By Jenny Farmer, August 2014
Travelling to Kidepo Valley National Park- a ten hour car journey, or broken into two days with a break at Karuma Falls. Mt Morongole sits on the border of the National Park, and hiking here has to be arranged through the Uganda Wildlife Authority officers in the park at least one day in advance. From the campsite in the park it takes about an hour to drive to the start of the walk.
Leaving the car in the village, we set off on foot with rangers and UDPF guards, unsure of what the hike would entail and how long it would actually take (we had been told 4 hours to 2 days!). The first part of the walk was easy going up a gently sloping valley bottom, past cultivated fields and herds of sheep and goats. At the top of the valley we headed upwards, using a path which worked its way not too steeply up the rise in front of us. Reaching the top of the ridge it levelled off with a good view of another plain to be crossed, which then lead to the real base of the mountain. It had taken us an hour to reach this point.
We dropped down the back of the ridge, at the bottom of which was a swampy patch that got all our feet wet as we tried and failed to hop between clumps of raised vegetation. We then passed through the plain on another path, but now through more natural vegetation- grasses with scattered scrubby trees. This crossing to the base of the main ascent took about another hour. Unfortunately whilst we saw plenty of bird life there was no wildlife to be seen- apparently due to the presence of villagers on the mountain.
From here the route became steeper. Once we had climbed for about 45 minutes, we reached a plateau, which then dropped slightly before the final rise to the main peak. It was at this plateau that Zachary our guide requested that we wait, while the Ik community were informed in advance of our imminent arrival.
As we approached the Ik village we found areas of cultivation, amongst which were scattered dwellings marked out with boma-style pole fences around them. We were lead to one boma in particular, where there were a number of small mud-walled huts and grain stores- all with simple thatch.
After a while a gathering of adults from the village appeared, plus a substantial mob of children too. We had been told by UWA that they had an interesting traditional dance that they did and would show us. Soon enough the villagers stared to sing and clap, as they began to work themselves into a bit of a frenzy. It turned out that the dance involved a man jumping with a woman under each arm, intermittently being kicked in the shins and toppled to the floor by the women in turn. Much cheering from the villagers and visitors alike every time a man took a tumble!
Leaving the village, lunch was had at the bottom of the final ascent to Mt. Mornogole, looking across to Mt Zulia- another peak in this far flung corner of the country. We enquired with our guide if we could reach the peak of Mornogole, but were told that it is best done in the dry season due to dense vegetation in the rainy seasons. Considering we were a mixed group and not prepared for a night out on the mountain we decided to head back down the way we had come, having got a good taste of the mountain. Morongole’s peak would have to wait for another visit.
In total the hike took about 3.5 hours to reach the Ik village, and about 3 to come back down. We were a well-paced group, so others could expect to take up to 5 hours to reach the village. Whilst the visit to the Ik village is interesting it does invite questions on conservation management and the preservation of cultural identity in Uganda- a case not dissimilar to the Batwa tribe in the south west. The views and fact that very few people visit this area make the hike worthwhile, and it is a walk that most would manage.
A more detailed version of this report was published in The Eye Magazine in 2014- www.theeye.co.ug