Starting Altitude: 1,450 meters [4,757 ft.]
Ending Altitude: 2,596 [8,517 ft.]
Total Climb: 1,146 meters [3,760 ft.]
Total Distance: 10.6 kms [6.6 miles]
Hours Taken: 4.5 hours
Camp: Sine Hut
Accent Rate (Climb/Distance): 108 m/km.
The day before we started trekking, we had been going over some of the statistics for the trek, to try and gauge its difficulty. The distances seemed very reasonable, even at the higher altitudes, and because we were using porters, everything should be easier than a usual backpacking trip. However, the elevation gains were daunting. We would be climbing 3,456 meters [11,338 ft.] in the first four days to a height of 4,620 meters [15,157 ft.], which is higher than anything in the continental United States. Then we would loop back down the mountain in two days.
The other concern was that we were pushing the rainy season, and the Rwenzori Mountains are infamous for being a great place to get stuck in waist deep mud in the alpine meadows of tussock grasses. The name Rwenzori itself, is said to be derived from a local language meaning, “rain maker”, and we were attempting to enter the alpine zone at one of the most difficult times of the year.
We came prepared with dry bags and water proof clothes, and the guides gave us each gum boots, which we really hoped we would not have to use, as nobody enjoys mountain climbing in rubber boots. We knew it is going to hard, but it is hard to gauge exactly how hard, given it is a real possibility it could rain the whole time, and it is hard to predict how everyone’s body will react to the altitude above 3,200 meters (10,000 ft.).
The morning we set-off is bright and sunny, and we watch as our guides Bernard and Zebede lay out the mountain of gear we are taking on the expedition. Without access to modern backpacking equipment in Uganda, we are taking up things like charcoal for cooking, big pots and pans, bulky solar lights, and what seems to be enough food for a small army. We are climbing with two guides, in case one gets sick on the mountain, and seven porters to haul all the gear.
The first day is tough, but we are in such good spirits we hardly notice. The morning is spent in the jungle, trekking steadily upwards under Colobus and Blue monkeys, and Chimpanzee nests in the tree tops. There are groves of giant ferns, a painter’s pallete of different hues of fungus, and the moist rotting ground vibrates like a drum under your feet because of the vast networks of roots just underground.
The canopy provides shelter from the sun, but it is hot and humid on the ground as the winds cannot penetrate the trees. In little clearings you are treated to views of the sea of green around you, punctuated by bright red African flame trees, and complemented by bushes of white begonia flowers.
After lunch the trail gets significantly steeper, as we climb up natural stair steps made by tree roots. It gets a good burn running through your thighs, which scream a bit when you have to occasionally sprint for 10-15 meters over areas of the forest floor covered in huge colonies of safari ants.
The day ends in the middle of the afternoon with everyone in good spirits. Sine Camp is wonderful, positioned on a bluff between two major rivers, one providing a view of a waterfall off in the distance, and the other forming Enock’s falls. Epiphytes hang from tree branches around the falls, and the giant ferns and brilliant green moss give it the feeling of a Jurassic Eden. It is a great place for a quick dip to wash off the sweat of the day, but the water freezes your whole body numb in a few seconds. It is a wonderful first day in the mountains, but you are well aware that there is still a lot of trail still ahead.