Ideally, most of the Mountain Range is today within the borders of two National Parks. In Uganda, the “Rwenzori Mountain National Park” and in the DRC, the “Virunga National Park”. The larger part of the mountains (4/5) is on the Ugandan side of the border. The smaller DRC side of the mountains have been protected as a National Park since 1929. On the Ugandan side the Rwenzori Mountains have been protected since 1941 above 2200m as a Forest Reserve. In 1991 the Rwenzori Mountains were gazetted as a National Park named Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP).
The extension is 996kms and it runs for almost 120km along the Congo border west of Kasese and Fort Portal. The Rwenzori National park has a special importance because of its existence in 2 countries. These kinds of cross-boundary parks are also called peace parks. One aim is in future to give tourists the opportunity to climb the mountains from one country and finish in the other. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park is preserved and protected by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Ugandan government agency for the conservation and development of the national parks. The headquarter of the park are located at the foothills of the mountains, near Ibanda.
The Rwenzori Mountains lie just in north of the Equator along the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. The north-south extension amounts to about 120km and the east-west extension runs up to around 50km. The range has 6 major peaks, Mt Stanley (5,109m), Mt Speke (4,890m) Mt Baker (4,843m), Mt Emin (4,798m), Mt Gessi (4,715m) and Mt Luigi di Savoia (4,627m) as they descend.
The highest peak in the Mt. Stanley complex (Margherita-5,109) makes the Rwenzori Mountains the 3rd highest range in Africa. Unlike the two highest mountains in Africa that’s to say Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Rwenzori Mountains are not volcanic but predominantly old quartzite and gneiss, pushed up by tremendous forces originating deep within the earth’s crust in the region of 3 – 4 billion years ago. The Rwenzori rise gradually from the Albertine Graben of Uganda and fall steeply on the western part of the rift valley of Semliki River in DRC, which flows into Lake Albert and is one important source of the Nile.
At the southern end of the mountains lies Lake Edward, which is connected to Lake George. Both lakes are very important for the local communities around the lakes, which earn their livelihood by fishing and cattle grazing. Further, the water coming from the Rwenzori Mountains is used to generate hydropower and for irrigation schemes and domestic water supply to over 500,000 surrounding people. The Rwenzori Mountains are therefore very important for the economy in the surrounding area and all the way along the Nile.
Flora and Fauna
There are 5 different Vegetational Zones found in the Rwenzori Mountains. These are afro-alpine moorland zone 4000-4500m grasslands that range between 1000-2000m, montane forest 2000-3000m, bamboo/mimulopsis zone 2500-3500m, and Heather/Rapanea zone 3000-4000m. At higher altitudes some plants reach an unusually large size, such as lobelia and groundsels. The vegetation in the Rwenzori Mountains is unique to equatorial alpine Africa and the only other places where they might be also found are at Mt Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro.
Few of the larger animals found in the mountains, due to heavy hunting during the 1970s –1980’s. In the forest zone are still elephants and buffalos – but they are rarely seen. Animals that are more often seen are chimpanzees, blue monkeys, Rwenzori colobus monkey, duiker, forest hog, hyrax and leopard. The leopard is seen as high as 4000m. The Rwenzori are one of the most important bird areas in Uganda. Even though there are only 195 species recorded in the park, among them are many rare, threatened and endemic species. The probably most noticeable bird is the Rwenzori Turaco. But also the Francolins, Olive Pigeon, White Necked Raven and Mountain Buzzards are all viewed in this wide Range.
Easy Access by Road is From Kampala via Mbarara to Kasese, then continue 18km to Ibanda. Still from Kampala through Fort Portal and then go for 75km on Fort Portal/Kasese southern road. The Park is 25 km from Kasese. Take a left turn 4 km after leaving Kasese on the Kasese-Fort Portal road.
Easy Access by Rail is from Kampala to Kasese and from there, you get to the road.
Some of the wild animals here include the Genet, Chimpanzee, Golden Cat, Forest Hog, Rock Hyrax, Sitatunga, Elephants, Rwenzori Colobus, Mongoose, Duiker, Vervet and Monkeys.
The suitable time for mountaineering is during the dry seasons from mid of December to the end of March and again from June through the mid of August every year.
The various Hotels in Kasese and Fort Portal meet the Kabarole Tourism Association with a range of Inns, Guesthouses and camping sites in the same district. Therefore support the local Community Tourism Development Projects and stay in one of the local guesthouses out there. These provide an interesting insight to local life and at the same time help the community benefit from the resources that surround them. Rwenzori Mountaineering Services provides guides and porters to climbers. Climbers in the park stay in a series of simple bandas along the main route. Remember to bring with you very warm, waterproof clothing and a good sleeping bag.
This park has an established trail that loops around the hot springs. Visitors are also welcome to arrange hikes to other parts of the forest say within the same area.
The Central Circuit Trial
This “central circuit” trial of Rwenzori is the main hiking activity which people undertake when visiting the mountain range. It comprises a hike lasting six nights and seven days, starting from the headquarter of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park at Nyakalengija. Then the trial follows a circular path wp themes around Mount Baker, spending the night in five different Huts, and reaching a maximum altitude of 4.372 m. at Scott Elliot Pass. This circuit however provides a chance to clearly see the peaks and glaciers of Mount Speke, Mount Stanley, Mount Luigi di Savoia, Mount Baker. Everyone is able to manage the hike, as the level of difficulty is not so high. For the mountains climbers, it is possible to reach all the major peaks, only adding one day extension to the trial per each peak. The central circuit is so far the best experience of Rwenzori, with its landscape and vegetations as can clearly be seen.
The programme of the central circuit follows this itinerary:
1st Day: From Nyakalengija to Nyabitaba Hut, 2.652 m.
From the Rwenzori Mountains National Park Head Quarter at Nyakalengija, 1.646 m, where you will receive the briefing from RMS (Rwenzori Mountaineering Services) and UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority), with the possibility of renting equipment. The hike starts through the plantations and homes of the Bakonjo, the people of the mountain, gradually reaching garden plots and elephants grass. You follow the Mobuku river, until crossing the Mahoma river. The trail passes through an open bracken fern slopes and Podorcarpus Forest, up to Nyabitaba Hut, 2.652 m., which is the arrival point for the day. This will take from 5 to 6 hours. From the location, you are facing on the North the Portal Peaks, 4.627 m, in front of Mount Kyniangoma. During the day, you might see monkeys, the Rwenzori Turaco and hearing the chimpanzees which are so common.
2nd day: From Nyabitaba Hut to John Matte Hut, 3.414 m.
From Nyabitaba Hut you cross the Kurt Shaffer Bridge, through a muddy area. Then the trail climbs up through the bamboo forest. You reach a steep rocky area, which leads to Nyamuleju Hut. This point marks the start of the giant lobelia and groundsel zone. The way proceeds through a bog full of typical plants along the Bujuku river. You finally get to a point at John Matte Hut, 3.414 m. for a night. From Nyabitaba Hut to John Matte it can take 6 hours. Enjoy the view of Mount Stanley and snow capped Elena and Margherita Peaks out there.
3rd day: From John Matte Hut to Bujuku Hut, 3.962 m.
From John Matte Hut you cross the Bujuku River and enter the lower Bigo bog, a grassy bog where you experience how to jump from tussock to tussock. You reach Bigo Hut and enter the upper Bigo bog, proceeding to Lake Bujuku, where it is starting the alpine savannah zone of little vegetation. You finally arrive at Bujuku Hut, 3.962 m. This day hike can take up to 5 hours. There you have a view on the peaks of Mount Stanley, Mount Baker and Mount Speke. From Bujuku starts the diversion for whom intends to climb Mount Speke. For climbing Margherita and Alexandra peaks. However it will be very wise for you to head to Elena Hut for a night as you enjoy yourself.
4th day: From Bujuku Hut to Kitandara Hut, 4.023 m.
From Bujuku Hut you climb through moss draped groundsel vegetation, to Scott Elliot Pass, 4.372 m, the highest point of the loop trail. The path is as such rocky steep and at the foothills of Baker mount. Enjoy a spectacular view of Margherita peak, Mount Baker, Elena and Savoia glaciers. Its easier now to reach the Upper Kitandara lake through the thick mud to Lower Kitandara lake located on Kitandara Hut, 4.023 m. Kitandara in the local language means “fresh field”, as a cold wind is blowing into the valley. This may take 5hours to complete the hike. It is recommendable here to check any sign of altitudes sickness or hypothermia. From Kitandara Hut you can proceed to climb Mount Baker, the peak Vittorio Sella and Mount Luigi diSavoia. Mount Luigi diSavoia
5th day: From Kitandara Hut to Guy Yeoman Hut, 3.261 m.
From Lake Kitandara you climb to the Fresh field Pass, 4.282 m, along the flat or high alpine mossy glades, before descending the circuit among rocky and boggy areas. The panorama is dominated by the glaciers of Mounts Stanley and Baker. A muddy trail leads to Akendahi, Bujongolo and Kabamba rock shelters, where starts the Kabamba valley down to Guy Yeoman Hut, 3.261 m which may take you up to 6 hours. The hut is surrounded by a beautiful landscape of vegetations, rivers and the mountains.
6th day: From Guy Yeoman Hut back to Nyabitaba Hut, 2.652 m.
On this 6th day, you come to complete the central circuit by going back to Nyabitaba Hut. However the trial is exciting along the valley of the Mobuku and Kichuchu rivers, rich in plants and flowers of the heather zone before approaching the bamboo forest. See Kabamba falls on the way. Time to reach Nyabitaba is about 6 hours. Eventually, you decide to terminate the trial by descending directly to Nyakalengija, getting you more 2-3 more hours of tour.
7th day: From Nyabitaba to Nyakalengija.
From Nyabitaba to reach Nyakalengija it may take up to 3 hours. From Nyabitaba, you start the trial to see Lake Mamoha for around 40 minutes and then get back to the hut for descending to the Park Head Quarter after this lengthy interesting and ideal tour.