The Rwenzori Mountains, initially known as the Ruwenzori, is a block mountain range set between the East African states of Uganda and the D.R. Congo. The Rwenzori Mountain range rises up to 5109m and it center point features the 3rd highest peak “Margherita.” The Rwenzori Mountain which is also popularly referred to as Mountains of the Moon, lies at the rift valley floor but what makes it unique is that isn’t a volcanic mountain.
The Rwenzori Mountain/Mountains of the Moon is also the very few block mountain on the planet with permanent snow and glaciers one reason most climbers prefer trekking to its summits compared to even the Kilimanjaro Mountain.
The Rwenzori Mountains covers an area of 4800kms, length of 120kms and width of up to 65kms. Its highest point “Margherita” sits on Mount Stanley at 5109m.
Reaching an elevation of 5,109m, Rwenzori Mountain is one of Africa’s tallest mountain range, exceeded in altitude only by the free-standing Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. The Rwenzori range has 6 major peaks, Mt Stanley (5,109m), Mt Speke (4,890m) Mt Baker (4,843m), Mt Emin (4,798m), Mt Gessi (4,715m) and Mt Luigi di Savoia (4,627m). The highest peak in the Mt Stanley complex is called Margherita peak (5,109) and it is this peak which makes the Rwenzori Mountains the 3rd highest range in Africa.
Unlike the two highest mountains in Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya), the Rwenzori Mountains are not volcanic but predominantly old quartzite and gneiss. Despite of its existence almost at the Equator, the mountain has distinctive glacial peaks visible miles away as one travels in the Western part of Uganda. Its slopes which are above 1,600m are the preserve of hikers, who rate the Rwenzoris to be the most challenging of all African mountains. There are five 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).The park has also got a wide variety of large mammals which inhabits the lower slopes. These include elephants, buffaloes, chimpanzees, blue monkeys, Rwenzori colobus monkeys, duikers, forest hogs, hyrax and leopards. Rwenzori National park is also one of the most important bird areas in Uganda. The park has recorded 195 species which include the Rwenzori Turaco, Francolins, Olive Pigeon, White Necked Raven and Mountain Buzzards, as well as other rare, threatened and endemic species.
Mount Stanley: This is the highest and main massif of Rwenzori mountains. It is known as the highest mountain in Uganda and the third highest on the African continent after Mount Kilimanjaro of Tanzania and Mount Kenya reaching an elevation of 5,109 meters (16,763 feet). It is composed of multiple peaks, including Margherita Peak, which is the highest point in both Uganda and the DRC and is named after Queen Margherita of Italy.
The climbing routes to Mount Stanley are challenging and require technical mountaineering skills. The mountain is known for its dramatic glacier-covered slopes, steep cliffs, and rocky terrain. The ascent to Margherita Peak often involves crossing glaciers, traversing narrow ridges, and dealing with changing weather conditions.
Mount Speke: Mount Speke is the second highest mountain in the Rwenzori ranges, standing at an elevation of 4,890 meters (16,043 feet). It is named after John Hanning Speke, the British explorer who first documented the source of the Nile River. The mountain is nearest to Mountain Stanley and all mountains that lie within the area are called the “Mountains of the moon”. Mount Speke has a number of summits with Vittorio Emanuele as the highest at 4,890m, followed by Ensonga at 4,865m Johnston at 4,834m and then Trident at 4,572 m. The vegetation at this mountain tends to be thick due to the large amount of rainfall it receives and a number of wildlife can be spotted there including monkeys, antelopes and different birdlife.
Mount Baker: Mount Baker is another notable massif within the Rwenzori Range, reaching an elevation of 4,844 meters (15,892 feet) thus standing as the sixth highest mountain on the African continent. It is named after Sir Samuel Baker, an explorer who played a significant role in the exploration of East Africa. The nearest massif is Mount Stanley thus the Mount Baker also lying within the area of the “Mountains of the moon”. Like all other massifs, Mount Baker has multiple jagged peaks along the ridge with Edward Peak as the highest.
Mount Emin: Named after Emin Pasha, a German doctor, Mount Emin is another massif of the Rwenzori mountains. Elevating at a height of 4,798 meters, the mountain stands as the third tallest peak in Democratic Republic of Congo and features two summits/peaks – Umberto the highest at (1574ft) and Kraepelin at 15720ft. It is known for its incredible ridges that are thin and rugged which makes the hike not only adventurous but also best for photography. The hiking experience on the mountain is more likely on Congo’s side than on that of Uganda.
Mount Luigi Di Savoia: Part of the Rwenzori massifs, Mount Luigi Di Savoia is the forth highest mountain in Uganda elevating at 4637ft. The mount is a long ridge with different summits/peaks like Sella peak which is the highest at 4627m, Stairs peak at 4545m, and then Weismann peak at 4627m.
Mount Gessi: Situated near Mount Emin, Mount Gessi is also another massif in Rwenzori ranges which was named after an Italian adventurer – Romulo Gessi. It is separated from Emin by a narrow valley in Rwenzori mountains national park and has twin peaks known as Lolanda at 15,470ft and Bottego at 15,470ft too. Gessi stands at a height of 4578 meters and Uganda’s fifth tallest mountain situated on a rocky north-south axis, with its highest peak facing south.
These massifs, along with other peaks and ridges in the Rwenzori Mountains, offer a range of climbing and trekking experiences for outdoor enthusiasts. The mountains are famous for their snow-capped peaks, glacial valleys, beautiful wildlife species like the 3 horned chameleons, monkeys, and amazing birdlife plus a unique alpine vegetation, including giant lobelias and groundsels. The Rwenzori Mountains are also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity.