From the dramatic Simien mountains and the wild and rugged Bale mountains in Ethiopia to the snowy peaks of Mount Kenya, we’ve enjoyed some wonderful experiences climbing mountains on our travels through Africa.
One of East Africa’s most stirring mountain ranges; and a natural border between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is the mighty Virungas. Three of the eight major volcanoes that make up this range lie in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park: Muhabura and Gahinga also straddle the Rwandan border while Sabyinyo, the oldest of the eight, is at the junction of the three countries. Muhabura in the local language means “the guide” as it towers above the horizon.
After doing very little on Lake Bunyoni for a few days, we headed to Uganda’s smallest national park for our first taste of the Virungas. Of the three, we decided to climb Mount Sabyinyo. In the local language Sabyinyo means “Old Man’s Teeth” because of its serrated summit that is in contrast to the perfect conical summits of the adjacent mountains in this range.
After an incredibly informative briefing on the Virungas range, the history of the park and the vegetation zones we’d be trekking through, we set off on a well maintained path through reclaimed forest. When the park was gazetted in 1991, over 2,000 people were relocated outside the park and their former farmland has now regrown into forest.
The reclaimed forest soon became beautiful thick bamboo forest, some of which had clearly been in the way of an elephant with somewhere to be. This is slightly off topic but it was also now clear why finding a panda in the wild would be almost impossible!
From the base of the mountain it became more open with moss-covered trees dominating the landscape. It also became a lot steeper, and three and a half hours after setting off we stood at the summit of the first peak (3423 m).
From here, it was a ridiculously spectacular ridge walk up and down a series of steep wooden ladders to peaks 2 and 3 (3537 and 3669 m respectively). We had Uganda to our right and Rwanda to our left and at the third peak, they joined and met the DRC. We often had to remind ourselves where we were.
Peaks 4 and 5 are in the DRC and thus strictly out of bounds so we enjoyed our picnic lunch at the summit of the third peak – we ate our sandwich in Rwanda, our banana in Uganda and had our juice in the DRC!
It was a little nerve- wracking heading down some of the ladders just below the summit with backwards definitely the way to go! It was a long, steep way down and some nine hours after we’d set off, we were back at the visitors’ centre.
Our guide was superb; super friendly and knowledgeable, with a lovely sense of humour and we had great company walking with a Danish couple – Jacob and Mitte. It was an unbelievable walk and one I’d highly recommend.
Where to get to
The hike starts from the Ntebeko Gate at the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The park is 14 km from Kisoro, a short hop from the Rwandan border.
How to get there
A boda-boda from Kisoro costs $8 return. If you don’t fancy a super-bumpy motorbike ride, the UWA office in Kisoro can arrange a car for $30 (return).
Where to stay
There’s a wonderful community-run campsite next door to the gate. Camping costs $5/person/night while dorms and rooms are also available. They sell tasty and reasonably priced food and also do a packed lunch for $2.50.
The hike costs $80/person, which includes park entrance and a guide.