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Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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May 12, 2015

Mark G. Reports On Uganda - Rwenzoris "Mountains of the Moon" Part 2

The first rung of the ladder was way out of reach, not even a double shoulder stand would get a person close to it. Climate change, believe it or not, was the culprit here, leaving a ladder suspended more than 30 feet above the rock that was once covered in ice. Less than a couple of decades ago mountaineers could take a short-cut and climb down the ladder onto the Margerhita Glacier and start their ascent to the highest point in Uganda, the 16,761-foot Margherita Peak. Instead, we found ourselves descending more than 500 feet over rocky slabs before we could find a passage up to the drastically receding glacier and a point we could resume our ascent.

Ice blob below summit. All photos by Mark Gunlogson

 

This was day six of our trip, one that started by headlamp in the wee hours of the night. The day before we arrived at the Elena Hut, a place situated well into the alpine zone, where life was left to some highly adapted plants, lichens, and a few small mammals. We left the exotic foliage of giant senecios and  lobelias below as we climbed higher into the alpine zone.

Sunrise on the climb day.

Looking back while hiking to last last night's hut after climbing Baker.

We were happy to be on the glaciers though, despite our amazement of their diminished size. Kilimanjaro is often seen as sort of the poster child of melting glaciers, but the Rwenzoris offer an undeniable portrayal of the state of affairs. If giants roamed the planet, these glaciers could be slid into their pockets. To see more of this check out this video.

The melting glacier at the terminus of the Margerhita Glacier.

As we reached these glaciers the day of our summit climb the sun rose over the eastern horizon in a range few visit these days. Jim, who fell in up to his hip in the infamous Bigo Bog, reminded me a few days earlier that climbers have short-term memory issues of the hardships of our ascents, but are always drawn back to the trials and tribulations of mountaineering. But, these are the moments that bring us back, regardless of the blisters, headaches, bogs, and aching, tired bodies.

Walking back to the hut after a long day climb.

It was an amazing day! Ted, Per, and Harry climbed three peaks and rolled into camp at the end of the day just behind the rest of the group. Most of us focused our energy on the ascent of Margherita Peak, which turned out to be a 12 hour day round-trip from the hut. Our climb was much like a classic Cascades climb; some rock scrambling to get onto the glacier, a few crevasses to dodge, and a rock scramble to the summit.

Hiking up to the Elena Hut.

On the top of Uganda!

But, the blob of glacier below the summit defied any sense of what normal glaciers do- this was a feature of equatorial ice and offered a memorable passage underneath huge daggers of icicles that threatened to put an end to what was becoming a perfect alpine day in one of the remotest mountain areas in Africa. An incredible day, but a long one for all of us.

Margerhita Peak.

The mere two thousand feet of elevation gain belied the complex terrain we covered during the climb and left us exhausted. But, we were happy that our main goal was reached - anything after Margherita   would be icing on the cake. Of course there are always those that want more, like kids at a birthday party slathering icing over their faces! And so off Harry, Jim, Ted, and I went with delight to reach the summit of Mount Baker, named after the 19th century explorer Sir Samuel Baker. 

Jim and Mark on the summit of Mount Baker.

This turned out to be another defining day of why we would travel so far to some obscure peak in Uganda. A long, easy rock scramble to the summit rewarded us worth incredible views of the range; it’s deep, convoluted valleys giving rise to peaks that just a few decades past were home to extensive glaciers. It was just a fine day in the mountains, moving over terrain challenging enough to make us think, but easy enough to allow us to move as quickly as the thin air would allow and without ropes. With Ted being the youngest of the group barely past 40 and Harry, Jim, and I all in our 50’s or 60’s, the day reminded me that you’re never too old to just get out and cruise in the mountains, whatever your speed is, as long as you’re getting out! It was a fine climb.

Descending Margerhita Peak.

Our walk down to the next hut after the climb was classic Rwenzori, again made easy by our dry conditions. Rock to rock, hummock to hummock, an occasional step in some mud, and not a single switchback as we descended thousands of feet. The last bit of the hike to the hut for the night was as good as it gets, with beams of light slicing through shadows of the early evening light, defining the intricate, deep valleys and high peaks of this amazing range. 

The morning after the climb near the Elena Hut.

That night lightning lit up the sky and a brief torrent of rain poured down on us after a final gathering of our entire group of porters, cooks, park rangers, and climbers.  We were all tired from the culmination of seven days of trekking and climbing, but what else could we have asked for- we had perfect weather on a trip we had no idea what to expect, everybody was amazing and great to be with, we all made new friends, and experienced as much a real adventure we can all expect in these days of modern travel.

The final hut and our last night out.

And then there was the gorillas - more on that later….

~ MM Owner Mark Gunlogson