, 100mm. Besides this, a tripod with head, filters like a polarizer, memory cards and a couple of extra batteries were completing my photo gear. Wildlife is quite shy and scarce, especially on the Ugandan side and hard to come across on the major trekking routes, so I did not take any telephoto lens with me. The most important animal species to be encountered are in the lower zones, colobus monkeys, chimpanzee, red duiker. Some other important factors to consider are the rain and cold climate: keep the batteries warm, let the gear warm up gradually once coming back inside the huts to avoid condensation. The light can be quite strong during the day but at the same time the weather can change very fast, best to have a lens with a large aperture. As in the case of many other high mountains, the best weather is at dawn and dusk. As the trek was done at high elevation involving several steep parts and the journey to the base of the mountain did not involve the use of pack animals or run-down buses, I decided not to use a photo backpack as it’s heavy by itself. Instead I was using a light mountaineering backpack (about 30 liters) with external straps to attach the tripod and some space inside for extras. To protect my photo gear, I was wrapping it inside clothes or mountain gloves (an excellent lens case by the way).

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