Tuesday, 26 January 2016

8-11 Jan 16. Climbing Mt Stanley, Ruenzori Mountains, Uganda - Travel and Day 1.

This is the journal from my climb of Mt Stanley, Uganda which is the third highest at 5109 meters but by far the hardest. I was expecting a challenging hike over interesting terrain but severely underestimated the difficulty, and beauty of this hike over the 8 days.

8 Jan 2016 Goma, DR Congo to Entebbe, Uganda
I checked in at 0700 and the flight left on time at 0900 courtesy of the DR Congo UN Peacekeeping Force. It was 1 hour 40 minutes and a smooth flight. After picking up my bag I left the airport and the hotel driver was waiting with a sign. Check in was smooth and the staff welcomed me back. By coincidence Ruenzori Trecking Services use Sunset Hotel which is the same one as I always use when in Entebbe. Small enough for the staff to know you, clean and well equipped.
My priority was a haircut after going 3 months without one and the last one I had was terrible. I walked the 20 minutes to the Mall and straight in for a cut. Surprisingly the guy recognised me and remembered how I like my hair cut, despite it having been nearly 6 months since I was last there.

Then lunch at the cafĂ© where I was feeling luxurious to have a cappuccino where the milk was actually frothed correctly. I stared at the coffee watching the sugar oh so slowly sinking into the milk – luxury. There is nowhere in Goma that can make a decent coffee. I had a burger and fries and left very satisfied. Then some last minute shopping at the supermarket – yet another novelty after the little dark shops of Goma. I walked back to my room and relaxed for the rest of the night.

9 Jan 16. Entebbe to Kasese, Uganda
I left the hotel at 0600 taking some bananas for breakfast. The guard at the door to the terminal was going to delay my entry as he did not think check in had started but I talked my way through. After passing the over sensitive security which beeps everytime I go through I went to the check in counter of AeroAirlines where a very friendly lady checked me in and then escorted me through passport control as it was an internal flight. I just had long enough for another very good coffee and my bananas before passing though security to my gate where the same check in lady met me and told me I was the only one on the flight. She escorted me to the bus which drove the 50 meters to the plane. It was a small 11 seater Caravan. I handed my bag to the co-pilot and went to the front of the plane where I could see all of the control panel, out the front and out the side. I received a very quick briefing and we were on our way. It was beautiful flying over the lake and then over mist filled valleys. 

After 1 hour we landed on a gravel runway at Mbarara where we picked up 3 people and then a 15 minute flight to a clay runway at Kihihi where we picked up one more. The pilot then informed us he would fly low for the next 45 minutes as we would be over Queen Elizabeth Game Park. As we flew along it was like being on a safari. I saw buffalo, antelope, 2 different herds of elephants, hippos and baboons as well as some pretty crater lakes.
Coming in to land at Kihihi

Added bonus of game viewing flight over Queen Elizabeth Park

Lake at Queen Elizabeth Park

We landed on a clay strip and I was handed my bag and walked to the small terminal building where I had to sign in. The driver was waiting and he apologised in advance for the roads. It was a 45 minute drive and for the first 35 minutes the roads were great. We then arrived in a mining town and the river had recently flooded and taken out the sides of many of the buildings, and the road so the last 10 minutes was pretty rough.
I was met at the Trekkers Hostel by the manager Brian who told me what was happening. I checked in, changed into hiking clothes and was off on a Community Walk. 

Now when you think of Community Walk you think of a casual stroll looking around the community and getting a feel for the local way of life. I should have listened more closely when the guide said we would walk through the village then climb up a hill to see a waterfall. 
It started great at 1030 with a stroll through the village and then out the back and over the river on a local made bridge. Then we started climbing and did not stop for 2 hours climbing 800 vertical meters to the ridgeline. It was nice seeing the houses and plantations along the way but I was wishing I had brought my walking poles. The main crops were coffee, cassava and corn. 
Crossing the Nyamwamba River

Nyamwamba River looking towards where I will be walking in two days

The start of the 'little'hill to climb

Pretty wildlife
Crops drying on the roof
Note the Casava drying on the roof
Casava Crops
Coffee beans out out to dry. A shame I couldn't find anywhere to try the local beans.

Once we reached the ridgeline we walked along it for another 20 minutes before dropping down an overgrown track to reach a pretty waterfall. I was happy to have my lunch there and a bit of a rest. I was not looking forward to the downhill, especially as I didn't have my walking poles to help. 

Walking on the ridgeline

The falls which took so much effort to get to
The guide put me in front on the way down and we were a lot faster. He kept asking to stop and wait as he didn’t want us to get back to early. 

Looking down at the village which occupies the mining camp build in the 1960s

Nearly back down to the bottom again
Eventually we reached the hostel, 4 hours after starting. I sucked down some cold fizzy drinks and then was glad to have a shower and wash my clothes which were saturated with sweat. Just after my shower it started raining really hard and continued to rain for the next 3 hours, so much for this being the dry season.
At 1715 a lady came around to take my order for dinner and I asked to have dinner at 1800. At this time I went to the dining table and eventually at 1920 my spaghetti bolignaise arrived. I amy be on holiday but I am still in africa! The meal was big and tasted ok. I then had an early night.

10 Jan 15. Kasese, Uganda
Today was a rest day which was just as well as my legs were tired and sore from the previous day’s adventure. I saw the reception had some books so spend the day reading. At 1000 a big group arrived in a bus, sorted their gear and were off – doing a 4 day trek. Lunch was Chili Con Carne and was nice. In the afternoon other people started turning up and when I turned up for dinner I met the group I would be walking with. There was a dutch lady called Anne Marie and a family of 4 South Africans; Nichola and Matt both in their early 20s, Gerald their father and Errington their uncle. Conversation was easy, interrupted only by the briefing from our guides Enock and Ochura. Err decided to educate us on Ugandan Gin so we had a Gin and Tonic as we talked, finding out about each other and doing the unconscious pre trek assessments of each other’s fitness. We went to bed at 2100 in preparation for our big day tomorrow.

11 Jan 16. Day 1 Trekkers Hostel (1450) to Sine Camp (2,580), 8.4 km, 5 1/2 hours
I was up at 0700 and made the most of the last shower for a week. Breakfast was a buffet and I had a generous serving of sausages, egg and mashed banana on toast. After finishing packing I had to wait until 0900 for the Kampala office to open so I could pay the last of my bill by credit card.
It was funny seeing the base kits of everyone. The South Africans had beautiful expedition base kit bags that were very full and weighed over 15kg. Anne Marie had a couple of smaller bags and I just had a small back pack. Having done a long through hike where I had to carry everything on my back meant I had very light equipment and knew how to pack lightly. I also didn’t mind wearing the same things everyday while walking, as long as I had one set of dry clothes to change into at nights. My bag was mainly full of cold weather clothing in preparation for being at altitude. I also brought my mattress and pillow in addition to the compulsory sleeping bag as I was not sure how good the mattresses would me and know the importance of a comfortable bed for a good nights sleep. My blow up pillow is an essential part of my camping kit.
After some ‘before’ photos of our group, guides and some porters we were finally off at 0930. 
All smiles before we knew what we had got ourselves into.
We walked through the village and where the road ended started up a steep hill then along a ridge before dropping down through plantations. We then walked along an old road through exotic forests before reaching the edge of the Ruenzori National Park. 
Strolling through the village

Street gossip

Enock our guide

Steep track so soon, should have been a warning to us.

Park Boundary, still blissfully unaware of what lies ahead
Now it was on nicely maintained single track for a few minutes to the Park Ranger Station to pay our fees. I had gone for all inclusive trip so expected the guide to have paid but when the others went through I thought I had better check and the guide gave me the cash to pay myself. When I filled in the book it asked how many nights and I saw the South Africans had accidentally put 8 nights and paid too much. This caused a panic amongst the lady issuing receipts as she did not think they should get a refund and when I suggested that they should she could not figure out how to manage the receipts to give a refund. She got her supervisor who was also not sure. I tried to get her to finish processing my payment in the meantime but she was fixated on the really difficult concept of doing a refund. Then she decided she did not like the look of the money I was giving her and her supervisor rang his headquarters and stated that they would not accept any note older than 2006, 3 years different from the Ugandan standard of 2003. Then she insisted that my 2013 note was 2003 and it took a lot to convince her of the correct year. The ironical thing is this was the money provided by the trekking company as I had paid them in crisp new $100 bills. Eventually this drama was sorted when Anna Marie kindly swapped it for money she had. Then it was another 20 minutes while the drama of refunding the SA’s money unfolded. Luckily there were seats to wait on and heaps of beautiful butterflys to watch.

Over an hour after arriving we finally cleared the Ranger Station and were on our way. The track continued to be lovely well maintained single track very gently climbing through the rain forest beside a river. There were a few scrambles but largely it was easy. 

Lovely track heading into the rain forest

Interesting gum

Local made bridges

All flowers and sunshine

Ochura, one of our guides

Matt was the only one brave enough to pick up the giant worm

A few little scrambles but easy going

Beautiful coloured worm

Even little ladders to help us up.
Then 20 minutes later the rain came. It was so hot I would have ended up sweating in my jacket so I just put my umbrella up and clipped it to my pack leaving my hands free. I got some strange looks from the porters but I was nice and dry and stayed cool and rather than the 'head down its raining' like usual I was free to look around without worrying about the drips down my raincoat. We continued walking near the river, seeing a couple of huge worms, a little but pretty black and white worm, birds, butterflies, flowers and a squirrel. At 1300 we stopped in a shelter for lunch which was a sandwich, apple and fruit juice. I decided to put my wet weather pants on as my pants were wet and I was concerned the rain would run down into my boots. We continued along and 20 minutes later crossed the river on a neat local made bridge, with Ochura providing balance to help us across. 
Raincoats deployed for the first of many occasions

Ochura helping Nichola across the bridge

Porters making easy work of the ladders that we struggled with
 The track then started climbing steeply and we continued heading up for the next 45 minutes until we reached Sine Camp. We were slow going up and Anne Marie was struggling but no one minded and it was good for us to take it easy to start adjusting to the altitude. It seems like we have a nice group with people interested in the trees, flowers, birds and scenery so there was no rush.
Interesting slug though not keen on the colour

Another giant worm

Home for the night - Sine Camp
The hut was better than I was expecting though was a tight fit. I got the strategic position near the door which had room for my pack and I could get out of the way of the others. Right outside the door were two tables. We sorted ourselves out and then went on the recommended walk to Enock’s Waterfalls. We all misheard and thought they said 45 minutes so were surprised when a couple of minutes after starting we arrived. The waterfall was pretty, dropping into a pool and then disappearing down another steep waterfall out of sight. The guys were going to swim but after feeling how cold it was – straight from a glacier- only Gerald was brave enough for full emersion. We spent a while taking photos and absorbing the sights before taking the steep track back to the hut. 
Enock's Falls

Anna Marie heading back up from the falls
Back at the hut we sorted out our stuff and then had hot drink and biscuits. As we sat there the mist came down and it was very atmospheric. We had dinner of soup and then a pasta dish with a tiny amount of meat and talked until 2000 when we went to bed, on hikers hours already.

Sine Hut in the mist