I Tasted the Brand New 2-Day Muhabura Hike

Dear readers of the Daily Dose,

In my first report from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park I told you that we were preparing to make hiking Mt Muhabura (4,127 m/ 13,540 ft) more accessible. The highest of the three volcanic mountains that our park boasts, it is the preferred climb by seasoned climbers who summit and descend in one day. Muhabura means a guide in the local language; its height makes it an orientation feature from all directions of the region. Before the use of maps and compasses, people would trace directions using the mountain.

It is the youngest of the Virunga volcanoes and currently dormant. The peak has a crater lake whose water is so pure that many people believe it to be medicinal and it is considered to bring a person luck. The vegetation on the mountain ranges from rainforest to patchy woodland to sub-alpine and heather. Muhabura’s slopes are home to critically endangered mountain gorillas and rare golden monkeys as well as other wildlife, such as buffaloes, duikers, and scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds. In a bid to allow all age groups to experience these wonders, a camp has been built on the mountain that provides for an overnight rest stop before ascending to the peak.

We will begin offering the two-day experience in July 2021 but to whet your appetites, here is a story from my own trek …

I had hiked Muhabura many times before in my 8 years of working at Mgahinga, but this was the first time that I could spend the night on the mountain, and it was amazing!

We assembled at the base camp (2,380 m/ 7,808 ft) at 9:30am for a briefing. We set off for the great trek at exactly 10:00am. Since we knew that we were not going to come back the same day, we decided to take our time and moved at the slowest person’s pace. We also took stopovers to talk whenever we felt like it.

Our cook moved ahead of us and prepared breakfast at the first rest hut (3,116 meters/ 10,223 ft). This relieved us of the hunger that was generated after two hours of trekking. We took our first meal while enjoying the beautiful views over Kisoro, Lake Mutanda (Uganda) and Bunagana Town (DR Congo). 

We embarked again at 12:30 pm with a full stomach and entered into the sub-alpine zone. This stage is a bit challenging, but the views are fantastic. The vegetation is more open, and the weather is usually perfect, not too hot and not too cold. 

Then, the real climbing started, with tougher footing and wooden ladders to scale more vertical cliffs. We all made it safely to the camp by 3.15 pm, just in time to shelter from a noisy afternoon hailstorm. Luckily the drumming on the aluminium roofs didn’t last too long and when it calmed down, we gathered around the campfire to roast some meat. Absolutely delightful! Nothing like a day of uphill hiking to stimulate your appetite! The bottle of dry wine we brought was well worth the heavy backpack. 

The camp has two mountain huts that can accommodate up to 16 people, a kitchen, and toilets that make the overnight stay more comfortable and enjoyable. You can do it all yourself and fix your own meals, or you can hire porters and a cook to accompany you.

We had lots of fun, telling each other stories and laughing, with vistas of the Virunga Volcanoes over our shoulders, and the lights from neighbouring towns like Kisoro and Bunagana sparkling in the distance. However, we needed to convince ourselves to go to bed early, as we still had to hike to the peak early in the morning. 

We woke up at 6:30am, prepared ourselves, and set off on the final leg of the ascent. We reached the at 8:15am. The sky was clear and our view was majestic in all directions. I especially loved how the white clouds were flowing on top of Rwanda! I could have stayed there all day enjoying that wonderful view, but after some time our stomachs started to growl, and we descended back to the camp to have breakfast. We arrived back at the base camp at 3:00pm, tired but deeply satisfied.

featured image by Blasio Byekwaso