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Mark G. reports on Uganda/​part 1- a forgotten treasure and MM’s first expedition there

It is with hes­i­ta­tion that I write a blog about MM’s first expe­di­tion to Uganda’s Rwen­zori Moun­tains. Be it cli­mate change or luck, we expe­ri­enced the best imag­in­able weath­er in one of the wettest places on the plan­et, in a range that strad­dles the rugged east­ern slopes in Ugan­da and the west­ern slopes that plunge into the vast green­ness of the Con­go Basin and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Congo.

Day two of the trek. Mark Gun­log­son photo

Locat­ed near the equa­tor, it’s no sur­prise that on the first day of our eight-day trek that all of us were drip­ping in sweat as we climbed up the lush mon­tane for­est to our first hut. The dense veg­e­ta­tion that hid many of the nat­ur­al won­ders of the park, includ­ing the elu­sive chim­panzee, con­tributed to the sweat-induc­ing humid­i­ty that, cou­pled with a trail that had no switch­backs, smacked us down with a Rwen­zori wake-up call. Even the porters and the local guides we were work­ing with all suc­cumbed to the heat.

The sweaty trop­ics. Mark Gun­log­son photo

As it turns out, this was the first of numer­ous days that make this trek, which is cer­tain­ly among the world’s most incred­i­ble moun­tain jour­neys, also one of the most chal­leng­ing. We count­ed no more than five switch­backs the entire trek, bogs that would suck you up to your hips with one wrong step, trails” con­sist­ing of roots and mud-cov­ered rocks, and knee high mazes of grass tus­socks that stood above the muck and pro­vid­ed pas­sage through mud­dy sec­tions. My hes­i­ta­tion about talk­ing about the trek comes from a dai­ly con­ver­sa­tion we had, Imag­ine what this would be like if was rain­ing!” In the good con­di­tions we had, the trip was plen­ty chal­leng­ing, but throw in a cou­ple of hours of tor­ren­tial rain and it’s hard to fath­om the chal­lenge and haz­ards the ter­rain would provide.

Bill get­ting sucked into the Bigo Bog. Mark Gun­log­son photo

Jim after extri­ca­tion from the Bigo Bog. Jim Crosslin photo

But, here­in lies a true, reward­ing adven­ture. For me, it was also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to fol­low in the foot­steps of leg­endary explor­ers, those whose chal­lenges go well beyond any dis­com­fort we expe­ri­enced. In the late 1800s and into the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, the likes of Speke, Stan­ley, the Duke of Abruzzi, and Ship­ton all hacked trails through the dense low­land forests to reach the alpine zone where today the glac­i­ers are in rapid retreat. Many of the ear­ly explor­ers were, of course, after sort of a geo­graph­i­cal holy grail, the source of the Nile Riv­er, but they also seemed to take an almost mor­bid delight in the adven­ture and hard­ships trav­el­ling to untrod­den places, mak­ing a first ascent, and being far from any sort of civilization.

Not a switch­back to be found. Mark Gun­log­son photo

While our adven­ture was per­haps not so noble, it was in these days of for­mu­la­ic adven­ture trav­el pack­ages, some­thing that was cer­tain­ly off the beat­en path and with some­thing new and inter­est­ing to explore at every turn. Ugan­da, the Pearl of Africa, is like oth­er for­got­ten places Moun­tain Mad­ness seeks out, like our trip to Colom­bia. Both places are stig­ma­tized by guer­ril­la war­fare, cor­rup­tion and real or per­ceived dan­ger for tourists. But, with rel­a­tive calm these days, Uganda’s peo­ple wel­come would-be adven­tur­ers — and so we went.

Friend­ly ranger staff. Mark Gun­log­son photo

Our group con­sist­ed of eight MM climbers, three MM guides, Rubin and his cook­ing staff, five local guides as required by the Nation­al Park, and 45+ porters, 17 of which were women. Our trip start­ed in Entebbe, a town on the shores of Lake Vic­to­ria and a place with the dubi­ous dis­tinc­tion of once being the home of the bru­tal dic­ta­tor Idi Amin and the site of the hostages tak­en in 1976 and even­tu­al­ly res­cued by the Israeli Defense Forces. It’s also a sub­urb of the dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed Kam­pala, a vibrant East African city and Uganda’s largest, with over one mil­lion peo­ple of diverse eth­nic back­grounds and languages.

Women porters at the trail­head. Mark Gun­log­son photo

In the busy streets of Entebbe. Mark Gun­log­son photo

From Entebbe it was a 10-hour bus ride to the town of Kas­ese- cobalt and cop­per min­ing sparked the econ­o­my here in an oth­er­wise some­what des­o­late place where the plains abrupt­ly give rise to the dra­mat­ic uplift of the Rwen­zoris. On the way to Kas­ese we saw bustling lit­tle towns, sub­sis­tence farm­ers work­ing their fields in the clay red soil, and exten­sive tea plan­ta­tions cov­er­ing the rolling hills with the vibrant green shrub­bery. In Kas­ese, the jump­ing-off point for expe­di­tions into the Rwen­zori Moun­tains, we hun­kered down for the night in the Margheri­ta Hotel, the nicest place in town where tourist infra­struc­ture has been in slow dete­ri­o­ra­tion with the unfor­tu­nate decline in tourism over the last decade. But, all was good for our expe­di­tion and every­thing in place for an adven­ture in one of the most incred­i­ble moun­tain regions in the world.

Park ranger with a friednly chameleon. Mark Gun­log­son photo