Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mt. Stanley (5109m)

The third highest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya) was the main goal of this trip. I had caught cold the previous day and fallen behind the planned schedule. The previous day we only moved from Bujuku to Elena Hut and to be honest, that was one of the most difficult days as I was still carrying the rucksack.

The visibility on the summit day was better from the beginning than with Mt. Speke. We got several clear glimpses of Alexandra and Margherita Peaks while crossing the Stanley Plateau and reached the summit just in time to enjoy some 30 minutes of relatively clear weather before the mist rolled in.

Ropes were used in this climb much more than on Mt. Speke but only if there hadn't been fixed ladder at the foot of Margherita Peak it would have been a challenging climb. The descent was easy and the wind was light all the way. One significant thing along the way was that on this bit there was not a single area of bog unlike in all other sections of the Trail.
Mt. Stanley

Mt. Speke (4890m)

This climb was more interesting than what I had expected. On the day me and my companion by chance, Chris from the U.S., arrived at Bujuku we hiked up 300 vertical meters up the trail we would take the following day to Mt. Speke. We stopped this acclimatization walk just before reaching the point where serious scrambling begins.

In the morning the guide estimated the return trip would take 4-6 hours. We came back to Bujuku 12 hours later. I was well acclimatized and felt strong in the beginning but the weather was not favorable. There was scrambling, rappelling, mud, a bit of a bog, more than light winds, glacier and above all bad visibility all the way. Some parts took longer than I had hoped for mainly due problems with crampons and ropes and I think waiting in the cold made me more susceptible to catch the cold that I had the following day.

Mt. Speke

Trip overview

Phew... This was possibly the hardest multi-day trek that I have so far done. Didn't feel like posting anything along the way. The first part, until Elena Hut, I was too tired because of carrying my rucksack instead of having a porter and the latter part, back from Elena Hut, I was too sick. All in all I am sure the experience would have been much better if I hadn't turned this into yet another test of stamina instead of just enjoying the walk and the scenery.

Bog, mist, mud, clouds, swamps, glaciers, marsh and everything pretty much five times bigger than elsewhere. What wasn't there was wind and sunshine. Early morning and sometimes in the evening you get clear skies but in this place it's needless to carry more than half a litre of water with you at one time.

My initial plan was to carry the rucksack the whole circuit and summit at least the three highest peaks. I failed to do that carrying the rucksack only to Elena Hut (4505m) and then handing it over to the guide. While Mt. Speke and Mt. Stanley went pretty much as planned, I chose not to attempt the technically most demanding of the three, Mt. Baker, to make sure I don't get seriously ill. I doubt I will go back for that one as I now have had my share of bog for this lifetime.

Rwenzori Central Circuit Trail is not something that should be attempted on a whim. While pretty much anybody can do the circuit without the peaks given the time anything beyond that requires experience, fitness and good gear. With many possible side trips along the way there is enormous potential in the park to challenge and even surpass Kilimanjaro as a hiking destination. At the moment, however, the casual hikers will and probably should go for the better established areas like Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya and Mt. Elgon.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

From glaciers to the deepest jungle...

Here we go again. Due to organizational changes at work, I was compelled to take another leave almost right after the Elbrus trip. Nice, although this will mean a longer break before the next chance to see anything else than desert.

Initially I had planned on doing the technical ascent to Mt. Kenya next. For that one finding the right teammate and a competent guide is essential so I decided to first take on the technically less challenging Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. Albeit strenuous, only some parts of the routes up to the peaks there require more than just crampons and an ice axe.

I will arrive at Entebbe airport early on Wednesday, July 25th. I will take the bus from Kampala to Kasese right away and prepare for the Rwenzori Central Circuit Trail starting the following day. My goal is not only to reach the summit of Mt. Stanley but also Mt. Speke and Mt. Baker. This expedition is offered commercially by e.g. Jagged Globe Expeditions and at grade 2B it's supposedly both physically and technically more demanding than Kilimanjaro. Considering my experiences at Elbrus I believe neither the altitude nor the temperature will be a problem but consecutive long and strenuous days will inevitably take their toll.

Earlier this week I managed to secure a gorilla tracking permit for Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Southern Uganda. There is usually a long waiting list for these very much sought after permits which cost nowadays USD 500. The only problem was that the single one available during my vacation was for August 3rd. Taking travel time into consideration I will have to finish the circuit on August 1st the latest giving me a total of seven days for the trail. I will have to see if insisting not to have porters for this trip will prove out to be a mistake at least when I reach the infamous Bigo Bog...

I'll try to update the blog en route and to compile it in a way that an independent traveler will get good information how to do the Trail. I suspect as little as 1000 EUR (climbing permits alone are 680+44+44=788 EUR) will be sufficient while e.g. JG Expedition charges USD 4000 for the same thing that I plan on doing myself. In the end, however, the most important thing for me is that I don't feel like a lemming in a line when I'm out in a place like the Rwenzori Mountains.