The Mighty Rwenzoris
Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.
This is a brief summary of our epic trip to climb three of Africa’s five highest summits in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda. Full accounts will be published in the Getaway and Sawubona Magazines in the coming months and posted to our articles page. Don’t miss the summit gallery, trip info and video at the end! Hopefully, this wets your appetite for more ;).
Sitting here, bouncing our way in Badger on yet another potholed dirt road, it is difficult to believe our trip to the Rwenzoris was real. It is similarly difficult to believe that despite the odds; the variability of weather, possibility of sickness or fatigue stopping us, we made it up all three mountains. Mt Stanley (5,109m), Mt Speke (4,890m) and Mt Baker (4,844m), respectively the 3rd, 4th and 5th highest mountains in Africa, are under our belt. It feels like a dream. I suppose in many ways for Tarryn and I, it is the culmination of part of our dream.
We are under no illusion that we had support in getting to the top. From our friends, family, amazing sponsors, our guides and most importantly the great Rwenzori Mountain God; Kitasamba. Anyone who knows big mountains, knows there is never a guarantee and some level of luck is involved in summiting, thus we thank our lucky stars.
However, in addition to luck, summiting the Rwenzoris took many other things which I am very proud of our team, including Tarryn and adventure buddy Immo, for possessing. They required physical and mental toughness, intense determination and a desire for adventure.
They also all required high tolerance to ridiculously frigid conditions, something Tarryn seriously lacked but our great Mont Bell clothing helped with, early alpine starts and most importantly an unnaturally high level of tenacity. This last requirement Tarryn showed in absolute abundance on all three mountains as she pushed through fatigue and constant mild hypothermia to get to the summits. These feats of determination earned her limitless respect from all of us there and the nickname “Suzuki,” for being small and tough as nails.
In spite of, maybe because of, the often harsh conditions; never ending bogs, frequent black ice and rough terrain, the hike was mind-blowingly awesome! The entire range is an other-worldly assortment of strange plants and animals, like the three-horned chameleon and scenes which appear to have stopped evolving somewhere in the Jurassic period.
The mountains themselves were incredible and well worth the toil required to get to them. In general what can be said is that all the mountains were more technical than we expected and provided a proper adventure. From crampons and ice axes, to gloves, walking poles, gaiters and harnesses, our Black Diamond gear was put to the test. We are happy to say the gear performed with flying colours.
This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m, Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.
“in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry…” If you want to experience these mountains in all their glory, get there fast.
This said, while the mountains shared similarities, each also had its own character unique challenges. Our routes up Mt Baker (4,844m,
Africa #5) and Mt Speke (4,890m, Africa #4) were both free of glaciers but included some technical but really fun sections of scrambling. As we were to find, black ice, and in Speke’s case normal ice and snow, made the climbs interesting, challenging and at times really slippery! Tarryn came back laden with bruises from all the slides she succumbed to.
In our eyes though, Margherita Peak of Mt Stanley, who at 5,109m (Africa #3) is the undisputed King of the Rainmakers, stole the show and our adventurous desires. With two glaciers enroute to the top, Mt Stanley is a true adventure to climb. Unfortunately due to effects of climate change and environmental degradation, these beautiful ice rivers are predicted to be gone by 2025. Enock, Head Guide for Rwenzori Trekking Services who we walked with said “in the 9 years I have worked in the Rwenzories I have seen the glaciers melt further every year. Watching them I can even cry.”
Our hike to the Mountains of the Moon took ten days and covered about 108km. We went with the local company Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS), based out of Kilembe, Uganda. Both the hike and the company we used were superb. RTS even went as far as offering hot water bottles at the end of each day’s hike! Considering their highest camp, ‘Margherita,’ is approximately 4500m high and bloody freezing, this was a pleasant and in Tarryn’s case, necessary, luxury. The mountains of food provided at each meal time were also awesome and their guides friendly, well trained and super knowledgeable. They even supplied us with high quality Black Diamond crampons and ice axes for the Margherita climb. While we generally like to carry our own packs in this case it was great in this case it was great to only have our lighter Osprey mountaineering packs for the strenuous hiking while porters carried our large packs.
It must be understood that the hike will cost a bit of money. Once you get there is it very clear where it goes. In addition to the above, RTS provides really high quality huts at nearly every camp and well cut and maintained trails. Moreover, from what we understand a lot of money is funnelled into community development and conservation and provides a huge amount of local jobs.
The Rwenzoris is another world. A world of wonder, intrigue and adventure. We would recommend it to anyone, ideally without a fear of heights, who is looking to experience true mountains in the heart of Africa. If it sounds like your thing then get there fast before the magical ice rivers melt.
Don’t miss the EPIC summit gallery, information and video below!
Tips on Getting to the Rwenzoris?
Lets face it, who wouldn’t be interested!! Its the best hike we have done and one of the coolest places we have ever seen.
Important Notes: Unfortunately you can’t hike alone and must use an operator. Having been there we KNOW this is a good idea anyway. Unless you like swimming in mud do your best to go in the dry season (Jan – Feb and June – July), you’ll swim in less mud in season. Get fit, the hike is relatively strenuous.
Contacts: We went with Rwenzori Trekking Services (http://www.rwenzoritrekking.com/, firstname.lastname@example.org). All prices on their website, our hike was around $1520 per person for ten days. It is a bit more expensive if two people or less. Note that prices exclude Ugandan Wildlife park fees ($35US per person per night in the park) and optional tips (totaling about R1000 per person for a ten day trip if you follow suggestions).
Happy Exploring :)!
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