It was on the 11th July 1945 in the Geography Room at Makerere College in Kampala that the Club was founded as the Uganda section of the East African Mountain Club by Rene Bere and the students and lecturers. The aim of the club was to go and explore the hills and rocks of Uganda and to document their biodiversity, they wanted to have field trips where they could enhance information about Uganda and to introduce the sport of Rock Climbing and Hill Walking and related skills collectively known as Alpinism.
In 1950 it became the Mountain Club of Uganda, but it came a preserve for the colonial expatriates who were who were serving in various capacities in the Uganda Protectorate. The Club organized regular trips to the mountains of Uganda namely Rwenzori Ranges, Mount Elgon, Virunga Volcanoes (Muhavura, Gahinga, Sabinyo), Mount Moroto, Mount Napak, and Mount Kadam to rock outcrops like Namilyango, Nakasongola, Amiel, Alikerer and Tororo.
Between 1949 and 1958 the club got grants from the protectorate government and it built a circuit of six huts on Rwenzori Mountains; namely Nyabitaba, Nyamuleju, Bigo, Bujuku, Irene Lake and Kitandara, as well as a hut on Mount Elgon and a hut on Mount Muhavura for its members and visitors to use while there. The club encouraged the indigenous Ugandans to engage and enjoy mountaineering activities and tutored the Bakonjo porters to offer formal porterage services as alternative source of income such that in 1958 Zedekia became the first mukonjo to walk on the glaciers and in 1960 Timothy Bazarabussa became the first Ugandan to climb Margherita point 5109m the highest point in Rwenzori and Uganda at large. The latter would eventually become President of the Mountain Club and later it’s Patron.
In 1962 when Uganda attained Independence the colonial expatriates began to leave the country and the club spread its wings to secondary schools. After having had a thorough exploration of the sites the club started documenting their findings such that the “Guide to Rock Climbs in Uganda” written by David Pasteur and Henry Osmaston was published in addition to its Newsletter that was first published in 1953 where the members could share their experiences and new discoveries. In 1932 the Rwenzori Ranges were gazetted as a Forest Reserve however there was no formal management authority put in place to care take the reserve, so between 1963 and 1972 the Mountain Club of Uganda having built huts in the central route became a de facto care taker of the trail and the access point.
In 1972 the club published the “Guide to Rwenzori” also written by David Pasteur and Henry Osmaston. This was the first publication to be produced about the Rwenzori that covered all the aspects of the Range and for a long time it stood as the encyclopedia of the ranges. A reprint was made in 2006. In September 1972 President Amin expelled the British Asians and this was followed by the Nationalizing of the British Companies in March 1973. The subsequent political turmoil and economic turmoil led to the exodus of the active members of the club at that time and the high cost of living after the collapse made it difficult for the few Ugandan members to sustain the activities of the club. Sadly the operations of the club vanished, the huts it had built on the mountains were vandalized, the ones on Mount Elgon and Mount Muhavura became extinct. In Rwenzori John Matte took charge and maintained the porterage services the huts were not extinct but they were seriously vandalized. These were the dark days of the club from 1976 to 1986.
In February 1987 John Matte and the guides and porters at Nyakalengijo formed themselves into a co-operative society and called it the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS). Their aim was to pool funds so that they could develop and rehabilitate the huts and trails in the central route of Rwenzori Ranges. In 1989 the RMS got a grant from USAID and they rehabilitated the old huts in the Rwenzori and two new huts were built together with a suspended bridge at the Mubuku – Bujuku river confluence.
In July 1987 Mr. Peter Penfold who was then Deputy British High Commissioner to Uganda called a meeting of interested people with the purpose of reviving the Mountain Club of Uganda. From their efforts the Club was formally revived in September 1987 when the Committee was elected, a Constitution was written and the members then pieced together the old archives and history. In 1988 the club became active and started organizing meets for Rock Climbing expeditions to Rwenzori Ranges, Mount Elgon and the Virungas, the membership grew and it peaked to 123 people in 1993, contacts were established with the Mountain Club of Uganda Overseas branch in the UK.
In 1993 the Rwenzori Ranges were gazetted into a National Park and the club contributed a lot to the Uganda National Parks which later became the Uganda Wildlife Authority in the policy formulation and management of the park. From 1987 – 2007 the club was active again and it held regular meetings every second Thursday of the month at the Athina Club House, and Sunday walks on the Sunday after that meeting. In 1996 together with the Department of Geography at Makerere University the club organized and held “The Rwenzori Scientific Conference” in April at the Sheraton Hotel this was after the Department had opened its branch at the University.
In 2002 the club played a big input when UWA drafted and later passed the ten year management plan for Rwenzori Mountains National Park and in 2006 when UWA and the Italian embassy organized the Centenary celebrations for the first ascent on Margherita by the Duke of Abruzzi the club took part in the activities of the celebrations most especially the Centennial expedition to Rwenzori which was code named “ In the footsteps of the Duke a 100 years later”.
By Deo Lubega
Deo Lubega served as Hon Secretary of the Club from 1987 – 1997 and Treasurer from 2002 – 2007