Starting Altitude: 3,174 meters [10,413 ft.]
Ending Altitude: 1,450 [4,757 ft.]
Total Descent: 1,724 meters [5,656 ft.]
Total Distance: 11.6 kms [7.2 miles]
Hours Taken: 6 hours
Descent/Climb: 149 m/kms.
We awake before the sun again, as we know while the day will be the last in the mountains, it will also be one of the most difficult. Our bodies are battered from five days of trekking, and we are to descend 1,724 meters [5,656 ft.] on steep winding trails into the mid-day steaming heat of the jungles below.
As we open the cabin door we see Orion’s Bow and The Milky Way in a clear moonless sky and we can tell the day will be hot even though the air is still freezing. We have tea, while I tape my feet for the last day in the dark of the dining tent. I wince as I wrap my wounds, yet I know the real battle will be managing their infection as we enter back into the jungles.
As we cinch the straps on our bags, the sun breaks the horizon over the lowlands below and silhouettes the giant heather against the dawn skies. We set out for the first time in days without our rain gear on, and begin the descent through the dense forests of giant bamboo. The path is littered with their golden leaves, marking the way forward, and we keep a good pace moving downwards as we hear the jungles below awaken.
After a thousand meters of descent or so, I start to slow down, as the downhill sections have made my knees quite weak, and my toes are jamming into the front of my shoes and sending shooting pains over the arches of my feet. I know this means I am likely to lose both my big toe nails. Zebede slows with me to keep me company.
Usually stoic as we hike, he tells me that our camp the night before was where the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) forces had hidden their camp when they fought Museveni for several years until the year 2000 when they fled to DR Congo. Thousands of rebel soldiers lived up on the slopes we were descending, which were so dense and steep they were able to hold their position for several years.
They would slink down the mountains in the cover of night, and raid the crops from Zebede’s village, and carry potatoes, corn, bananas up on their backs. It highlighted both the tenacity of their dedication to their cause to live such harrowing lives, and also it put my aching body in perspective – at least no one was hunting me while I had a sack of potatoes on my back in these hills.
The jungle heat hits us as we descend past the giant bamboo, and views open up of the rolling hills. The porters and guides start finding chameleons all over the trees with horns like triceratops. The land feels ancient wilderness. When we make to the ranger’s station at the park entrance, we stop to sign out, and looking at the registration book, we realize that no one has entered the park in the last six days. We had had it all to ourselves, which is why we had seen so much wildlife.
In the end, it was all worth every bit of suffering we endured. Zebede and Bernard told us with the completion of our trek they would close the season. The rain was now too much and the trail too hard. We had not only pushed the limits of the rainy season, but ourselves, and felt generously rewarded for it. For the serious hiker that would like to see a unique, alpine beauty, I am not sure there is a better place than the Rwenzori mountains. Just make sure you are ready to pay the painful price of admission.
Author’s Note: We did this trek with Rwenzori Trekking Services, who I highly recommend. This is the sixth and final blog in a series of six. To view the whole series, you can go to Rwenzori Trekking.