Mount Rwenzori National Park

Also known as the Mountains of the moon, Mount Rwenzori National Park is an interesting safari destination in Uganda famous for mountaineering safaris. In AD150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range, deep in the heart of Africa that, he claimed, was the source of the Nile and which he called the Mountains of the Moon.

Over the centuries this curious notion of tropical snow faded into mythology and, when John Speke found the Nile's exit from Lake Victoria, a place in fiction for the Mountains of the Moon seemed assured. But then, in 1889, Henry Stanley emerged from central Africa to announce that such a mountain did exist. He mapped it by its local name of Rwenjura - or 'rainmaker'.

In due course mountaineers explored Ptolemy's Mountains of the Moon. Though just miles north of the Equator, they found in the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose meltwaters represent the highest springs ofthe Nile. These trickle downwards into U-shaped glacial valleys where, supplemented by up to 2500mm of rain/year, they saturate the broad valley floors to form great soggy bogs. Within these rain and mist filled troughs, loom specimens of Africa's bizarre high altitude vegetation and stunted trees enveloped by colourful mosses and draped with beards of lichen.

This remarkable landscape is bisected by the Uganda-Congo border which passes through Mt. Stanley the highest peak. The Ugandan Rwenzori is protected by the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and, in Congo by the Virunga National Park. The park can be explored along a 7 -day trail that meanders along the Mobuku and Bujuku valleys beneath the highest peaks. Though distances are short, the terrain, altitude and weather combine to create a tough trek, the difficulty of which should not be underestimated.

After its sighting by Stanley, the weather confounded several attempts to scale (or even observe) the mountain's main peaks. In 1906, the Italian Duke of Abruzzi timed his expedition more carefully, making his attempt during June and July. He and his companions succeeded in scaling, mapping and photographing all of the main peaks and establishing the layout of the high Rwenzori.

Flora and fauna

The Rwenzori today is remarkable for its flora rather than its fauna. Elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog, bushbuck, chimpanzee and leopard are present but are rarely seen.
 However primates such as black and white colobus and the blue monkey may be seen, as well as the hyrax, the elephant's diminutive cousin.

The Rwenzori is home to 241 bird species of which 19 are endemic to the mountain. Several birds are limited to just a few forests along the Albertine rift, notably the Rwenzori Turaco. In the alpine zone look for the Malachite Sunbird.

An ascent of the mountain passes through a series of increasingly dramatic vegetation zones. Above the Bakonzo farmlands, montane forest (1500-2500m) gives way to bamboo stands and messy tangles of Mimulopsis (2500-3000m). This is followed by the lovely Heather-Rapenea zone (3000-4000m), which is characterised by giant tree-heathers (Erica spp.), garishly coloured mosses and drab beards of lichen. Spectacular forms of giant lobelia (Lobelia spp.) and groundsels (Senecio spp.) are first found in this zone. These plants persist into the highest, Alpine zone (3800-4500m) where they are joined by wiry but pretty thickets of Helichrysum or 'everlasting flowers'.

The Bigo Bogs in the Upper Bujuku Valley, are colonised by tussocks of sedge (Carex spp). These provide climbers with useful if disconcertingly wobbly 'stepping stones' with which to negotiate these notoriously muddy sections.

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