By Jesse Coombs
The kayak team spent five days in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda. They are called the Mountains of the Moon and are a World Heritage Site. It is also was believed (and possibly still argued by some) to be the source of the Nile. Regardless, this was an amazing place, and the team’s goal was to be the first to kayak in the Rwenzori Mountains on the Bujuku River.
We arrived in the afternoon, and after organizing our gear, guides and porters, we began the hike to Nyabitaba Hut at approximately 8,500 feet. In successive days we hiked to John Matte Hut at 11,000 feet, Bujuku Hut at 13,000 feet elevation, and finally Elena Hut at just under 13,000 feet.
Two of the consistent characteristics of the Rwenzori Mountains are bogs and rain. The way to handle the bogs is with a good, inexpensive pair of Ugandan “gun” boots. They are basically the tall rain boot that farmers wear. The best way I found to handle the consistent afternoon deluge of rain is with my First Ascent BC-200. Despite unrelenting rain, packs, and hard, uphill climbing, I stayed amazingly dry and comfortable. The temperatures were in the low 40s and the rain consistent, but our base layers were all dry underneath the BC-200. We were all amazed and quite happy to arrive in camp dry and warm.
The bogs and elevation of the tree line defies reason. You literally have to climb over 14,000 feet of elevation before you can say goodbye to the bogs and another 500 feet or more past that to get past tree line. The moisture and lack of freezing temperatures of this area support plant life at much higher altitude than found in most mountains.
One of the things that was most enjoyable about this aspect of the trip was the long hours of hiking and talking and getting to know more about the guides and porters. It turns out that the Rwenzori Mountain Services (RMS), the organization that runs the guiding service, is now owned by the community instead of its previous ownership, the government. The money collected by RMS for tourism and guiding goes back into the community to help build schools and infrastructure! Additionally all the porters and guides must be local and are members of the RMS. This way, the pay they earn is kept within the community and is available and used to support and grow the local economy. In sharp contrast to so many Africa resources that have been basically stripped for exportation, the Rwenzori Mountains bring in outside tourism dollars that stay in and grow the local community and work force. That is extremely admirable!
The porters of RMS are the heroes in my mind. They all wear almost nothing but cotton in this cold and wet environment and carry upwards of 45 pounds in white burlap sacks that hang from their heads by webbing! If that isn’t enough, they hike with these heavy loads faster than the clients through what can often be almost knee-deep bogs. They will arrive at camp absolutely drenched in sweat and rain and with a courteous smile. They then cheerfully hand off the items they have been carrying for the clients and huddle around a fire to dry off and share spirited conversation. It is impressive to watch how the porters handle very difficult conditions of rain, poor clothing, difficult hiking, heavy loads and cold temperatures with such capability and spirit. I will never forget the strength and endurance of these people.
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