Trek Uganda 2014 in aid of the Rainbow Trust
Bwindi "The lmpenetrable Forest" home of the Mountain Gorillas
First and foremost I would like to say thank you for your support. The Rainbow Trust couldn’t continue to do what they do without you.
The Virunga Mountains and 'The lmpenetrable Forest' of Bwindi are home to Uganda's mountain gorilla population which numbers around 320, approximately half the total number remaining in the world. Bwindi is located in the south western corner of Uganda where the terrain consists of volcanic mountains and deep valleys. It is close to the borders of Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo.
My Trek Uganda challenge offered a tough and varied trekking experience with the added bonus and 'must see' experience of a possible close encounter with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Found in the Bwindi lmpenetrable Forest the mountain gorillas are accompanied by a treasure-trove of species that have populated this 25,000 year old forest. The final destination was the Nkuringo Gorilla Camp which is perched on a hilltop that overlooks the forest canopy and affords visitors magnificent, unconstrained views.
Early call 3.30 am, this is the beginning of our Ugandan experience. I meet with the other participating members of the trip together with our guide Theo who I recognise from my Machu Picchu expedition and Julia the doctor who will be looking after us during this adventure. We take an early morning flight from London Heathrow to Kigali, Rwanda via Brussels. After a 9 hour flight we arrive early evening at Kigali airport Rwanda where we are met by our ground handler and taken to our hotel and briefed about the journey ahead.
We leave Kigali at 9am by bus which takes us into Uganda through Kisoro and after 6 hours we reach the starting point for our trek. Mgahinga National Park, the Mgahinga Rest Camp is where the setup tent will be our home for the next three nights. This is where we meet our local guides who brief us on the adventure that awaits.
Golden Monkey Tracking
The formalities have been completed and our group together with our armed escorts leave to start the trek, into the bamboo zone. We start on the lower slopes of the volcanoes to track Golden Monkeys, an endangered species that is only found in this remote part of Africa. This is the rainy season in the rain forest and of course it rained on us. We were drenched within minutes despite wearing ponchos and rain jackets. The trackers have pinpointed the Golden Monkeys and we can observe them as the rain has finally stopped. On the way back we discovered the huge worms that are crawling out of the soil. A few of those in my compost would do a world of good. During the walk I am pondering about my equipment and wonder if it will be dry in time for tomorrow.
Today we are trekking on Mount Sabinyo, known locally as 'Old Man's Teeth' because of its serrated rim. There is an extinct volcano and at 3,645 meters it is one of the region's highest peaks. On the way we observe a Gorilla family in the distance. The last push up Mt Sabinyo is a challenge! The entire hike is incredible, but the last summit is unreal. 30-45 minutes of ascending nailed ladders made by the locals takes you to the peak which is shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. The last push up Mt Sabinyo is a challenge! The views of the other volcanoes, Lake Mutunda and surrounding areas was a memorable part of this climb. On the way down we encounter more rain which makes the terrain very slippery. We find traces of elephant foot prints which keep our armed escorts on alert. Back to camp we learn that six members of our party have to abandon the trek due to altitude sickness. The outing lasted just over 81/2 hours.
Mgahinga Rest Camp - Lake Mutanda Approx 18 kms
After breakfast we break camp and begin our trek north towards Kisoro. Our trek today takes
us through an area of volcanic craters where some of the slopes are being cultivated by
the indigenous Bakiga farmers and home also to the Batwa pygmies. The scenery is breath taking; the multitude of bird species of all colours is amazing, not forgetting the Crested Crane (Uganda National Symbol) . Our trekking party attracts a lot of interest from the locals and in particular children . We arrive at Lake Mutanda Eco Camp late afternoon after an 8 hour trek just before the rain starts pouring down again. Fortunately the rain doesn’t bother me too much.
Lake Mutanda Eco Camp - Nshongi Camp Approx 9 hours
We continue today in a northerly direction and having made our way down to the shore of Lake Mutanda we board dug-out canoes to be piloted up the lake by local tribesmen. The 2.5 hour journey takes us to Rwanjenje on the northern shore. The lake shores are absolutely stunning and the birds
wildlife abundant. I even spotted an otter; probably busy hunting a Tilapia fish that are prevalent in the lake.
Trek to Nkuringo Gorilla Camp
Our trekking party will continue the journey north to Nkuringo Gorilla Gamp. This is a challenging 19km walk that skirts the edge of Bwindi lmpenetrable Forest with uphill paths, where there have been landslides due to the rain.The Nkuringo Gorilla Camp is located on a hilltop at 2161m on the Nteko Ridge which provides superb views across the Kashasha river valley to the forested hill known as 'Nkuringo' and the surrounding swathe of trees of the Bwindi Forest. The camp has panoramic views of the majestic volcanoes of the Virunga chain and across the escarpment into the Albertine Rift Valley within the DR Congo.
The group today is up to a full day trekking, accompanied by our local guides and armed escorts through the Bwindi lmpenetrable Forest which is one of the most diverse habitats on earth and home to 120 species of mammals, 200 varieties of tree and more than 50 reptiles. The terrain is hilly, very muddy and involves scrambling through dense vegetation. This is an arduous day of up to 8 hours ramble but there is no doubt that to trek through the jungle and mountain forest in search of magnificent mountain gorillas is one of the most amazing wildlife experiences in the world.
Hopefully today we will view the magnificent Mountain Gorillas in their natural environment. We have been separated into groups of 8 so the group is small enough not to trouble the Gorillas’ behaviour. We are lucky after 2 hours of arduous hiking our trackers have found a family of 11 Gorillas. There are less than 800 gorillas remaining in the wild with almost 50% of these living in Bwindi. The silverback male is enormous and must be close to 450lb. One of the females is holding a baby Gorilla which is no more than 6 months old. Another small gorilla is less than 3 years old and is sleeping close to his mother. When you reach the gorillas you are given one hour to observe them. And yes, the experience is as good as everyone says! We were within about 4 metres from them. The forest is quite dense and some of the gorillas, particularly the younger ones, can hardly be seen if they don't feel like coming out into the clearing. The rangers do their best to get a good view for everyone.
In the first half hour there was hardly any movement as all the family seemed to be resting and the rain was again pouring, not so good for taking pictures. However the big Silverback decided to move and once he did he looked massive and passed the group less than 2m away.
It was an amazing experience to see these beautiful creatures in their natural environment.
Following a relaxed breakfast in camp we begin our long journey home with the transfer to the airport in Kigali (Rwanda) for our return flights to London. The drive from the NKuringo camp to the airport took 8 hours and it was pretty awful ... terrible roads not helped by heavy rains from the previous days and road work. Despite the hazardous drive we get finally to our destination. However seeing the gorillas in the wild has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and worth all those little discomforts.
In memory of my cousin Max