Margherita Peak Climbing- Rwenzori Expeditions
When one thinks about the Rwenzoris, snow and glaciers probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. After all, this is the equator. But these aren’t the kind of mountains that lend themselves well to the business of conforming to expectations.
It’s also a common misconception that Rwenzori is just one mountain; Stanley; whose peak is Margherita. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Rwenzoris have more than 16 peaks on 6 massifs. 4 of the 16 peaks are among the 10 highest in Africa. Rising to a staggering 5,109 meters above sea level at their highest, these mountains that straddle the border between Uganda and Congo are taller than the Alps in Europe, and the Rockies in North America, and offer a purer, more challenging climb than the more illustrious Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, all while serving up a visual treat that’s unrivalled in African mountaineering. In keeping with the locals’ name for them; Rwenjura or “rainmaker”, the Rwenzoris can be rather muddy and notoriously difficult to climb.
You will be met by a representative of our company at Entebbe International Airport or at your hotel in Entebbe or Kampala. He will drive you west of the capital Kampala to Kasese town for an overnight at hotel while enjoying the views of the cloudy Rwenzoris from the balcony of your hotel or the clear views of the savannah Queen Elizabeth National park below Kasese town before your trek to Rwenzori mountain the next morning. A drive to Kasese takes 5-6 hours via Kampala to Fort-portal road which is 372 Km or 6-7 hours’ drive via Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara highway which is 422 Km. Along the way you will have a stopover for lunch either in Fort-portal or Mbarara either way before proceeding to Kasese town for an overnight.
The central circuit starts at the Rwenzori Mountain National park gate at Nyakalengija (1615 m). Your driver guide will drive you from your hotel in Kasese to Nyakalengijja for briefing and organizing climbing equipment before the trek commences. The trail begins by passing through farmland to the park boundary beyond which it follows a thick forest along the Mubuku River, crossing its Mahoma River tributary before starting a long, steep climb up onto a massive ridge to reach Nyabitaba hut (2651 m). During this part of the trip you may hear chimpanzee and see black and white colobus, blue monkey and the brilliantly coloured Rwenzori turaco. Hike duration: 6 -7 hours. Elevation height: 1036 m
From Nyabitaba follow the trail that drops down through the forest to the Kurt Shafer Bridge, just below the confluence of the Mubuku and Bujuku rivers. Passing through the bamboo forest, traverse through a long and exhausting stretch of slippery moss-covered rock. From the Nyamileju rock shelter, Mount Stanley and Mount Speke can be seen before passing into the zone of the giant heather, lobelia and groundsel. Finally reach John Matte Hut (3505 m) after passing through the tiring bog, for dinner and overnight at the hut. Hike duration: 7 – 8 hours. Elevation height: 854 m
From John Matte Hut the trail drops down to cross the Bujuku River and enters Lower Bigo Bog, the home of giant lobelias. Jumping from tussock to tussock, the bog is finally crossed but rarely without the feet sampling some of the freezing ooze below. The upper Bigo bog gives way to Bujuku Lake, with views of Mt Baker to the South and Mt Stanley to the West. Bujuku Hut (3962 m), well located in the shadow of Mount Baker and Mount Speke, is set in a narrow valley below Stuhlmann Pass. This camp is good for acclimatization for clients attempting the summits of peaks Mount Stanley and Mount Speke. Dinner and overnight at Bujuku hut. Hike duration: 4 – 5 hours. Elevation height: 457 m
Leaving Bujuku, the trail takes you through more bog, while climbing the steep slopes west of the lake and through the magical and forest of Groundsel Gully. Turn to your right up to Elena Hut (4541 m) and Mount Stanley on a steep trail over large boulders, while the trail on your left leads to Scott-Elliot Pass and down to Kitandara Lakes the trail on he left leads those who are not climbing Margherita Peak to Kitandara Hut. Those climbing the peak will have their Dinner and overnight at the coolly and Icy Elena Hut. Hike duration: 5 – 6 hours. Elevation height: 579 m
Very early in the morning, you attempt climbing the highest peak, Margherita (5109 m) of Mount Stanley. To reach the summit of Margherita, the climb takes about 4 -5 hours depending on the weather conditions and the pace of climbing this mountain. This tough walk takes you over three glaciers, slippery rock, ice and very exposed areas which are open on many sides. Climbing on to the glaciers, cross the Stanley Plateau and proceed with the ascent. Acclimatized to fog, altitude sickness and coolly weather, scramble up to the summit of Margherita the highest peak of the Rwenzori. The Descend from Margherita peak back to Elena Hut will take you about 2 – 3hours.
After your lunch at Elena hut, descend to the Scott-Elliot pass (4372 m), where there are spectacular views of Bujuku Lake and Mount Speke. After, the trail passes you through an alpine zone of sparse vegetation and rough boulders, descend past the Kitandara Lakes for dinner and overnight at the Kitandara camp (4430 m). Descend duration: 3 – 4 hours.
From Kitandara, take on the trail that ascends steeply up the headwall, spreading out from the base of Mount Baker and continuing along the south side of the mountain to Fresh field Pass (4282 m). At this point you can view into the Congo to the west and Mount Stanley to the north. From the pass, take on the long high alpine mossy. Thereafter start the descend through steep rocky trails and the rock shelter at Bujongolo, the base camp for the historic expedition by the Duke of Abruzzi in 1906 and then an overnight at Guy yeoman camp (3261 m). Hike duration: 6 – 7 hours.
Below Guy Yeoman, the route descends the cliffs of Kichuchu. Beyond Kichuchu the muddy path crosses the Mubuku River twice through a bamboo forest before climbing downwards to Nyabitaba to complete the circuit. Continue descending from Nyabitaba Camp (2651 m) and proceed downwards to the park gate at Nyakalengijja (1615 m) where you will meet your driver guide for transfer to Kasese for an overnight or transfer to Kampala/Entebbe for your departure flight. Descent duration: 7 – 8 hours
How to prepare for a Margherita Hike.
The Best Time to Hike: It is always best to go in the dry season. It’s commonly said that “the mountain makes its own weather” but it generally follows climate patterns in the areas surrounding the foothills, i.e. Kasese and Bundibugyo. Doesn’t mean you cannot do it in the wet season but be prepared for higher chances of showers. That’s likely to make the bogs stickier and the rocks slippery. Leave the kids behind so they won’t be confused seeing an adult ‘play around’ in mud.
Gumboots and water proof gear (be careful to check the authenticity) are a must have, regardless of the season.
The Duration of the Hike: If you are a summit-bagger (one who is only motivated by getting to the top), plan for 7 days on the mountain’s most popular trail and for travel on the road.
If you are a happy hiker content to experience the mountain’s beauty without the summit, plan for fewer days. There is a popular 3-day Mahoma circuit trail guaranteed to breathe new life into the soul with far less energy to expend for the reward.
The Costs: Expect to spend anywhere from 2-3m if you’re going to the summit since it’s more than likely you may not have all the necessary gear. Less if you plan on spending fewer days there.
‘Tipping’ is not a city in China. Please be gracious enough to tip your guides, chefs and porters for an excellent service. For a pittance, they break their backs and brave the cold for you. Your 10% or more on top of what they are paid will go a long way to impact their lives and those of their families.
Gear Requirements: Without packing a full house, have the following essentials in your waterproof duffle bag; hiking boots, sleeping bag (down to -10C), warm jacket, pants, tops, rain cover from head to toe, gumboots, warm gloves, thick socks, beanie hat, warm scarf, water bottle. Also good to take a camera for the memories and energy bars for when the tank feels empty.
The detailed list can be agreed upon with your agent. Renting good gear could be tricky but have faith something will work out.
Physical Shape: We’ve seen some of the most unfit people summit. It happens but it is not the norm. Best make sure you’re in decent physical shape before you take on the mountain in order to improve your chances. Running, cycling and generally aerobic exercises build endurance. No guarantees here but it’s better than starting from zero.
Please have a doctor check your vitals before you hit the road and report any existing conditions that might affect your breathing and circulation.
The mountain can be a brutal place.
Surprises: You don’t have to hit the summit to love it. Rwenzori is a place of beauty at every turn you take. The ridges and gorges are ridiculously exaggerated in size, the vegetation zones are nothing like you have ever seen and the mountain has a surprising diversity of animal species if you care to look. Above all, the air is clean. You can see Margherita’s glaciers on just the second day of hiking. If you have nothing to prove, spend time looking out for wonderful sights for your camera. You will not regret it.
There is more than one summit.
Rwenzori is a mountain of 6 different massifs each with numerous peaks (16 in total). Although Margherita on Mt. Stanley remains the most popular owing to its altitude (5109m ASL), mountains Speke and Baker, peaks Portal and Alexander are also major attractions for seasoned hikers. We might fail at convincing you to try the rest before Margherita. It’s your money, after all
Altitude Sickness: Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness when the shit really hits the fan is always a concern above 4000m ASL. Above that altitude, the air becomes noticeably thinner meaning there is less oxygen for your brain. In severe cases, it begins to swell and press against your eye balls causing the eyes to turn red and your head to throb with the mother of all migraines. Luckily, you can reduce the chances of this happening by ascending slowly in order to give the body time to acclimatize by building up more red blood cells to absorb the decreasing oxygen. Drink lots of water too and carry a daily dose of Diamox.
The Weather: The cold weather goes without saying. It tends to get colder in the wet season but the dry season is no slouch either.
Also say goodbye to the shower for the next 6 nights. Wet wipes will have to do. Don’t waste the porridge water on a painfully cold shower. It’s not worth the risk of hypothermia or pneumonia
Feeding: Feeding on the mountain primarily serves the purpose of energizing you to walk long hours. It is not a luxury. Do not expect a 5-star service but the meals are balanced and decent enough considering the difficulty of preparing them at high altitude in camps that shift by the day. Take some oranges with you.
Sour attitude: Watch out for these types. There is no telling what comportment people will let on after a cold night without a shower followed by a lunch of cold sandwich. Some will remain cheerful, others apprehensive while others will be party poopers. Take it all in stride for the mountain treats us all in different ways. Rwenzori behaves like a wife beater. We don’t even know why we keep going back.