RWENZORI MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON

Probably the best trek in Africa, simply beyond imagination to 5.109m Margherita Peak

> A 10-day expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains in the border between Uganda & DR Congo during March <

 

The snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains is the largest and highest mountain range in Africa, running for 120 km along the Congolese border from Lake Edward and north to Semliki. Its loftiest peaks, Margherita (5.109m), Alexandra (5.083m), Albert (5.101m), Savoia (4.977m), Moebius (4.925m), Speke (4.890m) Baker (4.843m), Emin (4.791m), Gessi (4.715m), Weissman (4.547m), and Stairs (4.544m), are exceeded in altitude elsewhere in Africa only by Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, both of which are standing in isolation above the plains. Also called the Mountains of the Moon, cited as such by geographer Ptolemy around AD150, the range is not volcanic but consists of crystalline rock that moved upward from the earth's crust.

 

This is one of the world's rainiest mountain massifs, and therefore vegetation has run amok, making it also one of the most difficult massifs in the world to explore. We came here specifically to witness the truly fantastic, unique and out-of-this-world scenery that is often bizarre in appearance. The massif offers one of the most dramatic diversities of ecosystems on the planet in a truly remote and isolated region. The range encompasses several altitude zones, each with its own distinct microclimate and flora. As the pictures below will demonstrate, a trip here is like doing six separate hikes in six different countries - though the savanna zone (e.g. Botswana), rainforest zone (e.g. Malaysia), bamboo forest zone (e.g. Japan), heather forest zone (e.g. Kenya), alpine zone (e.g. Scotland), and glacial zone (e.g. Switzerland).

 

Our trek started in the heat of the tropical jungle at the base of the African savanna, in Nyakalengija where the Bakonjo and Bambaa people, two groups of Bantu-speaking agriculturists, live. At 1.605m we entered the rainforest with giant ferns, wild banana trees, and lianas. Above 1.800m came dense bamboo forest, which can grow up to three feet a day and reach over a hundred feet in only two months. After 2.800m the heather zone took over to reveal an open vegetation of forests of dripping lichen-covered giant heather plants, giant lobelias and groundsel up to 10m high. These have been called “Africa’s botanical big game” – probably also the most unique zone. Luckily, the zone comprised a large part of the trek as we trekked a vast ground cover of bogs and moorland. Here, we also started to clearly see views towards the spectacular snow-capped peaks and glaciers, while traversing many V-shaped valleys and seeing magnificent waterfalls. Going higher, at 3.600m, we reached the alpine zone. The upper reaches of this zone consisted mostly of rocky terrain covered with black lichens and brown mosses, sitting among several clear blue lakes. Finally, above 4.400m, the Rwenzori Mountains was wrapped in permanent snow and storm-swept glaciers, culminating at the extremely steep Margherita Peak at 5.109m.

 

We did an expedition of 10 days to reach Mount Stanley and summit Margherita. Luckily, we came with good fitness and stamina. The Rwenzoris is a much tougher trek than the ascents of Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya. The snowy peaks should only be tackled by experienced climbers - and we were glad that we brought our own climbing gear.

 

 

Selected pics:

 

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© Anders M. Pedersen & Jakob M. Pedersen

All photos have been taken by Anders & Jakob.