Mountains of the Moon

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

I know I have briefly mentioned these mountains several times before in my posts, but consider this a well-deserved tribute to their history and mystery…

Around AD 150, a Greco-Roman  geographer known as Ptolemy christened a snow-capped faraway range in East Africa as “Lunae Montes,” the mountains of the moon. In 1889, the British explorer Henry Stanley (famous for his search for David Livingstone) had the first modern sighting of the range and dubbed it as “Ruwenzori,” meaning “rain maker” or “cloud king.” The range, shared by DRC and Uganda, was inhabited by the Konjo and Amba tribes who, in the 1950s, joined together creating the Rwenzuru secessionist movement from the nearby Toro Kingdom (and from my understanding, an oppressive force). The range’s  name was finally changed to Rwenzori in the 1980s, aligning more closely with the local language, which was soon followed by an end to the insurgency after a settlement was negotiated. The Rwenzuru Kindgom was eventually acknowledged by the national government in 2008.

Named as a World Heritage Site in 1994, the Rwenzori Mountains are now a mountaineering tourist destination with the highest point, Margerita, peaking at 5,109m/16,763ft above sea level – the 4th highest peak in Africa. Interestingly, the Rwenzori mountains claim 6 spots in the top 10 peaks of Africa. They still remain home to many Bakonzo villages sprinkled throughout the 120km-long and 65km-wide range who protect dearly the mountains as their own.

Often hidden by mist, the mountains contain snowy peaks, glaciers, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and unusual flora dispersed throughout its five distinguishable vegetation zones: grassland, montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heath, and Afro-alpine moorland (in order of lowest to highest). Over 217 species of birds, 15 of butterflies, and 70 of mammals claim this land as home, including blue monkeys, forest hogs, elephants, and leopards. But according to local lore, these diverse and sometimes endangered species aren’t the only spirits inhabiting the mountains… I’ve been informed on several occasions that God(s) live in the mountains and to avoid whistling as it may disturb them or drinking because it is disrespectful. This only skims the surface on the legend and lore of the Rwenzori Mountains.

“There comes a moment, when you get lost in the woods, when the woods begin to feel like home.” Jeffrey Eugenides

These days, the foothills to the pristine Rwenzori Mountains are what I call home. Often taking for granted the mystically serene backdrop they set on my daily stroll to work, I intend to spend more time in the mountains, embracing them for their beauty. Last weekend, a group of us set out on a morning hike for a few hours. The first half was a moderately challenging incline up past a river, by some homes, and through several areas that could barely be referred to as “paths.” With rain the night before, the descent down was spent mostly on hands and knees inching/slipping down backwards! But with the help of some locals along the way pointing us in the right direction, we successfully completed a loop in about 3 hours. Below is a photo recap of the day. Hopefully this will be one of many Rwenzori hikes in the new year.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran

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Panoramic of Rwenzori Mountains from hike with Nick in December.

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Panoramic of Rwenzori Mountains from hike with Nick in December.

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