Previously referred to as the ‘Rwenzori Range’, the Rwenzori Mountains are a mountain range situated in Eastern Equatorial Africa. They are located along the border between DRC and Uganda. In addition to supporting glaciers, these mountains are among the sources of the popular Nile River.
The Rwenzori Range became part of the famous Rwenzori Mountains’ National Park back in 1991. This park covers approximately 996 square-kilometres of rugged mountain terrain. In 1994, it was proclaimed as a UNESCO World-Heritage Site in an effort to protect the area’s flora and fauna, as well as its overall natural beauty.
Length: 120 Kilometres (75 Miles)
Width: 65 Kilometres (40 Miles)
Highest Peak(s): Margherita Peak at 5.11 Kilometres (16,762 Feet)
Country: Uganda, DRC
These mountains were named ‘Rwenzori’ by Henry M. Stanley, a European explorer. He named this range after an African native word that means ‘rainmaker’. And, it’s indeed rainmaker as rain feeds the dense foliage and falls on the Rwenzori Mountains for up to around 350 days each year.
The Rwenzori Mountains are popularly nicknamed as ‘Mountains of the Moon’. This name was first used on a map by Claudius Ptolemy, an Alexandrian geographer. Before then, the mountains were speculated to be a source of the famous Nile River. It was later discovered that, indeed, melting snows from the Rwenzori Mountain Range feed various tributaries of the Nile River.
This range is estimated to have formed 3 million years ago. While they are not volcanic, these mountains are a result of uplifted blocks of crystalline rocks such as gneiss, quartzite, amphibolite, and granite. This uplift resulted in the division of Obweruka (a paleolake) and formation of three present-day Great Lakes, namely Lake George, Lake Albert, and Lake Edward.
Deep gorges separate the six massifs that make up this range. These massifs include Mount Stanley (5.11 kilometres), Mount Speke (4.89 kilometres), Mount Baker (4.84 kilometres), and Mount Emin (4.80 kilometres). Others include the Luigi di Savoia (4.63 kilometres) and Gessi (4.71 kilometres) mountains.
While the range measures only 120 kilometres long, it boasts among the most diverse ecosystems around the world. Here, the vegetation tends to vary with changes in altitude. Within a short distance from each other are the cold of the mountains’ glacial ice and the heat of the tropical jungles. In fact, the Rwenzori Mountains have 5 different zones of habitation, hence generating an amazing world of biodiversity.
We take a quick look at these zones below:
(I) African Savanna Grasslands – At the base, this zone teems with animals like zebras and elephants. This zone reaches up to around 1,676 metres (5,500 feet). Above it is the Rainforest, reaching up to 2,286 metres (7,500 feet). Here, you’ll come across giant ferns, lianas, and wild banana trees.
(II) Bamboo Forest – This type of forest is among the most unique habitats you’ll ever walk through. This zone reaches up to 2,895 metres (9,500 feet). Bamboo, a rare kind of grass, grows up to almost 3 feet in a day, here. In just two months, it can easily reach over 100 feet!
(III) Heath Zone – It’s found above the Bamboo Forest, extending up to almost 3,650 metres (12,000 feet). It’s a land filled with dripping heather trees, covered with lichen and going as high as 40 feet. These trees loom over a wide ground cover of liverwort and mosses. They’re considered a close relative of the low-shrub that grows along the Scottish moorlands.
(IV) Alpine Zone – It extends up to almost 4,419 metres (14,500 feet). In the lower sections of this zone, you’ll come across plants which are unique only to the African Alpine zones. Such include the giant lobelia and the tree groundsel. The upper sections of the Alpine zone mainly comprise rocky terrain that’s covered with brown mosses and black lichens.
(V) Ice Glaciers – Above 14,500 feet, you’ll find the highest peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. These peaks are permanently snow-capped and wrapped in storm-swept glaciers. This zone extends up to almost 5,109 metres (16,762 feet).
Wildlife in the Rwenzori Mountains varies with differences in altitude, as well. The Rwenzori Mountains’ National Park recorded that there are over 70 mammals. Animals you’re likely to come across here include chimpanzees, elephants, L’’Hoest’s monkeys, hyrax, and the duiker, as well as the Rwenzori Turaco.
There are over 200 bird species, too, including the Olive pigeon, Alpine swift, Dusky Flycatcher, Rwenzori Olive Thrush, Rufous sparrow hawk, and Lanner Falcon. Others include the African Lammergeyer, Verreaux’s eagle, Green White-eye, Dartmouth Sunbird, Bamboo Warbler, and Western lemon dove, among many others.
If you love hiking, then you’ll certainly want to consider the 5,119 metres-high, snow-capped ‘Mountains of the Moon’. They offer just the unique trekking and hiking experiences you’ve likely been looking forward to.
The Rwenzori Central Circuit Zone offers plenty of opportunities for hikes and nature walks. Such include walks through the Kichamba communities to the Karangura Ridge, trails up to the Buraro Chimp Forest and Lake Mahooma, as well as hiking through Bwamba Pass to the Bundibugo area.
The Bwamba Pass is a 1,500-metre high trek atop the steep Northern Rwenzori Ridge. Here, the Abanya community will lead you over the mountains and through isolated villages to reach the Bamboo Forest. From this point, you’ll be able to enjoy superb views of the Rift Valley.
The communities of Turaco and Ruboni offer opportunities of guided forest walks, just outside the Rwenzori Mountains’ National Park. You can follow the iconic River Mubuku and enjoy scenic views of Fort Baker & Portal Peaks as you hike up to around 2,300 metres above sea level.
On clear days, it’s even possible to enjoy truly spectacular views of the highest, snow-capped Margherita Peak. Additionally, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for birds, vervet monkeys, squirrels, and chameleons.
By the early twentieth century, the Rwenzori Mountain Range was still hugely unexplored and its peaks unclimbed. During then, Uganda was a large region filled with dense forests, malaria-infested swamps, and lakes. Luigi Di Savoia, an ancient Duke of Abruzzi, began pondering about climbing the Rwenzori Mountains.
Luigi had previously reached the highest peaks of Mount Saint Elias (Alaska). He departed for Uganda with his scientific expedition in 1906, accompanied by J. Brocherel, C. Ollier, and J. Petigax. He was able to reach the loftiest peak, climbing 5,109 metres high. Luigi di Savoia named this peak ‘Margherita’ after an Italian Queen who had financed his expedition.
The Rwenzori Mountain Range has quite a lot to offer, from memorable nature walks, amazing cultural encounters, exploration of exotic plants, wildlife scenery, trekking and hiking opportunities, to fantastic birding chances. Hiking these mountains provides a rewarding and exhilarating experience but one that must be properly planned. As with any other tour experience in the wild, the key to a memorable hike in the Rwenzori Range is good preparation.
During any season, it’s advisable that you pack reliable rain gear, a sleeping bag(s), gloves, a warm hat, heavy socks, and gaiters. Porters will help carry your food and heavy equipment, thus allowing you to carry other essential luggage. It’s quite difficult to predict how high altitude will affect your body. For that reason, it’s imperative that you play safe and carry along a well-stocked first aid kit, especially if it’ll be your first time to ascend thousands of feet.
Consider packing medications like OTC indigestion pills, ibuprofen, and cough drops in case the hikes get unpleasant. In addition, visiting your doctor prior to embarking on treks in the mountains might be helpful. He/she can help you establish your limits and ascertain you don’t have undiscovered ailments or lingering illnesses which could hinder your hike up in the mountains. More importantly, be ready to turn around in case you start feeling unwell.
These ethnic groups live together in the Bundibugyo District which is situated on the Rwenzori Mountains’ western slopes. You can also find them in the Butalinga District in DRC. The most commonly used dialect is Lubwiisi, a Bantu language close to Runyoro, Runyankole, and Luganda.
Their popular cultural sites include Bujumila (for Bangulu clan), Kiroghoji Waterfalls (for Basu clan), and Semuliki Hot Springs (for Bamaaga clan). All of the three communities practise Kubhemba, a ritual where they prepare and serve sumptuous to their ancestors, appeasing them in celebration or calamity times.
The Basongora are the second-largest tribe in Kasese. They largely occupy the lowlands of the Rwenzori Mountains, concentrated in areas like Ibuga, Muhokya, Hima, Katwe, Nyakatonzi, and Hamukungu.
Most of the aforementioned regions are close to various water bodies. That’s attributed to the fact that the Basongora are mainly pastoralists, hence attracted to places endowed with water. However, modernity has made them embark on farming, too, but only for subsistence. Lusongora, their dialect, is closely related to Runyakitara and Rutooro.
These are a majority ethnic group in present-day Kasese. They speak Lukonjo, which is divided into pidgin Lunyarwenzuru and Lukonjo. They believe Kithasamba, their god, resides in the snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. Their popular cultural sites include Isaya Mukirane’s mausoleum, which is located in the Ihandiro Sub-County.
Before, the tribe predominantly occupied the Rwenzori slopes. As a result of inter-tribal clashes, the Bakonjo sought refuge in the mountains and realized the Rwenzoris were a reliable protective shield against external attacks. To date, the group still forms a ring around the Rwenzori Range. Over time, some have descended to occupy the lowlands, though.
These are a minority ethnic group in present-day Kasese. They are mostly settled in the plains and lowlands of the Rwenzori Mountains. The various places they occupy include Mukunyu, Bugoye, Muhokya, and Kinyamaseke. Lunyabindi, their dialect, is a mix of Rutooro and Runyoro. The group practises mixed farming, grazing short-horned cattle and growing crops such as bananas, beans, potatoes, cassava, and millet.
This group, with Lukonzo as their local dialect, occupies Ruboni and Mihunga, peaceful farming villages situated along the Rwenzoris’ foothills. Their day-to-day activities mainly comprise tending to livestock and growing crops. You’ll also come across blacksmiths, traditional healers, storytellers, and basket weavers in the Ruboni community.
The region is situated around the Equator and, consequently, doesn’t experience the weather extremes of summer and winter. It remains attractive throughout the year, despite the change in seasons. It barely causes any significant changes to the range’s fauna and flora.
The Rwenzori Mountain Range has two wet seasons and two short dry seasons. The long wet season starts in March and ends in June while the short wet season occurs in November. During the wet season, the Rwenzori Peaks are masked in mist throughout. Although that helps form snow caps and glaciers at the higher summits, it can also make route-finding and hiking considerably difficult.
One of the dry seasons begins from July and ends in October while the other falls in between the months of December and February. These are actually the best times to go to the Rwenzoris as they are the driest and warmest months. However, you can ideally expect some rains in such times although they occur less frequently and often at night.
Bear in mind that the climate around the Rwenzoris is unpredictable. The time periods discussed earlier may vary from a year to another. At times, the rains may come early or come late. They may be mild or torrential.
The Rwenzori Mountains should be experienced by all, the hiking is incredible, the wildlife is amazing, it is an all round thrilling experience.