I was woken up by the sound of my phone receiving charge from the socket in the wall. I had left it there the night before. The RMS folks had told us that the generator would be switched off at 11:00 p.m. and be turned back on at 5:00 a.m. in the morning. Since I had set my alarm for 7:00 a.m., I snuggled further into my bed to ‘catch’ the last 2 hours of sleep that I had left. I got out of bed at around 7:15, took a shower (this time the water was lukewarm), dressed up and headed out for breakfast.
As I walked out of my room, Rwenzori stood before me, tall and imposing, looking down at little, puny me. I felt a chill run down my spine. With bravado I did not feel, I threw back my shoulders and marched towards the dining room, like a soldier on a mission. Breakfast consisted of fruit (mango and banana), Spanish omelette and toast. I washed this down with 2 cups of coffee. After breakfast, we took some pictures as we waited for our guides to show up. When they came, they introduced themselves and then started on the business of fitting us with crampons. Crampons are metallic spikes that are fitted onto climbing boots and that help with grip on snow and ice. We were to wear these on the day of our ascent to the peak. We had a good laugh watching the boys wobbling around as they attempted to walk with the crampons on, because it’s like walking in high heels.
After the crampons, we were fitted with harnesses which were for using on the day of ascent as well. The harnesses would enable us be tied together by rope while on the glacier to provide guidance and stability as we walked. After the crampons and harnesses were fitted, we made our way to the Rwenzori National Park gate – about a 20 minute walk from Mihunga lodge.
The park gate rose before us – a magnificent triangle with a big welcome sign. We stopped by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) gate, signed our names in, and then went past the gate and stood before a wooden board to receive our briefing. On the board was a map of the central circuit trail which we would be doing throughout our seven days on the mountain. The lead guide, a very friendly and humble gentleman called Philemon, pointed out the various stops on the way as well as the various vegetation belts we would encounter along our trail. The names were all too many for that first morning, so I took a picture of the board for future reference.
We then started our hike at 11:15 a.m. About 15 minutes into it, one of the guides (we had 3 in all), stopped to show us the 3 horned chameleon, one of the wonders of the Rwenzori. The guide told us we were lucky to see one so soon, as they are a rarity on the mountain. The 3 horned chameleon is a sight to behold. It’s colors are clear, crisp, beautiful and the pattern very intricate. You can tell that there was great attention paid to detail when that creature was made. We were told that our sisters in the animal kingdom are into color, so the male species had to be created exceptionally bright, otherwise no attraction and hence no procreating was ever going to take place.
We stopped briefly by Mubuku River, a loud, raging river, with huge stones. We stepped on the stones and took some pictures. We also lapped water from the river. It was clean and cool and very refreshing! We walked through the tropical forest zone and our guides showed us different trees and spoke about their uses. There is a tree, whose name eludes me now, whose bark is used to treat up to 42 diseases including heart disease and cancer. We were shown a tree that is able to ‘prevent’ divorce. We were shown a tree whose leaves are known to bring good luck. Not wanting to miss out, I plucked a leaf off for myself, and pasted it into my journal.
We crossed the Mahoma Bridge and then walked to the Omusinga’s resting place. The Omusinga, King of the Bakonzo, commissioned the resting place in 2011, when he hiked part of the Rwenzori. We stopped at his resting place to have our lunch of banana, bread with peanut butter and a small packet of mango splash. The walk up to the Omusinga’s resting place was nice and easy. It was much more pleasant than the start to Elgon or Muhabura had been, so I wondered why the fuss about Rwenzori being a difficult mountain. The sun was out, the breeze was light, the walk was calm, and the banter was plentiful. We were in high spirits!
After the Omusinga’s resting place, the ‘real’ hike started. We climbed Panga Ridge which is a very steep, very long hill. There is nothing in the terrain of Kampala City that even comes close to comparison, so I won’t even try. We started sweating as soon as we hit the ridge. It was that steep! The ridge led us to the first camp, Nyabitaba, which is 2,660 meters above sea level. We got to Nyabitaba at 3:09 p.m. very tired, very sweaty and out of breath! We showered as quickly as we could, given that the water was freezing cold! We were allocated rooms to sleep in – the girls in one room, the boys in another. The rooms have bunk beds and are very much like dormitory rooms in any boarding school. The main difference is that the mattresses are nailed into the bed-frames, to ensure that no one damages or walks away with a mattress.
The first camp was quite busy as we found other climbers who were descending the mountain. Two of them, German brothers aged 68 and 72, had both summited and we envied them as we wondered whether we too would reach the peak of Rwenzori.
That evening we danced again as we waited for our dinner. After dinner we tucked in quickly as it was fast becoming cold. Day 1 hadn’t gone too badly. As I closed my eyes, I wondered what Day 2 would be like.