Mt Gahinga, Virungas’ Neglected Child

How are you, my readers? Last month I took you to the peak of Mt Muhavura (it was my tenth time to climb it) and certainly you are going to hear about Mt Sabinyo in the future (I’ve been there four times) — but today I am here to pitch Mt Gahinga to you (I’ve ascended it twice).

… Have you noticed the difference in my counts? Gahinga is pretty much the neglected child in our park’s family! As the warden of tourism I also have official statistics to support my point: from January 2020 to May 2021, out of 1,163 visitors who conducted hiking activity at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, only 110 hiked Mt Gahinga!

That is less than 10%, my people!

Is that fair?

No!

Gahinga deserves your consideration.

The lowest among the three dormant Virunga volcanoes our park covers, Mt Gahinga (3,474m/11,464ft) is an offshoot of Mt Muhavura and is about 100,000 years old. That makes it the second youngest volcano, very appropriately for a forgotten member of a family, ha ha. Our park is, quite surprisingly, named after it — the local word translates as a “pile of stones”.

Do you wonder why it has little mind share? Well, if you were offered a lake (Mt Muhavura), a border where three countries meet (Mt Sabinyo) or a swamp (Mt Gahinga) as your prize for hiking to the top, which one would you snub?

Exactly.

Still, are there good reasons to embrace young Gahinga?

  1. Medium effort: It is an easier hike (6–8 hours; moderate difficulty) and includes fewer ladders to scale (5). If you suffer from vertigo, Gahinga is the most comfortable of the three volcanoes (and don’t even think of Sabinyo!).
  2. Bamboo gold: Gahinga offers a long stretch (about 2km/1.3ml) of bamboo forest that is a wondrous environment to explore. This is the home range of the golden monkeys, so there is a chance to come across them while on the hiking trail. We don’t charge extra for that!
  3. Swamp surprise: The swamp at the top is in fact beautiful! My fellow expert Yonah Okoth once took six German visitors to the edge of Gahinga’s swamp where most climbers stop. Two of them asked if they could proceed further, and Yonah was happy to oblige. They managed to reach almost the middle of the marshy area that was once a crater lake and some of Yonah’s photos now bless this article.

Talking about Yonah, as a ranger he has done this pile of stones more times than I, and he says you can sometimes see cute black fronted duikers up on top. Moreover, he has found the excrement of serval cats that hunt them. A lucky trekker can also run into bush bucks on the way.

Let me end this report with the words of somebody who has climbed it all, Herman Kimbugu. Last year he managed to do all the three volcanoes in only two days, getting a rare opportunity to quickly compare and contrast them. He said: “Gahinga is perfect for families and generally people new to mountaineering. It is beautiful and yet it is not as tough as the other two Virungas.”

So, would you consider giving our underloved Mt Gahinga a hug?


featured photo by Blasio Byekwaso

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