OverviewThe South-East Ridge of Alexandra Peak is the Standard route to this summit and is among the most classic of routes in the Rwenzori. The first ascent of the route was made a hundred years ago in 1906 by the Duke of Abruzzi, J. Pettigax, C. Oliver, and J. Brocherel. When they accomplished the ascent, it was a snow climb. (Look at the final photo at the bottom of the page. Alexandra is the closer peak.) Even as late as Wielochowski's guide to the Rwenzori (1989), the cover photo shows Alexandra as a snow peak with only the smallest area of rime covered rocks near the very summit. In the last 25 years, however, the ice has melted leaving an excellent alpine rockclimb with slabs and short corners leading along the ridge to one of the only major peaks in the range whose summit is within the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Getting ThereI am assuming that the ascent will be made from the Elena Hut. Refer to the general page on Mt. Stanley for getting to there. It is also possible to approach this climb from the "Moraine Hut" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). (I haven't provided information about reaching this hut because of the ongoing political unease in the DRC.) However, if you do find yourself approaching from the Moraine Hut, ascend possibly steep slabs to the south-east until you gain the West Stanley Glacier. Ascend this to the east until the Stanley Plateau is reached. The Osmaston and Pasteur guide (1972)says that once you are on the glacier, "Keep to the right (South) close to the rock buttress on the South side overlooking Lac Gris, to avoid crevasses in the middle of the glacier. The glacier is steep and much may be bare ice. A course almost due East leads to the N.W. foot of Moebius." I do not know how accurate this information is given the ongoing recession of this glacier. The first ascent of this line was made by J.J. David in 1904.
For people starting at the Elena Hut in Uganda, walk to the south from the hut, past the outhouse, to a small pond. From here, several different routes can be followed to the Stanley Plateau. One possibility is to climb directly up cracks and gullies to the west that pass through a line of steep rock to more moderate slopes above. Continue to the west on broken talus until reaching the Stanley Plateau. A second option is to continue to the south from the small pond in the direction of the steep cliffs of Kitasamba and the Coronation Glacier for about 50 or 100 meters where it is again possible to turn west and ascend slabs in the direction of the fabled glaciers of the Rwenzori. Once at the glacier, climb steep snow or ice to reach more gradual slopes beyond. Eventually, you may pass an outcropping of rocks on the left then walk out to the north-west onto the Stanley Plateau.
Route DescriptionAlexandra and Margherita Peaks. Alexandra is on the left and closer while Margherita is to the right. The south face of Alexandra is currently rock with only a few bits of ice and rime. If the weather is clear, look down the South East ridge from the summit. There is a point about half way up the ridge where snow from the Plateau still extends nearly to the ridge. In the link above it is almost directly above the leftmost person's head. This is the point that the climb leaves the snow and begins climbing the ridge.
Once you have taken in the awesome scenery, or been soothed by the fogs, walk to the Northwest in the direction of Alexandra Peak. As the Peak is approached, climb steepening snow to the high point of snow extending across the south face of Alexandra. There may be snow extending around higher to the West into the DRC, do not go in this direction. Instead, once to the rock, turn east and walk along the top of the snow nearly to the S.E. ridge. Leave the snow at a prominent corner system. Climb this for twenty meters or so until it is possible to work up and right to lower angled slabs above that make up the rounded S.E. Ridge. Scramble or climb up these slabs for a couple ropelengths until the ridge angle eases and the scrambling becomes easier. Continue following the ridge, generally staying on the south side. There is one short difficult corner that may have a fixed rope in place. A line directly up the fixed rope can be followed or angle to the right to the ridge crest then work back to the left along very crest of the ridge. Above this point, the ridge becomes horizontal prior to the final rise to the summit. Historically, this was a level walk then a final climb up rime formations to the highest point. I'm guessing that this picture shows this section of the ridge. In recent years, a cleft has appeared in the ridge between this horizontal section and the final summit tower. When I climbed the route in 2004, it was necessary to downclimb 3 or 4 meters on slightly overhanging rock to snow still within the gap in the ridge. The depth of this notch might have increased as snow continues to melt. From the notch, scramble up to the final headwall of the peak. If there are rime formations, it may be possible to follow the ridge directly at this point. If not, work around on a ledge system to the west until reaching a nearly vertical chimney system with steep slabs disappearing into the DRC below. Climb up this gully/corner system for 10 meters until it is possible to step back to the left and reach the easy terrain above. From here it is a short scramble to the summit and its sign.
To descend, scramble down the easy ridge to the final headwall. Instead of downclimbing the gully, loop a large rock and rappel back down to the snowy notch. Re-ascend the short wall to the horizontal section of the ridge and follow this back to the snows of the Stanley Plateau. It might be necessary to do a few short rappels as the ridge is downclimbed.
Essential GearIn reaching the Elena hut you obviously should be bringing whatever standard backpacking gear that you prefer. The guides and porters and many of the tourists prefer Wellingtons to hiking boots in passing through the thick mud. Additionally, these boots friction much better than mountaineering boots on wet mossy slabs.
The weather tends to be raw and damp but not unbearably cold. It is good to have mittens and a warm hat, and whatever clothes you prefer for hiking in foggy 0 degrees Celsius weather with intermittent sleet/rain/snow.
For the climb:
prusiks or some sort of ascenders for crevasses
possibly a snow picket or two largely for crevasse rescue
Since this is a UN Heritage Site, almost all ascents include a guide from the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services. The standard routes may have fixed ropes in places. The guide that I had did not have any climbing gear such as stoppers or cams, and just held the rock behind flakes to belay but without the guide, I would want a light alpine rack up to a #2 Camalot. I brought a number of slings with me on the climb, and when we got to the notch in the ridge the guide wanted to turn back until I used a rock as a natural stopper then slung it with slings that reached down to the snow below so bringing a few of these along for such situations might be useful.
External LinksTo learn about the history of the first ascents, read:
Fillipo de Fillipi Ruwemzori, an account of the expedition of H.R.H. Prince Luigi Amedeo of Savoy, The Duke of Abruzzi, Archibald Constable, Dutton, 1908.
An excellent but outdated climbing guide (most of the glaciers have melted):
H.A. Osmaston and D. Pasteur, Guide to the Ruwenzori: The Mountains of the Moon, Mountain Club of Uganda and West Col Productions, U.K. 1972.
Both of these books are at the American Alpine Club Library in Golden Colorado
I would highly recommend bringing:
Andrew Wielochowski, Ruwenzori Map and Guide, West Col, 1989.
A good book with more recent photos is:
David Pluth, Uganda Rwenzori A Range of Images, Little Wolf Press, 1996. The dramatic picture on page 41 labeled as Mt. Speke is actually Mt. Stanley with the Stanley Plateau and the SE Ridge of Alexandra prominent. Margherita Glacier is the rightmost blob of white.
The group responsible for peak ascents:
Rwenzori Mountaineering Services
PO Box 33 Kasese Uganda
Tel. 256-41 237497
For an interesting picture of the summit of Alexandra Peak in 1963 click here