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Rwenzori Mountains

For centuries there had been rumours of the existence of the snowy mountains that fed the Nile. About 1800 years ago, Ptolemy showed them on a map and called them the Lunae Montes, the Mountains of the Moon. But it was not earlier than 1891 that Dr. Franz Stuhlmann led a 5 day trip into the heart of the Rwenzori. He was the one who first described accurately the vegetation zones from the foothills to the snowline.

In 1906, Luigi Amedeo di Savoia, the Duke of Abruzzi, led one of the most well-equipped and thoughtfully planned expeditions ever into the Rwenzori.

The expedition returned, having named most of the major peaks, with volumes of scientific data, having prepared an excellent map and taken wonderful photographs of the mountains. Today the Rwenzori mountains are a great Tourist Destination, National Park and United Nations World Heritage Site.

There are 5 different vegetation zones found in the Rwenzori mountains. These are grassland (1000-2000m), montane forest (2000-3000m), bamboo/mimulopsis zone (2500-3500m), Heather/Rapanea zone (3000-4000m) and the afro-alpine moorland zone (4000-4500m). At higher altitudes, some plants reach an unusually large size, such as lobelia and groundsels. The vegetation in the Rwenzori mountains is unique to equatorial alpine Africa and the only other places where they might be also found are at Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya.

climbing Rwenzori mountains - Map

Brief history and overview

The Rwenzori Mountains were formerly called the Ruwenzori range and in the 1980 the spelling gradually changed to rwenzori to come close to its local name Rwenjura. The people living on the mountains call the ‘Rwenzori’, which means ‘rain maker’ or ‘rain mountains’ in the Bakonjo language. The Baganda, who could see the mountain range from far, used to call them ‘Gambaragara’, which means ‘My Eyes Pain’, a reference to the shining snow. The Bakonjo had their own names for the peaks in the Rwenzori range, however, as they had never climbed them, it was difficult to clarify which peak was which. For example, they had names for the three main peaks: Kiyanja, Duwoni and Ingomwimbi. The fact is that for the Bakonjo the high Rwenzori is the home of Kitasamba, god who resides at the high altitudes and cannot be accessed. This wonderful physically elevation range is located in western Uganda and it is a mountain range of eastern equatorial Africa situated at the border between Uganda and the democratic republic of Congo.  The Rwenzori Mountains have a snow capped range that is cited to be the source of the Nile as indicated by alexandrine geographer around AD 150. The first Europeans to see the Rwenzori Mountains were Thomas Parke and Arthur Jesphson who were part of the Stanley’s cross continental expedition of 1888-89 and these had come to the east Africa to rescue Emin Pasha. However the latter Europeans did not go into depth to explore the mountains of the moon but later on in 1906 Luigi da Savio and his colleagues made all expedition and conquered all the major peaks.

The rwenzori is one the highest mountain ranges in Africa due to its highly elevated peaks of Margherita (5109m) and Alexandra (5083m) on the section of Mount Stanley and it is only beaten in altitude by  Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya which are also found in the rift valley region. In addition to the above rwenzori was formed in the same as Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya as it elevates directly from the right valley floor and also linked to the geological evolution that created the rift. Although its creation is similar to these volcanic mountains, rwenzori is not a volcanic in origin it is a block mountain with a number of glacier peaks.

Formation of rwenzori: The Mountains formed about three million years ago in the late Pliocene epoch and are the result of an uplifted block of crystalline rocks including gneiss, amphibolites, granite and quartzite. This uplift divided the Paleo lake Obweruka and created three of the present-day African Great Lakes: Lake Albert, Lake Edward, and Lake George. The range is about 120 kilometers long and 65 kilometers (40 mi) wide. It consists of six massifs separated by deep gorges: Mount Stanley (5,109 meters), Mount Speke (4,890 meters), Mount Baker (4,843 meters), Mount Emin (4,798 meters), Mount Gessi (4,715 meters) and Mount Luigi da Savio (4,627 meters). Mount Stanley has several subsidiary summits, with Margherita Peak being the highest point.

It should be noted that some of the rwenzori ranges are part of   the rwenzori mountain national park area of 996km in essence the upper slopes of the rwenzori is protected which run for almost 120km along the Colongese border west of Kasese and Fort Portal.

Rwenzori and the true source of the Nile

These mountain ranges are the source of the Nile River this fact has raised very many discussions and argument amongst geologists.  The ancient Greek historian Herodotus was the first geographer to come up with various theories about the origin of the longest river in the world the mighty Nile in 5th century BC. Herodotus echoed that, the Ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile had its source in two great mountains within which were its everlasting springs. One tributary was said to flow north, dividing Egypt, and another south into Sudan and Ethiopia. The priests of Sais, from whom Herodotus extracted this theory, believed the mountains to lie in the Aswan region but this theory was false as Nile was well explored in modern day Sudan and the source and mountains were nowhere to be seen.

There were other theories that were compiled by Herodotus of which theory of rwenzori and the source of the Nile lies by that he indicated that the origin of the Nile must have been from a snow fall.

Herodotus validated his theory on the fact that when one gets south of the equator the temperatures become high. So this makes the snow capped mountain melt down to form a flowing river and that could be the Nile. However, at first Herodotus’ theory was declined as it was hard to believe a region with a hot climate snow could not exist. Though, this theory turned out to be the truth. In the later centuries the Herodotus theory was proved to be right by the works of the Ptolemy and later approved by Henry Morton Stanley and John Speke in the 19th century. In Herodotus’ theory he said that the snow capped mountain was near the great lakes from which the Nile fed on to flow up to the north of Africa. Therefore this turns out that the rwenzori are permanently snow capped along Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya but it is only the rwenzori that lies in the great lake region with Lake Edward, George and Victoria around it.