Irresistible mount MOROTO

The air in the bus was quite stale as some of the passengers had been sleeping inside for hours, myself, Cyndee and Paulinas, a brother from the Tapac monastery in Moroto, were seated closely to each other at the back of the bus. Frederic Lepron, a former sports journalist & professional photographer in  Paris and Les herbiers in France was also coming along with us. He was luckier than us, as he had found himself a much more comfortable seat at the center of the bus.

We were in Soroti at about 1pm; the scorching heat could be felt from within. The driver halted to take in more passengers in a bus that was already bursting with passengers. More passengers poured in carrying plenty of luggage, chicken, food stuff and children. The bus was carrying more passengers than the legal limit opting some to sit on tiny stools and buckets along the bus corridor rendering  movements within the bus almost impossible.

By about 4pm we had safely arrived in Moroto town, the alluring mountain ranges could be sighted at a distance. After bargaining for several minutes with the boda-boda riders we finally heaped our bags on bikes as we sat and headed out for the 47km ride to the Monastery in Tapac where we would rest for the night.

The surrounding mountain ranges were prepossessing; I have always considered Moroto as one of the most unique districts we have in Uganda ranging from the semi-arid climate in some months of the year, the pastoralist background of the locals and their unique form of dressing, culture and lifestyle which they have maintained to date. The Karamojong can easily be compared to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania who are among the most admirable tribes in Africa.

“Am glad you kept your word and came back” Father Hans said to me as I arrived at the monastery. Father Hans is a German priest who has lived in Uganda for almost 20 years, serving in different  monasteries within the country.

After settling into our rooms we sat down for dinner at the monastery living room. Being International Women’s Day, Cyndee and I were treated like royalty by the gentlemen. They set the dinner table for us, served us food and even offered us a tasty bottle of whisky to celebrate womanhood. Cyndee and I felt quite honored, but were careful not to drink too much as we had a long hike the following day.

We were up by 7am Friday morning and by 7.30am we were gracefully walking past the fields and on to the trail that led to the ascent of the mountain. The distant views of the mountain peaks got clearer prompting us to take out our cameras and capture some memorable shots. We had agreed to hire some local porters from the community to help carry our bags so we could pay them in return; money they could use to buy food and cater to their personal needs.

There were plenty of massive cactus plants along the trails that highly fascinated all of us especially Cyndee. Our first stop was at a small Tepeth community of Karamojong that spend most of their time in the mountains and rarely descend to socialize with neighboring communities and villages that surround the parish. They barely go to the health center when they fall sick; they would rather visit the neighboring forest to hunt for medicinal roots and leaves to treat their illnesses. “She is asking you to give her soap or salt as a token’’ one of the guides translated to me as an elderly woman pulled out her hand towards me and spoke to me in the local language. Federic was kind enough to give away a bar of  soap with a lovely floral scent that got her excited and the rest envious of her. We gave out salt, biscuits and oranges to the rest of the women and children as we taught the men how to hold the camera and take pictures.

We got to the forest and pitched our tents leaving most of our luggage behind alongside two guides.  We recruited 2 more local Karamojong guides who diligently led us through the various trails within the mountain. I rated this particular hike as one of the easiest I have ever done because we set a comfortable pace for everyone and hiked as a group, unlike a few previous hikes I have done before where some hikers were a bit too fast and others too slow. We put emphasis on sticking together as a team, which is usually much easier when hiking in a small group. The sun was not as strong as it was in the previous months and this worked to our advantage. The skies darkened at some point threatening rain but luckily there was no downpour, whilst the distant views of Mount Kadam and other ranges were mesmerizing.

I noticed Federic was extremely excited, he was constantly recording videos of the views and speaking in French. I imagined he was eager to share the beauty of the mountain with his friends back in France, probably entice them to visit the country and do the hike themselves. Cyndee on the other hand pulled out her camera and was busy capturing photos of various bird, insect and plant species. Uganda boasts about 1,000 various bird species, making it an ideal bird watching destination for bird lovers like my dear friend Cyndee.

We successfully summitted the Imagit peak by 2pm, captured lovely photos with the Ugandan flag and later begun our descent towards our camp in the forest. The Karamojong guide and I were feeling exceptionally energetic and opted to compete by running down the mountain towards the forest every now and then, until we got to camp. I could tell he was impressed with the fact that I was running after such a tiresome day of ascending.

We were all settled in at the camp by 6pm. The guides were busy cooking beans at the fire they had set up, Federic was making some tea and noodles on a tiny stove he carried along, the rest of us were munching on various snacks to get our energy levels back as we sat around the fire to keep warm. We hung a speaker on the branch of a tree and started to play and dance to all sorts of music from France, Uganda and West Africa. The best moments of every hike to me are the excitement and celebrations that come after the descent; the feeling of accomplishment is always so good that it makes me want to dance and be merry. I barely slept as it was extremely cold in the night and the guides could not stop laughing and cracking jokes by the fire, this went on till dawn. It was a beautiful experience for me, very different from my usual comfort zone.

We were up by 7am, had some coffee and begun our 2-3 hour descent back to the monastery where we were welcomed back with a feast fit for a king by Father Hans and Father Jimmy. After lunch and a few beers, we took showers and jumped on motorbikes in preparation of the 47km journey to Moroto town to board the evening bus back to Kampala.

The following is essential for the hike:
1. Quality hiking boots
2. A Quality back pack
3. A hand watch
4. Sun-glasses
5. A long pair of thick socks
6. Long sleeved pants and shirts (to act as protection from thorn pricks from the bushes along the
hiking trails).
7. Sunscreen for skin protection (the heat in this region tends to be extreme especially between

8. A hat or cap to offer protection from the hot sun.
9. Plenty of drinking water at least 2 liters (one can also fetch water along some streams on the
way, however they need to be purified with purification tablets).
10. Oranges for vitamin c, chocolate bars and salty snacks are also handy to replace the nutrients
lost during the hike.
11. Altitude sickness tablets like Diamox and Acetazolamide come in handy for hikers who suffer
from Altitude sickness. Medication is best when taken a day before the hike or at the start of the
12. A sleeping bag, a tent, and all the necessary beddings required. (if hiker’s choose to spend a
night at the mountain)
13. A head torch comes in handy especially in the night.
14. A camera/phone camera to capture the breath taking views encountered during the hike.
15. A fully charged power bank to re-charge one’s phone comes in very handy.
16. Toilet paper/wet wipes/hand sanitizer/face towel/Tooth paste & brush- Hikers should not
expect to have a bath/shower at the mountain.
17. A small cooking stove, utensils and easy to prepare meals for dinner and breakfast- This is for
the hikers who prefer to spend a night at the mountain.
18. A trash bag that will be used to collect litter. It’s important for hikers to conserve the
environment and leave it clean.
19. Hikers can carry small quantities of salt, soap and biscuits to give to the communities residing at
the bases of the mountains. This is usually a kind gesture towards the locals that is always highly
appreciated. However, this is not compulsory!

Accommodation is readily available at the Tapac Monastery. MCU has a good relationship with father Hans, Father Jimmy and Brother Paulinas who are always willing to help hikers settle in comfortably. There are a 3-4 twin rooms that go for UGX 50,000 a night inclusive of 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
There is plenty of camping space that goes for around UGX 15,000 a night for a tent, plenty of clean water and hot showers within the monastery grounds.

One can travel to Moroto by bus from Kampala and ride with a boda-boda to the Tapac monastery from Moroto town, this is a very long journey and not quite comfortable. The best alternative would be to drive or hire a private van from Kampala to the Tapac monastery.

Isimba Dam Flooding the Nile

The Isimba Dam and its impact on the Mighty Nile

It is a common misconception that after completion of the Isimba Dam there will be no white water left on the Mighty White Nile.

While the Dam will sadly flood some of the rapids on this stretch of the river, there will still be plenty of white water, and Kayak the Nile, Nile SUP and the Nile River Festival will all adjust slightly and carry on.

We were recently sent the following video, detailing the issues that should have delayed the completion of the Dam for 4-6 months, which puts the flooding at the September to November mark. So not only will there be plenty of white water remaining, we have more time on the rapids that will be flooded!

You can view an interactive map here:

 What’s Staying?

The following rapids will definitely be left in place post dam:

Itanda Babooska Chop Suey
Kalagala Retrospect Fairy Tale
Hypoxia Jaws Overtime
Superhole Pyramid Dead Dutchman
Real Deal Giggity Giggity Babooga
The rapid below the Owen Falls Dam

There is uncertainty about the Vengeance and Novacaine rapids. Depending on which displacement map you look at they are either flooded or unaffected, hopefully we can update you more on this before completion because we are working on clarification with the construction company.

If you would like any more information on the Dam, please either visit the Isimba page on our website ( or get in touch and we’ll do our best to answer.

Gulu – inspiring kids, bush camping and rock climbing!

By Jenny Farmer, September 2012

Saturday morning, 5am, Orion clear in the sky. It’s time to get on the road to Gulu. The Mountain Club of Uganda (MCU) is off on another weekend away! Dawn comes as we whizz up the nice road to the Masindi turn-off, but for once going straight on instead of my usual left turn towards Murchison. The road immediately gets a few more potholes. Passing the mesmerising Karuma Falls, white water churning its way down through forested banks, we crawl slowly over the bridge to watch as much of the river as we can. The road to Gulu gets worse, with the last 60 km slowing us down as we try to keep our little car from becoming lost in the potholes, but eventually we arrive into Gulu, very excited to finally be visiting the town so talked and much heard about.

After a quick vegetable shop in the market, which is bursting with huge eggplants and bright bunches of greens, we head off to find The Recreation Project (TRP). Heading out of Gulu on the Nimule/Juba road, some in the car almost can’t believe we’re on the main road to Sudan- it’s more of a dirt track than anything else.  About 8 Km out of town we spot the tree sign for TRP, and excitedly head off the main ‘road’ towards a eucalyptus patch. Nestled amongst the trees in the cool shade is TRP, a project set up to bring trust and fun back into the lives of Gulu’s children (and adults!). Amongst the eucalyptus was an adventure assault course, climbing wall, leap of faith, zip line, and a challengingly titled ‘Impossible Wall’. How much fun! We instantly become big kids, wanting to give everything a try! But first, lunch- the staff at TRP kindly share their beans and rice with us, much appreciated after our morning of no breakfast. After lunch we’re invited to join TRP’s group of the day- 40 kids from a neighbouring school. We start the afternoon with a session of Boomachakala- all in a big group making silly things of ourselves as we dance around in writhes of laughter. We then hit the climbing wall, a 9 meter mahogany wall, with a range of challenging routes that we give a go. Some of the kids come and join us, a great feeling of team work and support as they are encouraged up the wall with MCU belaying them up. We give the irresistible leap-of-faith a go, clambering up a eucalyptus tree trunk 10 meters tall, teetering at the top before launching ourselves into the air to catch a trapeze- scary, but exhilarating!

Having heard about a good camping spot and potential rock climbing at Fort Patiko 40 minutes north of Gulu, an old slave trade post that then became one of Samuel Bakers forts, we decide to set off in search of it accompanied by a local boda driver Tony- an energetic charismatic guy with a lot of stories to tell. Minor pause for his puncture, and so by the time we really get on the road the sun is starting to drop pretty fast. We cruise along the dirt road, arriving at Patiko at dusk in time to greet the LC1 and his friends. After a quick discussion and negotiation, we are allowed to proceed with promises of full protection and back up from the local police post if anything were to happen to us! We turn off the road and take a small track through the tall grass. By now it’s dark, and the track becomes trackless, taking our car into the unknown. We eventually decide to stop and abandon her in the bush as we walk the final few hundred meters on foot. Unloading our stuff for the night we head out, through the tall grass and then tadaaa, a big rock! We clambered up the sides, laden with kit while Tony rev’ed his motorbike up the 50° slope of the huge granite rock.

Walking across the top there are lots of little pools in the rock surface, and we come across a terrapin running between two- caught in the light of Tony’s motorbike. The rock is intriguing in the dark, lots of boulders silhouetted in the torchlight. We find a grassy spot, at the base of a second large granite rock on top of this one, so settle to make camp here. Tents up, the guys head off in search of firewood with some of the local kids who have joined us, while V and I get to chopping up the giant vegetables bought in Gulu market. The fire roaring away, we settle around it for warmth and stories and get to cooking dinner, frying up the veggies and throwing in some rice. Hey presto- paella! Plus some freshly chopped avocado. Lying around the fire as we digest, enjoying a waragi and sprite, Tony tells us tales of the LRA and the experiences of the communities around us. You can’t help but wonder what the lives of the children sitting with us must have experienced.

After a sleepful night in the tents, we awake at dawn to watch the glowing red ball rise over the woodland horizon. Such beautiful calm, as we sit perched on some of the boulders. The view around us is amazing, as we hadn’t seen it in our night-time arrival with big stretching plains scattered with hills and distant rock silhouettes. Gulu really is beautiful.

Firstly a breakfast of crunchy nut cornflakes, milk and passion fruits, then, yay, off to explore the rock! We walk off around behind camp, scrabbling up the east side of the rock through a whole medley of different sized boulders piled up and around, finding a big python skin at the top of one. We clamber across and up the side of a bigger rock, discussing climbing and bouldering options. Atop of the biggest rock- the views are amazing across the semi cultivated plains far below us. There’s another big rock to our right, with a face too smooth for climbing. But the rock we are on seems to have potential. Charlie, Tony and I run off to get the climbing kit from the car where it was abandoned the night before. Relieved to see all four tyres are still intact, we race back up the rock again with all the kit- it’s sunny and hot already! As we discuss the route options, Charlie sets to making a safe anchor at the top of the rock. Dan is the first to rappel down, spending time at the bottom trying to find a route up.

We all get to descend down in turn, selecting slight variations of the route up which we name ‘Atimo Recreation’- meaning “I did it”! And in honour of TRP. On my ascent I get a bit daunted by the tricky looking start so Grace heads down to help me with an improvised foot hold! After the first meter, the climb is much more manageable, but still requires thinking about foot placement to get up the face. It’s great to be on the rock face, with the massive views around. Too soon I reach the top, taking the trickier route to the left on the final few meters, rather than the easier route to the right- nothing like a bit of a challenge when you’re balanced 30 meters high off a rock!

Midday brings the heat, plus some threatening clouds. Our time with the Gulu countryside is almost up, as a road trip to Kampala beckons. We pack up the kit, take down the tents, and head back to the car which we drive a bit out of the bush before ladening it down. We reach Kampala in 6 hours from our spot in the countryside, in time for our ritual post-trip dinner feast in town. Gulu had such a range of fun and adventure to offer us, we will surely be back again.

The Recreation Project is a charity based in Gulu, working to inspire youth to overcome fear and patterns of war through active healing experiences. TRP welcomes all individuals and groups to pay a visit to the project. TRP can be contacted on 0784526649. Check out their website for more info:

First time rock climbing adventure – Tororo

By Grace Ayoo, July 2012

We set off as a team from Kampala heading to Tororo (my home town) to climb the famous Tororo volcanic rock which nearly sits in the centre of the town. Much as I had grown and lived in Tororo right at the foot of the rock, I had never had the courage to go rock climbing. When I got this opportunity with the MCU, I knew that I had to do it especially now that I had company. When we reached the town, we had a chance to have lunch and after that we headed straight away to the base of the rock to start the 45 minutes (or 30 minutes for some people) climb.

When we got to the base of the rock, I had a rush of excitement which suddenly turned into a panic which only I noticed. “How does one climb such a cliff? What will I do if I meet/see a snake?” was what was on my mind. Nevertheless, after negotiating with the local authorities on the fees to pay (which came as a surprise), we started our journey. At the beginning, it all seemed fine and easy with a clear path to follow and some climbing aids until we went up a little higher and so did my breathing. I started realising that it wasn’t as easy as I thought! Beads of sweat started appearing on my face, my pulse started racing fast with the mingled fear of coming across snakes (my worst nightmare). Looking above me, everyone seemed to be climbing effortlessly and that renewed my strength making me think, “Maybe it’s not that hard; maybe I’m just being a cry baby”. With that attitude, I went further up going through the creepers and slippery surfaces ignoring the idea of meeting snakes and all the sweat that was now pouring down my body coupled with the panting and occasional stops to catch my breath then it dawned on me, ‘I have no water………’ Luckily, everyone I was climbing with wasn’t a first timer so they had water.

In about 45 minutes, we were at the top staring at the beauty below us. I didn’t know my town was this beautiful until I got up there. I kept staring to the far horizons trying to identify the now small objects and places that I knew while on the ground which now seemed more beautiful from the top.

Just being up there felt good and staring below and far made the whole climb worthwhile. I forgot all about what I went through to get up there. We sat at the top having some refreshments as we watched the rain make its journey towards us. It was a great relief to feel the breeze from the approaching rain which shortly came pouring down on us leaving most of us scampering for the little shelter available which included a few trees and a little iron house which housed the night guards.

After the rain, we slowly started our journey downhill which still gave me a chill because I thought the rocks would be slippery hence so much sliding. Fortunately it wasn’t the case and being the last while climbing the rock, I was the first going down which I did with so much ease, fun and comfort provided by the pumps I was wearing. I was really glad that I had done this after having it on my bucket list.

Mount Elgon – Community trek

By Lucy Beck, June 2012

While Kampala is truly a great, vibrant and exciting city every now and then I find nature calling and the serious desire to be out in the fresh air surrounded by greenery. One such urge compelled me to join the MCU and sign up to their Mount Elgon trip at the start of June.

The 3 day hike starts from Budadiri from Rose’s Last Chance guesthouse, a basic guesthouse with both dorm room accommodation and individual double bedrooms, run by the really lovely and helpful Rose. There is a prescribed 3 day hike that Rose offers but they are also very open to changes, amendments and additions and you can sit with your allotted Mountain guide to discuss. Due to limited time we condensed the 3 days into 2.

The walk culminates at Sipi falls -descending down the side of the waterfall into the swanky Sipi River Lodge and offering some spectacular views of Sipi Falls as long as you make sure to keep an eye on where you’re placing your feet!

The rest of the 3 days involve ascending and descending the numerous hills and ridges surrounding the base of Elgon, through local villages and with some spectacular views of the park and surrounding greenery. Word of warning, however, I mentioned that we condensed the 3-day trip into 2 days which basically meant we did the first 2 days in 1 and led to a grueling 10 hour hike on our first day with limited rest stops. As a result Liam my boyfriend cultivated some pretty awesome blisters on the little toes of both feet which meant he hiked the 2nd day in flip-flops and with the help of a cane! So if you really do only have 2 days be warned its not for the faint hearted / unfit and it may be better to just organize some shorter day hikes with Rose. In order to properly enjoy the surroundings and views I would strongly recommend splitting it over the 3 days as suggested!

Sleeping during the hike involved pitching up in the grounds of a local school at the top of one of the many hills on the way with some unbeatable morning views across the whole valley. Clearly Muzungus are a bit of a novelty here as no sooner had we fallen exhausted to the ground than we were surrounded by a semi-circle of fascinated onlookers who proceeded to watch our every move (or in our case, groan) until sunset! Luckily the hardest part on the hike comes on the first day with a steep ascent up to 3000 metres and then along a ridge. From here on in there is a steady pattern of climbs and descents along switch back trails and down through banana and coffee plots. Along the way our guide Wyclef also gave us the options of visiting a smaller waterfall and climbing a small peak nearby Sipi – all these are optional and depend on your strength and energy. On our final day all the hard work became worth it when we rounded on Sipi falls and as we sipped our post-hike sodas gazing up at the waterfall.

The cost of the 2-day hike was 150,000 UGX per person which included all food, tent and sleeping mat hire (we had our own sleeping bags but they are also available to rent from Rose), accommodation in the Guest house, our guide Wyclef and 2 porters to help carry provisions. This is a veritable steal compared to the full Elgon ascent, as you don’t have to pay the daily park entry fees. Unfortunately there is no hot water in the showers at Rose’s but she will boil you up some if you ask, for a refreshing bucket shower, and apart from that the shower rooms are pretty decent. She offers tasty local food including some great breakfast donut variations and a fridge stocked full of sodas and beer. All in all I would definitely recommend it as a shorter, cheaper and (potentially!) less strenuous alternative to the full Elgon ascent.

Getting there: Mbale is the nearest big city to Elgon national park. It’s around a 5 hour drive east of Kampala and thankfully the roads, especially the last leg between Iganga and Mbale are great. Budadiri, where the hike starts from, is about another 1 hours drive into the national park down some pretty bumpy dirt roads and here the Pajero 4×4 came very much in handy! There are 2 ways to get from Mbale to Budadiri – the better route takes you along a relatively good road up to Sironko. While Budadiri can be quite hard to find, if you phone Rose she is more than happy to send someone to meet you in Mbale and show you the way.

What to bring: Although we were pretty lucky with the weather and didn’t have any rain its still advisable to bring proper waterproofs and waterproof bag covers for your backpacks just in case. Food provided is restricted to basic meals so you may want to bring snacks to keep you going along the way. You can buy water from Rose’s before you leave but be warned that there are limited places to refill / restock along the way so it may be worth bringing some water purifying tablets if you can find any. Finally – make sure to bring some cash, especially smaller change. The people living within the park live at the very minimum subsistence level and the community element of the hike means that you will interact with the local communities on your way and as a result may be asked for money to help in the building of local schools / with those families that have suffered misfortune. Giving is obviously not mandatory and you don’t have to give a lot but keep aware that you will most likely be prompted. The same is true of the guides and porters on the hike, tipping is expected, they are also all local to the area and many of them struggle to find consistent guiding work due to the high number of guides so they rely heavily on tip money.

When to go: peak season is mid-June/ July till around September due to the weather (i.e. not too hot, and not rainy). Outside this period we were told few people venture to Budadiri and while the roster of local guides would probably be thrilled to get visitors out of season it may prove trickier for any lone travellers looking to hook up with a group, and the walking, much of which is up and down hills could prove tricky in rainy season.