Lake Mahoma Trail in the Rwenzori foothills – “In the Footsteps of Elephants”

By Jenny Farmer and Charlie Langan, October 2012

After two days of rock climbing around Kilembe mines where a few new rock climbing routes were excitingly discovered and bolted, we travelled from Kilembe to Ibanda on Sunday afternoon, visiting the RMS office to greet them and enquire about accommodation outside the park for the night. Information was hard to come by prior to arriving and although there were a number of options around, each of these required a bit of enquiry. Continuing past the RMS office along a very bumpy track we reached Rubogo; some community run ecotourism accommodation but with no space for camping. Opposite was the empty RMS lodge, where we were able to camp in the garden for 5,000/-. Along with the new Geolodges Equator Snow Lodge there are a number of options for accommodation near to the gate. Accommodation near to the gate was the most convenient option when planning an early start into the park the following morning.

Monday morning we approached the gate, approximately 10 minutes walk up from the RMS lodge, and after some discussion on the price of our entry fee we began the new Lake Mahoma trail around 9am. We were the first group to walk the 28 km route, which we are very proud of! Go MCU!

Instead of going straight up the central valley towards the Nyabitaba hut and the central circuit, the walk set out to the left, straight up the valley ridge to the South with a steep zigzag uphill stretch which we continued up for approximately 1.5 hrs. In this time the trail followed the park boundary yielding great views of the Portal Peaks over to the North West, and views back down the valley to the plains below on our South and East. It was interesting to view the land use change as it approached the boundary, although despite the clear Eucalyptus demarcation of the boundary some cultivation continued into the edge of the park. Hopefully regular use of this path by visitors will discourage encroachment along this boundary.

The vegetation changed as the trail continued upwards, suggesting a history of recent and older encroachment, with a patchwork of forest broken up by dense ferns, taller than us. As the ridge was achieved and the park boundary was left behind, the forest began to dominate. A small clearing provided a rest point 2 hours after starting the walk, where it could be possible to camp although the proximity to a water source here was unknown.

The trail continued along the ridge for another hour with the path undulating more gently until our group broke for lunch, as it had started to rain lightly and we had come across a couple of conveniently large logs crossing the forest path making a good rest stop. Here UWA is establishing a campsite. Currently the site has been cleared with areas allocated as future camping sites, and a large hole dug for the future pit latrine. The view from the site is limited, but it is located nearby a water source.

We continued onwards in the light rain through more forest, with beautiful views to the north west of the Portal Peaks with waterfalls running down them. We continued climbing for another 1.5 hrs watching as the vegetation turned to bamboo forest. Beautiful and mystical, we were in a world of our own. We followed large elephant footprints along our path, which by then had become giant puddles in the increasingly heavy rain! The path was very muddy, and we slipped and slid a bit along the path- as the elephant appeared to have done on occasion too! The path sloped down with fantastic views to the right of the peaks again. We passed one spot, which made a nice rest point on one of the bamboo uphill sections.

The path then crossed a couple of bog sites, weaving back into the bamboo, making the walk after lunch a total of about 3 hours long. We enjoyed the diversity of vegetation zones that the path passed through, with short stops to enjoy the Portal Peaks views that came in and out of sight. We finally emerged from the bamboo to a stunning view of a marsh meadow and stream below us, and the tantalisingly clouded mountain peaks ahead. We descended down the slope, zigzagging our way down in the mud past a few Lobelia plants. Most of our group by this stage were using improvised walking sticks to assist with the slippery descent.

Crossing the river was a strong stone mesh bridge. Beautiful moss covered trees, we felt like we were the only people in the world- all around us the vegetation was so pristine. The ground turned out to be very soft, wet and boggy, not ideal as a campsite as it was difficult to keep your feet dry! However the stream provided a great place to wash and hang clothes over the second bridge on the other side of the bog, although swimmers must be brave to face the cold waters! Dinner was prepared on the stove, and the UWA ranger and porter managed to get a fire going even though the wood was soaking. Good skills! Rain brought an early bedtime but not before some whisky and luxurious chocolate!

Tuesday morning- happy 50th Independence Day Uganda! The wake-up call was a rendition of the national anthem! We packed up camp and followed the path up the last of the slopes in front of us, emerging to a view of Lake Mahoma. There are the remnants of an old dam and some metal structures, but currently there is no space to camp although the ground was much drier than our boggy campsite of the night before! From the lake the trail dropped down a ridge into the main valley, yielding great views on either side. Soon the trail joined the central circuit route, we paid homage to MCU’s previous president Henry Osmaston at his memorial plaque, and then passed through Nyabitaba hut, following the steep walk down- knees aching! It could be possible to camp close by here although fees must be paid to RMS for the use of the hut. The trail wound down the valley, thankfully levelling out to cross beautiful mountain streams and rivers, and the odd slippery metal ladder, and running out to the start of the route. We reached the Park gate approximately 2 hours from the hut and 3.5 hours after we had set off in the morning.

Wet underfoot…

Weather in the Rwenzoris at this time (October) seems to follow a similar pattern; sunny mornings which cloud over turning to heavy rain showers in the afternoon but clearing up again later. This makes the evenings a little chilly and the paths very muddy. The best footwear to walk the route in during this season is wellies! All the manmade bridges we crossed were strong and in good condition.