Ruwenzori/ Rwenzori trek - DR Congo side, trip report
Replies: 7 - Last Post: Nov 15, 2012 3:44 AM Last Post By: blync
Aug 3, 2012 3:40 AM
Ruwenzori/ Rwenzori trek - DR Congo side, trip reportI just came back from a fantastic hike up the Ruwenzoris on the Democratic Republic of the Congo side. As there is so little information available on the net, I thought I might share it with everyone here. I really encourage anyone with a sense of adventure to hike the Congo side - it's completely doable.
First and foremost, security is the biggest concern for anyone thinking of going to the DR Congo, especially in light of the new rebel activity in North Kivu. At the moment, the Ruwenzori section of the Virunga National Park is safe and calm. This part of the park remains open. It is true that there is active rebel activity in the southern sections of the park, but this is some distance away. Because of this, the Virunga NP has closed the volcanoes (Mt Nyiragongo), the Tongo chimpanzees and the gorillas to tourists.
The sense I got regarding Ruwenzori is that the area has generally not been hugely affected by the FDLR, CNDP rebel activity in the region. The ICCN (state agency managing the parks) is pretty good at keeping up to date with the security situation and closing the parks to tourists if there is a problem. If you are planning to go to Ruwenzori, check up on the news on radiookapi.net, www.visitvirunga.org, www.gorilla.cd, and also email email@example.com for the latest. It is calm and safe now, but it is the Congo and things do change rapidly, so don't forget to get the latest before you head out.
It is not hugely complicated to get to the Base Camp for Ruwenzoris. I came from Uganda, but you can also come in from Beni.
- Fort Portal to Kasese, about 1 hour on a taxi/matatu, UGX6000. The road is good.
- Kasese to Mpondwe (border town in Uganda), about 1 hour in a shared taxi. I paid UGX10,000. You could probably bargain it down, but I didn't try very hard. The road is good.
- Once you get to Mpondwe, the distance in the no-man's land between Mpondwe (Uganda border post) and Kasindi (Congo border post) is quite far, so you will need another car to take you. The shared taxi you came in with may offer to take you. I definitely overpaid on this one, UGX10,000, but I also just wanted to get through fast so I didn't try very hard. The road is good. Give yourself about an hour to cross the border. The Ugandan side is fast, but the Congo side takes a while as they inspect every one of your stamps.
- Kasindi to Mutsora: From Kasindi, you can find a motorcycle taxi that will take you to Mutsora for $10-15 depending on how hard you bargain, how mzungu you seem, whether they feel they can find another passenger coming back, etc... I paid $12 going to Mutsora, and $15 coming back to Kasindi. From Kasindi, you get on the main road between Beni and Kasindi. It is not a horrible road by Congolese standards (meaning you get bumped off your seat every 15 minutes as opposed to every 5 minutes), especially considering the number of trucks that ply this route every day. The motorcycle driver will likely cut you through the village of Bulongo, after about an hour on the main road. The road gets a little worse, but not terrible from Bulongo to Mutwanga (this is the village at the foot of the hill before you hit Mutsora). The road that cuts through Mutwanga is pretty bad, and the road that takes you from Mutwanga to Mutsora is pretty miserable (huge rocks and deep troughs). I went when it was dry, I can only imagine it being worse when it is during the rainy season. The good news is that it is not a long distance from Mutwanga to Mutsora. The whole trip is about 1.5 hours to 2 hours.
- You should probably get the phone number of your motorcycle driver just in case, so that you may ask him to come back to pick you up when you are done with the hike. However, ICCN staff may also help you arrange your return.
- I was told that it is also about 1.5-2 hours going to Mutsora, similarly on a motorcycle.
- Flights to Beni can be organized from Goma and Bunia with CAA (google CAA Congo) and CETRACA. CAA is the better of the worst. TMK who used to do daily flights unfortunately no longer flies.
- The Ugandan side is simple and straight forward. Don't forget, however, to register at the police station before heading to the immigration office. People will probably flag you if you miss it.
- Like I said, even if you have all your visas in order, the Congo side will take a while, and the immigration staff may ask for "quelque chose pour nous" (something for us). It is just a very Congolese immigration official habit, and a polite no or diverting the subject with a laugh and a smile will probably be sufficient, provided that all your papers are in order. You cannot get a visa at the border, as far as I know, at least officially, so arrange it in advance. I saw that on www.visitvirunga.org they now help tourists obtain 7 day tourist visas.
4) When to go
- I went in late July and there was a bit of rain. There is a short dry spell in July, so early July would be a good time. The guide also told me that January is the best time - it is dry and the wind is strong, meaning that the clouds will be blown away and you can have a clear view (also likely that it will be colder).
5) What to bring
- Warm clothes. It gets very very cold up on the third hut, Kiondo. Probably below zero...although I can't tell. After 3 years living in the Congo, my tolerance for cold temperatures is practically nil, so maybe you will do better with the cold. :-) My night at Kiondo hut, I literally put on every possible thing (scarves, longjohns, beanie, underarmor, gloves, coat, sweater, double socks) and still felt cold.. The good news is that it is just one night.
- You will need to bring food to cook on the way. I recommend getting all your non-perishables in Uganda (e.g. Fort Portal - Mpondwe is a dusty hectic border town where things are not as organized as Fort Portal) as it's cheaper and easier to find. You can also find it in Kasindi, but it is just easier in Uganda. Non-perishable meaning your can food, pasta, etc In Kasindi, you can get all your veggies (tomatoes, onions, etc.) and fruits. You could also get them at Mutwanga, apparently. I didn't try. Don't forget your toilet paper!
- Bring matches. Porters and guide will have them, but just in case. The porters will light you a fire so you can cook in the night.
- Bring a simple metal pot - or you can get it in Kasindi for a two dollars easily. Not all huts are completely equipped with cooking equipment, so it will come in handy. Also have your own cup, bowl and utensils. Again, some huts have them, some don't, so just be prepared. You can get all these things easily in Kasindi. In Kasindi, they use a confusing mix of UGX and Congolese Francs...make sure you know what currency they are quoting you. ("shele" is Shillings for them in Kasindi. The going rate was about 2:1 Shillings to Francs).
- Bring a raincoat, and wrap all your clothes in plastic bags. It may rain, and you do not want all your extra clothes to be soaking wet when it is cold.
- If you ask in advance (by e-mail, for example), the ICCN could get you a chicken from Mutwanga for your trip for about $10. The porters are usually willing to kill it, clean it and cut it up for you on the way. I did this, cooked the chicken my first night, and it lasted me for three meals.
- Bottled water. Bring sufficient bottled water for your trip. You can get water from the clear streams along the way, but if you don't trust it, then just bring everything you need. You can get them at Kasindi - there is a bottled water outlet shop there, but I would recommend getting at least some in Uganda first just in case.
6) The organization
- Make your booking online through firstname.lastname@example.org or www.visitvirunga.org. The process is very easy and streamlined, now that the Virunga NP has received foreign funding to help develop its tourism.
- You MUST make all your payments before you arrive at Mutsora. They do not take cash for park permits at Mutsora. It is $200 for a park permit, and a lumpsum $100 for staying at all the huts (no matter how many nights you stay). You can pay online at www.visitvirunga.org which will take you to a paypal site, or you can pay by bank transfer when ICCN issues you an invoice by e-mail. The www.visitvirunga.org website currently is not completely set up for Ruwenzori yet (last I spoke with the staff managing it, they said they are still fundraising to update the site to include Ruwenzori). ICCN will ask you to just select the other fields and make the payment - as long as you pay the $300 total online, it doesn't matter what you selected. The easiest would be to choose "Volcano permit - foreigner" for 1 person, which gives $200, and then choose "Volcano permit - local" for 4 people ($25), which gives $100, hence a total of $300. I know this sounds incredibly dodgy, but I assure you it works and will get you your confirmation for the Ruwenzoris with ICCN. As mentioned, you may also do this by bank transfer, and you will have all the banking details once you confirm and ICCN sends you an official invoice. Hopefully this will all change in the near future.
- As mentioned, all official park permit payments must be paid in advance. However, porter fees and tips are paid in cash at Mutsora. Make sure you have enough dollars for that. The official rate for porters is $10 per porter per day - this is broken down into $7 for salary and $3 for food ration. You will be asked to pay for the food ration part before your hike (probably the day before if you arrived in the afternoon and start the hike the next morning). This allows the porters to organize and buy their food rations the day before without having to waste time the day of the hike. You also need to pay for the guide's food ration, but not the $7 salary. Each person must have at least 2 porters. I ended up with 3 - I could have probably done with 2, but I thought it lightened the load off each porter a bit. You can leave what you don't need at Mutsora with the ICCN office and they will keep it for you. Remember that the porters also need to carry their food rations and their sleeping bags on top of what you will be bringing, so that accounts for an additional porter already (if you only need one). There is a porter association in Mutwanga who organizes porters, and ICCN works with them. In any case, you won't need to worry about it. The whole affair is pretty organized and transparent - you get a proof of payment for the food ration (before the hike) and the salary (after the hike) signed by ICCN and the porters.
- Just in case the above wasn't clear - if you are doing a 5 day hike with 2 porters and 1 guide:
$3 per porter per day x 2 porters x 5 days = $30
$3 per day for guide x 1 guide x 5 days = $15
(ii) After hike - salary
$7 per porter per day x 2 porters x 5 days = $70
- At the end, you may also give the guide some tips at your discretion.
- At the Base Camp Mutsora, there are tented camps for you to stay before and after the hike. The Camp is very well equipped and organized - there is electricity (on a generator), and you may use the office's computers for internet. There are even hot showers (when electricity is working)! There is a cook there (Kakule) who will make you dinner and breakfast if you give him some money to buy food.
7) The hike
You leave Mutsora through Mutwanga to the first station Kyandolire that marks the park limits. From here, you hike to the first hut Kalonge where you will spend the night. It is about 5.5-6 hours hike. It is not a difficult hike compared to the other days - it is gently uphill and downhill with lots of variations along the way, but you will likely feel tired as you are just getting used to a long hike. You also pass through a few rivers where you may collect water (the water is fairly clean).
You spend your night at Kalonge hut. The hut has been rehabilitated and is in good condition - there are bunk beds, tables, chairs and a fireplace. The porters will get you water for cooking and light you a fire.
Start your day early - around 8am, because this is often considered the hardest day of the hike. Hard is probably not the right work - technically, it is not a difficult hike, but it is incredibly strenuous as you are constantly going up hill. You rise over 1500m in a single day. The hike is about 5-5.5 hours. You will spend your night at Mahangu hut, which is pretty much the same as Kalonge. There is a water tank that collects rainwater for your use at Mahangu hut. You will also pass through the last stream on the hike soon after you leave Kalonge.
Again, start your day early. The hike is not as strenous as the day before, but it is also quite tiring - here you are constantly crossing over moss-covered tree trunks and roots and going uphill at the same time. The hike is about 4 hours and you end up at Kiondo hut. Kiondo hut has a gorgeous view of the valley, the mountains and the glacier. Your guide will probably let you take an hour tea break before suggesting to go up to Wasuwameso (4462m) if the weather permits. Wasuwameso is the highest point that a non-mountaineering mortal can reach, and it has an incredible view of everything - the valley, Lake Noir, Lake Vert, Stanley Plateau, Peak Marguerita, Peak Albert, Peak Alexandra and the glacier - all this, of course, depends on weather and visibility. The hike from Kiondo to Wasuwameso is not hard - only an hour, but it can be a bit slippery with moss covered rocks. You return to Kiondo for the night. There is also a water tank there that collects rainwater for you to do cooking.
This is the day where you can decide to descend or continue.
(i) To continue
You will make a roundtrip from Kiondo to Moraine hut, spending an extra night back at Kiondo. From Kiondo to Moraine, you must pass through a pretty hairy part that involves crossing a very deep abyss. There used to be a cable that helps hikers pass, unfortunately, this has been stolen and replaced only by a rope. I did not attempt this actually (I was happy with Kiondo and decided to leave on Day 4) - my reason is that at Moraine, you really do not gain any altitude nor perspective. At Wasuwameso, you pretty much already see everything you would want to see. At Moraine, you are closer to Peak Marguerita, but it only is useful if you are sumitting. Otherwise, the only additional thing you gain is the full view of Lake Gris. If the weather is bad and the rocks are slippery, I wouldn't recommend trying it (which is my case - it rained and snowed the day before).
(ii) To descend
This is going to be a pretty tough day - probably as hard as Day 2. You go from Kiondo all the way back to Kalonge, and it is a full-on 6 (at least) hour hike going down really steep hills and being very careful not to slip. You spend the night at Kalonge.
You leave from Kalonge to Mutsora. It's not a long hike, maybe 4-5 hours max, but by then you're probably so tired and dirty that you are just waiting for that hot shower at Mutsora (yes there are hot showers at Mutsora!)
Note that at the moment ICCN does not have any staff with sufficient experience to lead a summit trip. You must be equipped and experienced yourself to summit or you are putting yourself in some serious danger.
I have a few useful contacts, but I don't like posting people's numbers publicly, so feel free to PM me if you need the info. I'll just list the names here:
- ICCN Tourism officer in charge of reservations: Vianney - he will be your first point of contact and will be the one responding to emails sent to email@example.com
- ICCN Inspector Kimbesa at Kasindi, he will welcome you and help you with logistics to Mutsora (and with buying anything you need in Kasindi).
- Motorcycle taxi driver in Kasindi
- ICCN Tourism officer Alexis at Mutsora
Sorry this post is so long, I hope this post could be used as the base information where peole will continue to update as they visit Virunga. I genuinely hope more people will hike the Ruwenzoris on the Congo side, security permitting. I have been told that the hike is shorter and less strenuous than the Ugandan side. It is only with more tourists that the park may get more revenue for its conservation efforts. Virunga is one of the most important places on earth in terms of bio-diversity (it is also an incredibly beautiful place), and also one of the places most threatened by human activity (agriculture, poaching, armed conflict, displacement). Many rangers at the park are incredibly dedicated, and have persisted through the conflict - but they can only continue their work if there are more tourists!
Aug 3, 2012 4:32 AM
Aug 3, 2012 6:00 PM
Thank you for taking the time to post such incredible detailed info for us! I think you've convinced me to try this on my next trip to Uganda - sounds a lot more fun and rustic than the Kili climb! Glad you were able to come back from the DRC safely!
Aug 4, 2012 7:43 AM
3It's great to see this post, and to see someone else went to the Rwenzori's from the Congo side. It is also interesting to see how the logistics and paying for the trip has changed since I did it in 2008:
Too bad there are no guides to help climbers summit. I was able to summit with the help of a French speaking guide. I wonder what happened to him? He was quite strong and not nearly as old as the English speaking guide who used to be able to summit.
As jho319 says, though, you should be experienced enough to summit without the help of the guides. They are very inexperienced and probably get no practice in the mountains since so few travelers make it to the summit from the Congo side.
Aug 4, 2012 8:42 AM
4No photos yet unfortunately! I've taken a ton, but I'm still on the road with little time and connectivity to get them organized. It'll have to wait another month or so before I am back and I will post again.
Thanks for all the comments - hope this will be useful for someone.
The truth is that there are guides who have summitted before - the guide who went with me claims that he has summitted several times (I believe him). But the impression I got was that since they are trying to develop capacity for tourism, they are trying to be careful with what they say. They have guides who have had the experience, but not necessary the experience to take others up there. As I said, if you plan to summit, better know what you are doing!
Aug 6, 2012 7:02 PM
5When I summited in 2008, there was an English-speaking guide who said he had summited many times in the past. I believed him, too. But, when I was there, he was unable to summit because of a bad knee. He did make it to Moraine Hut, though.
The only other guide who could summit was French-speaking. He, and allegedly other guides, were all trained by Indians (from the UN???) on how to rope-up, trek on glaciers, etc. a year or so before I was there. But, I doubt they ever actually summited. My climb up was his first time summiting (which seemed rather obvious since he hardly had a clue where he was going once we left Moraine Hut), and if I were a betting man I would say he has only summited less than 5 times since because of the lack of tourism.
Aug 7, 2012 12:29 AM
6Security update FYI:
Travellers should be aware of the persistent insecurity created by the rebellion in North Kivu province and its potential impact on the security environment in neighbouring South Kivu. Rebels of the M23 movement are positioned in Rugari (North Kivu), 18 miles (30km) from the provincial capital Goma, where the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and the UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo (Monusco) have reinforced their presence. Separately, members of a Maï-Maï militia attacked the Kasindi post on the Ugandan border overnight on 2-3 August – as well as an FARDC camp, a police station and a tribunal – highlighting the wider deterioration in the security environment triggered by the M23's advance. The Ugandan authorities subsequently closed the border crossing and the FARDC deployed troops to Béni, located 50 miles (80km) to the west.
Nov 15, 2012 3:44 AM
7You are A SAINT! I almost cancelled my trip because of all the uncertainty swirling around the Congo right now. I'm currently in Rwanda working and couldn't take the risk of being stuck in Congo for an extended period, but hearing your account puts my mind at ease.
I just booked my permits through visitvirunga.org (AKA four local and one foreign volcano permit...) and am excited. I've been in contact with the people on the other end of the firstname.lastname@example.org email for months now trying to straighten this out and they have been extremely helpful and patient with all my questions (there have been many because, as you mentioned, there's very little online about this).
thanks again for the great report!
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