Page Type
Trip Report
Uganda, Africa
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jan 31, 2014
Hiking, Mountaineering
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Created On: Feb 27, 2014
Last Edited On: Feb 27, 2014

Rwenzori Central Circuit

A group of 4 (2 male, 2 female) did the central circuit in
February 2014.  Description on the site
regarding the trekking days are correct, however, I hope to provide a little
bit more info for those interested. 

The hiking/trekking was some of the most beautiful I have
ever seen. The trails are similar to US northeast trails, with solid rock,
boulders, and roots winding over the path. 
The mountains are obviously big, and the moisture is similar to the US
pacific northwest.  There is tree growth
at 14,000 feet, and the entire trek has wonderful views of surrounding

Groups: We did the central circuit, which means we went with
Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), we paid $1200 US/per person.  There is a newer service that runs a slightly
different loop called Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS).  Prices are similar, RTS is slightly cheaper
but does not include the park fee($35 per day per person.)  Despite an overall great hike, I cannot
recommend RMS for several reasons.  I
would suggest trekking with RTS. 

RMS did not seem organized on our arrival into town.  Two people, supposedly from the company met
us in Kasese to go over the shopping list. 
We chose vegetarian b/c of someone in our group and had read about a
climber who was eating 6 day old chicken. Our plan was to supplement with some
Tuna packets, which the vegi person in the group ate as well.  Of the two in the group ‘representing’ RMS,
one introduced himself as our ‘head guide’, the other was a ‘porter’, who was
there in charge of renting equipment. 
Turns out the ‘porter’ was renting separate equipment from RMS and tried
to rent us an ice axe that was about a foot tall, ‘for the lady in the group’
(there were two females).  The cost was
the same as RMS $25 (always in US dollars) per trip, per piece of
equipment.  He promised to return in 45
mins with the equipment, which turned out to be 5 hours.  Once he returned with the gear, and without
the ‘head guide’ he proceeded to ask us how well we knew the guide, cause his
buddy could lead the trip…. This is pretty standard for African according to
one of our group members, who promptly told the ‘porter’ no, he knew the
tricks, and forget it.  Meanwhile, the
‘head guide’ went out shopping for us.  I
am not sure how much money he had to shop with, but I am pretty sure not all
the money was spent on food, or, not all the food ended up with us. 

Couple of tips on food: If you like cheese- speak up!  Ugandan’s don’t, and if they buy some, it
will be small.  We got a wheel about the
size of a full roll of duct tape, and we cherished it.  If you like any particular hot drink, make
sure they get a second container.  We had
tea and hot chocolate (Cadbury drinking chocolate- my favorite!).  We ran out of the hot chocolate.  The coffee is instant; if you are a coffee
nut, bring something else.  Ask to see
the menu.  Frequently you get soup before
your meal- Ramen is served as a soup, and we had more than one person with
heartburn.  Our lunch was pathetic.  Each day we got a green apple and a banana,
along with a juice box.  In addition, one
day we got two pieces of white bread with a butter spread between (that’s it),
another day two pieces of bread with two slices of tomato between them, and yet
another day, a piece of bread (singular) that was left over French toast from
breakfast.  We added tuna to all of
those.  Our two toughest days, climbing
up to the hut on Mt Stanley, and climbing Mt Stanley, we did not get sandwiches
at all.  Climbing up to the hut we got
fruit/juice, and that was it.  On arrival
to the hut we told the cook to make us something, which he managed to find some
hot beans on toast.  He stated he did not
have a lot of food.  The summit day
(which was a train wreck in itself) was fruit/juice and two boxes of biscuits
for 4 of us for a 4-7 hour summit/return trip. 
Soup was served on arrival back to camp. 
Not adequate food at all, we had cliff bars, chocolate, and other
snacks.  I recommend bringing your own
lunch, looking at the shopping list carefully, and asking to see a meal
plan.  I would recommend some peanut
butter/nutella, spice kit (salt with hard boiled eggs was the only spice we
saw), and if you like hot sauce- bring your own! 

The ‘head guide’ verified receipts with us in Kasese, 4
total in our case, with one being unsatisfactory, which took at least an hour
to sort out.  We also paid for 8 days, 7
nights with RMS, but our park fee, which was included at $35 US/day, was only
for 6 nights.  One can only imagine the
motivation in having us pay for an extra night with RMS.  The next day, on arrival to the RMS office,
we had to go through this whole procedure again.  The ‘head guide’ that had met us the previous
night did not verify with the RMS office headquarters the receipts, so the
whole process had to be done again.  RMS
headquarters did not want Charles, the ‘head guide’ that met us the night
before to lead the group.  This led to an
entirely different argument at the office, which we were being pulled into,
because Charles was trying to get us to vouch for him.  In the end (as in the last day of the hike),
we found out that he had just come off the mountain, there are around 100
guides, and thus, guides only go out once a month.  He was essentially trying to cut the
line.  The receipts from the Kampala
office took time to sort out because no one had any airtime on their phones and
wanted to borrow ours.  This is a common
theme in Uganda.  Our phones had no
service, so someone had to go back down the 17k dirt road to find a store to
buy some airtime.  The office folks at
RMS had poor English, and were generally not helpful, and no knowledge of
anything relating to hiking/trekking/mountaineering. 

We spent a total of 3 hours at the office before everything
was sorted.  We had very little gear, and
had paid for 20 porters, but only used 15. 
Once again…. Money lost.  Hind
site being 20/20, we should have used 1 or 2 of them to go backwards around the
loop to the last camp with some beer to be left in the stream cooling. 

The hike was enjoyable, we ran into an Austrian group of 8
climbers, one who has done the trek 3 times. 
We established that he hand picks his guides…. Something we would find
was very important.  Our summit attempt
on Margherita peak was perhaps the biggest cluster of the hike, and
demonstrated a total lack of appropriate training and awareness on a
summit.  We were instructed to bring a
rope, our harnesses, crampons, and an ice axe. 
Our summit attempt started an hour late at 5 am due to poor weather that
cleared.  The two guides assigned to us
had switched places, with the rear guide acting as the front, and
vice-versa.  The guide now in the lead
zig-zagged across the lower slopes for close to 45 mins before our team
realized he was looking for the rock markers and could offer some
assistance.  Our journey proceeded up to
the end of the first glacier, where we then realized, the routes described in
our books no longer existed due to glacial melt.  We had to descend several hundred feet in order
to continue on a ‘fixed line’ which I would classify as more of a repel in the iced over state.  We were not instructed to bring any
additional equipment (belay device, prusik, or other equipment) nor had it
appeared on the list of required equipment. 
We had these items with us.  There
was also no mention of this descent in our briefing the night before.  On our climb back up to the second glacier,
the guides had switched position, and the lead guide kept pausing awkwardly,
resting for prolonged periods.  We found
out shortly thereafter that he had a headache and a fever since the night
before.  There was no discussion with our
guides regarding altitude sickness, the only comment made was that if you felt
poorly, you should stay at the hut.  I
wish he had heeded his own advice.  Onto
the second glacier we went, which was steep, not much to dig into, and once on
the glacier, a 30-35% pitch.  The rope we
rented/inspected was not used, where the rope we used came from, I do not know.
The guides had switched again, and the rear guide began leading us straight
vertically up this pitch.  Below were a
few rock strainers and a 20-30 meter fall onto more rocks.  There was no protection used going up this
pitch to prevent a chain reaction in the event of a fall.  Approximately ½ the way up this pitch (20
meters), approximately 16,000 feet (700 feet below the summit) the group
decided to abort the climb.  We had one
newcomer to snow, we accepted this risk, however, it was clear that our guides
were inexperienced, and were contributing to the ‘red flags’ building on this
climb.  As a group member stated, ‘the safest
thing I could have done then was to unclip myself from the line.’  After arguing for 5-10 mins with the guides,
we convinced them we did not want to continue with them.  One stated the pitch continued like it was
for an hour, the other just beyond a crevasse we could see (which incidentally
someone spent 1.5 days in before they were rescued).  It was unclear who knew what in regards to
mountaineering skills, route finding, ice travel, crevasse rescue, and we opted not to take our
chances.  The return climb to the hut
was spent watching the guide who was sick carefully.  I work in healthcare, I came with an
extensive medical kit, he had nothing on him, drank little water, ate very
little food, carried no meds

The remainder of the hike was uneventful.  The original plan was to hike Margherita Peak and then continue to descend back to the next hut the same day.  This was ambitious, and the Austrian group
behind us- who made the summit, ended up staying in the highest hut for a
second night.  As frustrating as it was
to deal with incompetency of two guides there were several points that we
discovered while talking with them: They make 4 dollars/day, they receive guide
training and basic first aid on becoming a guide, and infrequently after that
(last was 6 years ago), they carry no first aid kit, limited rescue equipment
(I didn’t see any pulleys on the guide’s harness), no option for replacement at
the highest hut for a sick guide, and little knowledge about altitude related
illness.  This was of course communicated
to the RMS office, including the inability for the guides to read a map.  The response to this was ‘Oh! Would you like
to buy a map?  (I told you their English
was horrible). 

The cook and the porters were amazing.  The cook had hot water and soup for us on arrival
to most camps.  He worked hard for what
little he was given to work with.  The
porters were phenomenal.  We tipped as a
group $5/day/per porter, which ended up being $35/porter.  They seemed happy with that.  We also unloaded a few pieces of functional
gear on them.  As a note, a good clean
pair of wool socks that go past their calves and shoe inserts for their muck
boots would be appreciated.  We also
brought a lot of candy that we did not consume and passed it off to the porters
throughout the trip.  They were very good
about dividing it amongst themselves. 
The guides/cook we paid in US dollars and the porters in Ugandan
Shillings.  We were going to pay the
guides $75 for each guide, as a group, however, bumped it down to $50 after the
trip.  The cook we kept at $50

Recommendations for the trip:

1.  Muck/Gum/Rubber
boots are a must! 

2.  Ask
to see a meal plan, supplement with your own food, consider making your own

3.  Ask
to see the food before you leave the office to make sure there is enough

4.  A
thermos of hot water for the trail is not a bad idea

5.  Don’t
expect your guides to know much- we wished we had roped them together and not
to us

6.  Carry
meds for altitude, basic first aid, and be familiar with self rescue

7.  Carry
ear plugs- some of the huts have other groups

8.  A
cheap rain poncho is not a bad investment as well as a pack cover

9.  A
spice kit, hot sauce, and good coffee were lacking

I cannot speak to the quality of RTS, as we did not travel
with them.  A hotel owner commented that
they had not heard much positive from RMS and would go with RTS (spoke with him
after the trip).  In regards to female
guides: RMS has two (according to our guides) and RTS utilizes them
frequently.  Per our guide, it was
unusual to see a female climb a mountain, let alone guide in Uganda.


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RobSC - Jan 4, 2015 10:39 pm - Voted 10/10


Thank you for the up to date information on the state of RMS and arranging a trip at this point in time. I'm sorry that the guides did not work out for you.

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