Today was possibly the most physically challenging day of my life. It was definitely the highest I’ve been outside of an airplane. Here’s how it went:
Act I: Get up and go
We arise at 5:30AM for a hearty breakfast and 6:30AM departure for Muhavura Volcano, the third highest peak in Uganda. It’s a 30 minute bumpy ride on a gravel road to the parking lot.
Our driver takes us on a moderately strenuous 20-minute hike to the trailhead. In the distance looms our destination.
Act II: Free Gorilla Tracking
At base camp, we register with the UWA, and are introduced to a park ranger named George, our guide for the day. George outfits us with bamboo walking sticks and we head out along an old farmer’s trail.
A few hundred meters in, we are joined by Francis, a solidly built man with an easy smile and a rifle who settles into a permanent spot as rear guard. George tells us how there are many buffalo in this area, as well as antelope and even gorillas! However, the closest we come to the animals is their poop on the trail. The farmer’s trail winds steadily up towards the volcano, and we are fully warmed up as we approach the next trail marker.
Act III: The Virgin Forest
On the second stage of the hike we follow an amazingly well-groomed trail through leafy terrain. There are lots of switchbacks and stairs that have been carved into the trail by the UWA, which quicken our ascent. Overall it’s a relaxing hike that reminds me a bit of Washington State. I am feeling pretty good when we stop for a snack at the first “rest hut.”
Act IV: Adjusting to Altitude
As we enter the ericaceous zone, the trail becomes more slippery and gravelly. As we clear the tree-line we are treated to fantastic views of the two nearby volcanoes – Gahinga and Sabinyo. George points out sections of Rwanda and the Congo, though the mist prevents any notable photography. The scenery is amazing, and the hike is exhilarating, but then…
About an hour into this section of the hike, I become a bit light headed. Breathing is harder and it takes all of my willpower to simply put one foot in front of the other. It feels like this part of the hike is never-ending. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, we arrive at the second rest hut.
Act V: The Final Push
I take awhile to recover at the second rest hut. Inhaling my tuna sandwich, biscuits, and a liter of water certainly helps my disposition (and my pounding headache). George is a champ at motivation, and assures me that we have about an hour more to go, though we will take as much time as necessary.
The rest helps, and I’m able to enjoy the alpine foliage. Since this volcano is capped by a crater lake, the upper-most part of the mountain is unusually lush. About 30 minutes into this section I’m hit again by a massive headache, but a quick rest (and three Advil) knocks it into submission.
One of many beautiful views of Gahinga and Sabinyo volcanoes from the sub-alpine belt, with the Congo in the distance
Act VI: Rwanda without a Visa
The summit! I did not think I would make it and I am ecstatic. George tells us that we are not allowed to rest until we visit Rwanda. Turns out that the Uganda-Rwanda border bisects the alpine lake here at the summit. We take a spin around Rwanda, enjoy the views, and bask in the sunshine. Hallelujah!
Total elevation gain: 1823m (~5981 ft). Total ascent time: 5 1/2 hours.
Basking in the mountain-top sun
In Rwanda without a visa!
We made it!
The difficulty level descending the mountain was commensurate with the ascent. By the time we arrived at base camp, I was immensely excited to see man-made structures on the horizon. We rested and added comments to the guest book, and then descended through farms to our car; a final kilometer that felt like three.
After today’s trials, I was a bit apprehensive about our Mount Meru climb in mid-September. However, we just re-read our itinerary, and there is never more than 1000m gain per day, the majority of which is one-way (outside of our summit day). It will be challenging, but after conquering Muhavura I am confident that we can handle it. Lauren and I are both exhausted, but also on a high from our achievement. And I expect we’ll sleep quite well, which is helpful as we leave for gorilla tracking at 6AM tomorrow!
More photos from our hike available here.