Matthias Mugisha Photography

The Rwenzori Mountains national Park (RMNP)

Located in the Rwenzori Mountains  National Park (RMNP) are the legendary snow-capped Mountains of the Moon, described by Ptolemy in AD300. With the highest peak reaching an elevation of 5,109m,  The Rwenzoris are Africa's tallest mountain range, exceeded in altitude only by the free-standing Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro.  Located on the border between Uganda and the DRC, the Rwenzori Mountains measure about 120 km long and 65 km across.

The mountins were  uplifted by the tectonic movements responsible for the formation of the western rift valley.  Almost all the range is composed of pre-Cambrian rocks more that 1800 million years old.  Ten million years ago, during Miocene times, Uganda and the western Congo formed a continuous peneplain with sediments filling whatever rift there was. At this stage all major rivers flowed westwards draining into the Congo basin. When the faults occurred, the floor of the rift sank and the sides rose, reversing the drainage of many valleys and ponding up L. Victoria. The block making up  the Rwenzorsi was tilted and thrust up. About 5,000 to 10,000 years ago volcanic explosion craters were formed.

Unique

   The mountains are very unique in Africa.They consist of many snow capped peaks separated by deep gorges ranging from about 1600 to 5109 metres above sea level. There are numerous peaks at the centre of which are six main mountains. These are Mt. Stanley (5109m), Mt. Speke (4890m), Mt. Baker (4843m), Mt. Emin (4798m), Mt. Gessi (4715m), Mt. Luigi di Savoia (4627m). On each of these mountains are several peaks.The peaks on Mt. Stanley include Margherita (51exandra (5091m) Albert (5087m), Elena (4968m), Great Tooth (4953m), Savoia (4977m), Elizabeth (4929m), Philip (4919m), Kitasamba (4862m) and Nyabubuya (4862m). The peaks on Mt. Speke include Vittorio Emanuele (4890m), Ensonga (4865m) and Johnston (4834m). The peaks on Mt. Baker include Edward (4843m), Semper (4795m), Grauer rock (4484m) Moore (4624m) and Wollaston (4627m). Mt. Emin and Mt Gessi have only two peaks each. These are Umberto (4798m) and Kraepelin (4791m) for Mt. Emin and Iolanda (4715m) and Bottego (4699m) for Mt. Gessi. Mt. Luigi di Savoia is the lowest of the six main mountains and has three main peaks, Sella (4626m), Weismann (4620m) and Stairs (4545m).Other groups of peaks outside the main six mountains include the Portal Peaks (4391m) Cagni and Kinyangoma, Rukenga and Rugendwara, Humphreys and Rwatamafuga.09m), Al

The soils

   The soils are mostly  granites, gneisses and quartzites of the Basement Complex, while across the centre of the range lies the Rwenzori Group, a band of schists and resistant volcanics, of which the latter form the steep peaks of Mt.Stanley and the Portals.

The climate of RMNP is tropical, affected by seasonal movements of the inter-tropical convergence zone and by altitude and topography (Howard P.C., 1991). There are two rainy seasons each year from March to May and from August to December.  Most of the plains at the foot of the range lie in a rain shadow and get as little as 750mm of rain a year. One of Rwenzori’s  most important ecological and economic functions is the impact the range has on the area’s hydrological cycle. The range’s permanent streams and rivers contribute to the Nile by way of river Semliki which flows into L. Albert. Agricultural lands surrounding the park are fed partly by the mountain run off and partly from direct rainfall regulated by the Rwenzori forest clad slopes. The fisheries of Lakes George and Edward, hydro power and irrigation schemes and domestic water supply to over 500,000 surrounding people all benefit from the mountain’s water catchment properties. The climate is tropical, affected by seasonal movements of the inter-tropical convergence zone and by altitude and topography (Howard P.C., 1991). There are two rainy seasons each year from March to May and from August to December.  Most of the plains at the foot of the range lie in a rain shadow and get as little as 750mm of rain a year. The diurnal temperature range is small, the mean maximum and minimum at Bujuku huts being at 70 C and 10 C though its much colder on higher altitudes.             One of Rwenzori’s  most important ecological and economic functions is the impact the range has on the area’s hydrological cycle. The range’s permanent streams and rivers contribute to the Nile by way of river Semliki which flows into L. Albert. Agricultural lands surrounding the park are fed partly by the mountain run off and partly from direct rainfall regulated by the Rwenzori forest clad slopes. The fisheries of Lakes George and Edward, hydropower and irrigation schemes and domestic water supply to over 500,000 surrounding people all benefit from the mountain’s water catchment properties.

Natives

   

Home

Rwenzori is home to the Bakonjo and  Bamba tribes. The word Rwenzori in Rukonjo means rain maker.   In the early 1900s, these two tribes were added to the Toro Kingdom by the colonial powers. The Bakonjo and Bamba agitated for separation from Toro beginning in the 1950s, a movement that became an armed secessionist movement, known as Rwenzururu, by the mid-1960s. The insurgency ended through a negotiated settlement in 1982, though the Rwenzururu Kingdom was acknowledged by the government in 2008.

The first modern European sighting of the Rwenzori was by the expedition of Henry Morton Stanley in 1889.  On June 7, the expedition's second-in-command and its military commander, William Grant Stairs, climbed to 10,677 feet.  The first ascent to the summit was made by the Duke of the Abruzzi in 1906.

 

Vegetation

The Mountains have five distinctive Vegetation zones. 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). The animal life in the mountains include forest elephants, three- horned chameleons, several primate species and about 441 bird species some of which are endemic. The range supports its own species and varieties of Giant groundsel and Giant lobelia and even has a six  metre high heather covered in moss that lives on one of its peaks. Most of the range is now a World Heritage Site and is covered jointly by The Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda and the Parc National des Virunga in Congo.

A subject of concern in recent years has been the impact of climate change on Rwenzori's glaciers. In 1906 the Rwenzori had 43 named glaciers distributed over 6 mountains with a total area of 7.5 km², about half the total glacier area in Africa. By 2005, less than half of these survived, on only 3 mountains, with an area of about 1.5 km². Recent scientific studies such as those by Dr Richard Taylor of University College London in whose expedition this writer was part of have attributed this to global climate change among the many factors.