MT RWENZORI NATIONAL PARK.
Welcome to the “mountains of the moon” christened by the Alexandrine Geographer Ptolemy in AD 150. Due to its unique beauty, National Geographic selected the national park as one of the world’s best hikes. Rwenzori national park is known for its beautiful plant life, waterfalls, lakes and glaciers making it a unique destination during Uganda safaris as it offers extra exciting attractions that cannot be found in any other Uganda national park. In addition to game viewing, bird watching, nature walks, and hikes, primate tours and cultural encounters, the park offers a rare mountain climbing experience to its beautiful glacial peaks that can only be rivaled by the Alpine mountains of Europe.
SIZE: 998sq. km
Location: Bundibugyo, kasese Uganda.
The Rwenzori- the fabled mountains of the moon- lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. On the East side of the western ( Albertine) African rift valley. The park includes most of the centre and eastern half of Rwenzori Mountains, a mountain range rising above dry plains located just north of the equator. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo and rich moist montane forest. Huge tree-heathers and colorful mosses are draped across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers” creating an enchanting fairytale scene.
The park was gazetted in 1991 and was recognized as a world heritage site in 1994 and Ramsar site in 2008.
The Rwenzoris were christened the mountains of the moon by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in AD 150.
The explorer Henry Stanley placed the Rwenzori on the map on 24th May 1888. He labeled it Ruwenzori a local name which he as recorded meaning “Rain maker” or Cloud King
Rebel militias occupied the Rwenzori Mountains from 1997 to june 2001. The park was inscribed on UNESCO’S list of world heritage in danger between 1999 and 2004 because of insecurity and lack of resources in the park.
The mountains are higher than the Alps and are ice-capped .Mount Stanley is located in the park.
Magherita peak, one of mount Stanley’s twin summits is Africa’s third highest peak with a height of 5,109meters (16,762ft). Africa’s fourth and fifth highest peaks (mount speke) and (mount Baker) are also located in the park.
The park has glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls and lakes and is one of Africas most beautiful mountain areas.
Highest point: 5,109m above sea level on Mt Stanley’s Margharita peak.Mt Stanley is bisected by the border with the DRC.
The rwenzori is not volcanic like East Africa’s other major mountains but is a block of rock up faulted through the floor of the western Rift valley.
FLORA AND FAUNA.
The park has many species that are endemic to the Albertine Rift system and there are several endangered species in the park.
Rwenzori national park has a high diversity of trees and plants. The park is noted for its botany which has been described as some of the most beautiful in the world.
There are five distinct vegetation zones in the park, which change according to changes in altitude. At higher altitude, some tree species grow to very huge large sizes namely lobelia and groundsels. Here are the vegetation zones on the ranges of rwenzori with their altitudes:
The montane forest
This vegetation lies between 1800 – 2500 meters above sea level. The tree size is moderate and the forest canopy seems to be broken. The common trees in this area include; the yellow wood tree, read stink wood, podocarpus milanjianus, symphonia globulifera which has waxy red flowers, vernonia adolfi-friderici. The wild banana, tree ferns, begonia, and balasms among others.
This lies between 2500 -3000 meters on gentle slopes with good soil. The ground is always covered by thick litter of bamboo leaves. On steep and rocky slopes the bamboo is replaced by tangled undergrowth consisting of an Acanthus-type shrub, Mimulopsis ellioti. A giant lobelia, lobelia gibberoa, grows in wet and swampy places. Giant heathers, philippia johnstonii and Erica kingaensis grow on narrow ridges. Helichrysum everlastings begin to appear in this zone. The bamboo flowers at intervals of about thirty years. Some of the trees in montane zone as well grow among the bamboo and undergrowth some of which include; hagenia abyssinica (a spreading tree with yellow flowers), podocarpus milanjianus, Dombeya sp, Afrocrania volkensii, Maesa lanceolata, and Dracaena aframontana. Shrubs and herbaceous plants are so many some of which include the Rwenzori black berry, tree fans, and crimson flowers among others.
The heather zone lies between 3,000 – 4,000 metres and the heather forest only grows where the soil is poor, on ridge tops, rocky and moderately boggy places. The tree stems and the ground are covered in thick Sphagnum mose, branches are draped in Unseal beard lichens. Some of the plants in this zone include; the coral pink ground orchid, Disa stairsii, and a red and mauve balsam, impatiens runsorrensis. There are many philippia trimera and Erica kingaensis tree heathers, which occasionally produces pink flowers. The valleys are covered with huge bogs which are almost fully occupied by carex runsorrensis which grows in tussocks. Between the tussocks, the ground is covered with Sphagnum moss and the fine lobelia can be seen. On well drained slopes, there is mixed woodland consisting of small shrubby trees with rhododendron like leaves among others. Groundsel trees and lobelias are found in this zone. The under growth consists of everlasting flowers and moss.
The alpine lies between 4000- 4500 meters and has swampy vegetation which consists of giant grondsels that grows in great abundance on all deep and well-watered soils; the torch lobelia, lobelia wollastonii; and a thick tangled growth of the everlasting Helichrysum stuhlumani. The bogs and lake verges are occupied by Carex tussocks and some rushes. The tree heathers also grow in the lower areas of this zone but in few numbers. Short grasses and moss grows on the rocky parts of this zone. Above 4,300 metres only moss, blackish coloured lichen and a few everlasting small plants, covered with white woolly hairs, growing to a height of twelve inches or less.
Rock and glacier
This lies between 4500- 5000 meters, there’s bare rock and glacier more especially on mount Stanley. During the dry season the peaks are rocky and in the rainy seasons, the peaks are most times covered by ice.
A list of the principal mammals found in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda.
Rwenzori golden mole
Rwenzori water or otter show
Rousette fruit bat
Uganda Blue Monkey – heavilly poached
Hoest’s Monkey – can only be found in small isolated areas
Rwenzori Colobus Monkey – Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii
Long Haired Chimpanzee – Pan troglodytes
Lesser Cane Rat – Thryonomis gregorianus
Tree or Sun Squirrel – Heliosciurus rufobrachium
Ruwenzori Olive Squirrel – Anomalurus fraseri jacksoni
Gaint Squirrel – Protxerus temminckii
Shaggy Swamp Rat – Dasymys Montana
Swamp Rat – Otomys dartmouthi
Long-haired Mole Rat – Tachyoryctes ruddi
Arboreal Dormouse – Graphiurus murinus
Clawless Otter – Aonyx capensis
Marsh mongoose – Atilax paludinosus
Golden Cat – Felis (Profelis) aurata
Serval Cat – Felis (Leptailurus) serval
Rwenzori Leopard – Panthera pardus ruwenzorii which is very rare due to poaching. This species of leopard is very dark in fact nearly black possiblly due to the almost black rocks and cliffs found in the Rwenzori or, maybe it is because the genetic pool is so small that they are inbreeding. Poaching is still ongoing mainly for Hyrax, Duiker (small deer like animal) and primates.
Bush Elephant – Loxpdonta Africana
Tree Hyrax – Dendrohyrax arboreus ruwenzorii
Giant Forest Hog – Hyochoerus meinertzhhageni meinertzhhageni
African Buffalo – Syncerus caffer but not seen these days due to over poaching
Red Forest Duiker – Cephalophus nigrifrons rubidus “The Ruwenzori Duiker or Ruwenzori Red Forest Duiker is a stocky but small antelope found only in the Ruwenzori Mountains between Uganda and probably, Democratic Republic of Congo. They may be a sub-species of the Black-fronted Duiker or the Red-flanked Duiker. These are rarely spotted on an African safari.
Yellow-backed Duiker – Cephalophus sylvicutrix ituriensis.
ACTIVITIES DONE IN THE PARK:
Rwenzori Mountain is an underrated gem that is largely undiscovered by many. The Rwenzoris are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine- to twelve-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.
The scenery on the mountain has been called some of the most beautiful on the planet Mountain Rwenzori is covered in different types of vegetation and climate which will leave you spell bound as you scale its heights. It will not be like climbing into heaven. On the foothills of the mountain is farmland with crops such as coffee which is a very important cash crop in the country. From there you will behold beautiful land terrain and plant life of sub montane vegetation in the Afro-montane zone covered by luxurious tropical evergreen forest with a high richness in color and species. When you finally reach the top, you will behold the majestic snowcapped peaks that will leave you breathless and teary eyed. This will give you a life time tale because this is an extra ordinary activity during your Africa safari. Mountain climbing is the key activity in Rwenzori mountain national park. Two hiking trails that lead travelers to the summit of the mountain are:
The Central Circuit Trail:
This starts from the trailhead at Mihunga providing a circular seven-day challenging climb tour of the high Rwenzori. From Mihunga, the route slopes past Nyabitaba along the Bujuku valley and then heads to the peaks. Along the slopes, climbers can view the snow peaks of the mountains.
This ascends the Southern slopes of Rwenzori from the trailhead at Kilembe near Kasese town. This route takes you past glacial lakes along the Nyamwamba valley and then it joins the Central Circuit at Lake Kitandara.
For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.
The oldest recorded person to reach margherita peak was Ms Beryl Park aged 78 in 2010.
Uganda as a nation is teeming with a richness in bird life and the ranges are no different. The Rwenzori Park is a dwelling to 217 species of birds and 17 of them can only be found in Rwenzori which justifies UNESCO labeling it a key Birding Area. At about 1800 meters, the variety will leave you captivated including the Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Long-eared Owl, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Strange Weaver, Archers’ Robin-chat, Rwenzori Batis, White-starred Robin, Montane Sooty Boubou, Slender-billed Starling, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Blue-headed Sunbird, Barbets, Golden-winged Sunbird, Greenbuls, IIladopsis, Apalises, Crimson wings and Flycatchers, white-stared forest robin, montane sooty boubou, Largen’s bush shrike, slender-billed starling, blue-headed sun bird, golden-winged sunbird, strange weaver, varieties of barbet, greenbul, apalis, illadopsis, and crimson wing. Lammergeyer (bearded vulture) and black eagle soaring overhead as well as alpine and scarce swifts and the stunning scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird can be found at higher altitudes.
Nature walks to Lake Muhooma and through Buraro chimp forest walks to the Karangura ridge through the communities of Kichwamba as well as hiking to Bundibugyo area through the Bwamba Pass.
Guided forest walks are also done through the communities of Ruboni and Turaco view where can trail along River Mubuku. Continued hikes to above 2,300m allow you to see Baker and Portal peaks and on a clear day, it is even possible to view the eye-catching snow capped Margherita peak. Amazing species like the chameleon, squirrels, Vervet monkeys and various birds.
The cultural trail with the Mihunga community tourism group and Turaco view takes you for a village cultural tour where you encounter a traditional healer’s demonstration, a village school, crafts displays and finally be entertained with a lively traditional dance performance. You can’t afford to miss the encounter with the rich culture of the Bakonzo during the Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail. While on this trail, an experienced local guide introduces you to the traditional healer locally known as “Muhima”, and to a local blacksmith. The residents also introduce you to their basket weaving and fire making skills. The final part of the trail takes you across the Kamusonge River whose water the locals treasure so much because it is believed to be so sweet and quickly quenches thirst. Finally, a visit to the traditional thatched Konzo style museum displays the implements used during the Rwenzururu struggle as well as other items of historical and cultural importance to the Rwenzururu tribe including traditional dresses, handicrafts and many more. if you are lucky, you might even get some lessons on drumming and dancing. You will also visit the Ruboni village where you will learn about the lifestyles of old forefathers of the mountains of the moon.
What to wear
It is very essential visiting Rwenzori when you are properly prepared since wet conditions and sub-zero temperatures are normal in the park. Travelers should have a proper packing list of all the requirements in the hiking session. These include:
Layered warm clothing for the nights
A decent waterproof jacket and trousers since rain is expected at all times of the year even during drier months. Hiking boots for some parts that are incredibly muddy and you will be better wearing locally bought gumboots elsewhere above the forest and bamboo zone.
Pack a few snacks, chocolate and the like to keep you going on your distant likes. Climbing boots and equipment such as ropes, ice-axes, harnesses, crampons and walking sticks for those who intend to climb one of the glacial peaks.
Snow goggles, a compass, and altimeter are also useful.
You may also need to bring or hire a camping stove if you opt for self-cooking.
Mountain climbers should be reasonably fit and without heart or lung problems.
This activity is hectic compared to other tourist activities that would require high levels of fitness like gorilla trekking safaris.
Hikers may not feel hungry once above 3,000m but they should try to eat.
Carbohydrates and fruits are recommended whereas rich or fatty feet are discouraged since they are harder to digest.
Take at least three litters of water daily since dehydration is one of the major reasons for failure to complete the climb. Water loss through sweating can also be minimized by taking off some layers of clothes before starting to sweat.
Mountain climbers are highly advised to allow themselves time to acclimatize by taking an extra day over the ascent, eating and drinking properly and trying not to push themselves. This helps to reduce the risk of altitude-related illnesses especially for those who go above 3,500m. These are associated with minor symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, breathlessness, sleeplessness, and swelling of the hands and feet.
A visit to this high altitude place leaves you with a full package of experience of all Uganda’s tourist attractions with nothing else to admire.
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