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.
Formation of the Rwenzori Mountains
The Rwenzori Mountain ranges formed due to a shift in the Earth’s crust about 3 million years back. The shift resulted into an uplift of the rock comprising of quartzite, gneiss and granite. The shift in the tectonic plate is believed to have pushed the mountain block upwards and tilted it to make high peaks. Due to erosion and deposition of sediment for over years, it resulted into moulding of the range which today is referred to the Rwenzori Mountain ranges.
The Rwenzori Mountain range has a composition of 6 massifs each of them is separated by deep gorges. While on the Rwenzori Mountaineering experience, the 6 peaks/mountain massifs to trek through include Mount Baker/Kiyanja, the 3rd highest of the 6 Rwenzori Mountain massifs. Mt. Baker sits on altitude of 4843m and feature multiple subsidiary peaks like Edward peak. Mt. Baker’s ridge was first hiked by Rubert Grauer in 1906.
Mt. Stanley is 5109m high, making it the highest of all the 6 Rwenzori Massifs with Margherita its highest summit. The Margherita peak features 11 subsidiary peaks and boasts of incredibly spectacular glaciers which include the Stanley plateau. Mt Stanley is what marks the Uganda and D.R. Congo boundary.
Mount Speke, this is Rwenzori Mountain’s 2nd highest peak sitting on altitude of 4890m. It has 4 summits include Johnston at 4834m, Ensonga 4865m, Vittorio Emanuele at 4890 and at 4572m, there is Trident summit. Mt. Baker, Speke and Mt. Stanley make up a triangle that encloses the Bujuku Valley. It takes its name from John Speke, the renowned English explorer.
Mt. Emin, 4798m is Rwenzori Mountain’s 4th highest peak. It has 2 peaks that are linked by a narrow ridge including Umberto in the southern side and Kraepelin. Mt. Gessi lies at elevation of 4715m and accessible via the Mugusu Valley. The Gessi peak was initially covered by ice & glaciers but they melted. Its 2 twin peaks include Loloanda and Bottego. Luigi di Savoia Mountain takes its name from the Duke of Ambruzzi who climbed to most of the 6 Rwenzori Mountains peaks.
The Rwenzori Mountains makes up part of the Albertine rift that is the western rift valley arm of East Africa rift. It boasts of high peaks, beautiful gorges carved by glaciers making its topography unique. Mt. Rwenzori is the only Africa’s mountain range that represents glacial equatorial basement rock which formed due to earth’s uplift.
The Rwenzori Mountain ranges covers the Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains N. Park and Congo’s Virunga National Park which takes 20% of this range. The best hikes in the Rwenzori Mountain ranges include the Central Circuit, Forest, and Margherita.
Flora and fauna of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges
Mt. Rwenzori is endowed with diversity of fauna and flora. It boasts of its distinct vegetation variation ranging from African savanna at 1676-2286m, tropical forest to Alpine meadows, heath, bamboo and snow. These harbor a range of Rwenzori Mountains National Park’s diverse wildlife including 70 mammal species especially bush bucks, hyrax, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys, 3 horn chameleon, duikers, elephants etc.
Over 217 bird species range within the varied habitats of Rwenzori Mountains including the Rwenzori Turacos, blue headed sunbird, montane sooty boubou, Rwenzori batis, Archers’ robin chat, long eared owl, barred long tailed cuckoos, slender billed starling. Others important birds include tiny sunbird, greenbul, apalis, golden winged sun birds etc.