The Rwenzori Expedition

The Falcon flag has previously flown on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya (both 2002) and Ras Dashen in Ethiopia (2007) - three of the four highest mountain regions in Africa. 

On the 27th of August 2023, the flag flew on Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, which at 5,109m is the third highest peak on the continent.

To make this epic expedition even more momentous, it was a joint expedition with Peterhouse – two traditional rivals joining forces to take on an incredible challenge.

The Rwenzori mountain range is the highest range in Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya stand higher, but are volcanic peaks).  It is a remote, vast and forbidding region with glacier-capped peaks and plunging valleys that straddles the border between Uganda and DRC.  The Rwenzoris are the fabled “Mountains of the Moon”, a name coined by ancient explorers that were searching for the source of the Nile, and the dramatic views, vast scale and fantastical flora make it feel truly other-wordly.  Sadly, the glaciers are receding fast and are expected to be completely melted within the decade, further adding to our sense that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The expedition was initiated by Peterhouse, who kindly extended the invitation to Falcon.  We are grateful to Cindy Schultz from Peterhouse, known to many in the Falcon community for her time establishing Quest with her husband Will, who led the planning for the entire trip.  The expedition team was twelve-strong, with six Peterhouse students, three Falcon students, Cindy Schultz, Danny Tanser and a Peterhouse parent.  The Falcon students – Dominique Nielsen-Doran, Bruce Mutatu and Huntsman Greaves – showed exceptional courage, grit, positivity and camaraderie throughout the trip.

The expedition itself lasted eight days – five and a half days to summit, and two and a half days to return to base camp.  We set off in tropical rainforest, passed through a bamboo zone up into a heather zone, then continued to ascend to alpine savanna before reaching the glacial zones.  Each day was exhausting – both physically and mentally – with breathing becoming more and more difficult as we gained altitude, battling constant nausea and headaches.  For the majority of the trek we wore gumboots, high-stepping through endless boggy stretches which result from the ten feet of rain that falls annually in the mountains.

Summit day was intensely challenging.  We woke at 1am, after little or no sleep, dressed in numerous layers to combat the freezing temperature and howling wind, stepped into our harnesses, attached our headlamps to our helmets, and checked we had packed our crampons and ice-axes.  We set out in four groups, each led by a professional guide.  We trudged ever-upward, laboured breathing and clinking carabiners the only sound as our headlamps flashed on the rock and ice around us.  Four fixed ropes helped us climb some vertical sections, gloved hands battling to attach and detach carabiners to the ropes.  For the glacial ascents, sections of which had a 600 gradient, we put our crampons on over our boots and roped up in our groups, to avoid the risk of someone plunging through thin ice into a crevasse.  Dawn found us setting out on the longest glacial ascent, fully exposed to the shrieking wind.  Finally, we removed our crampons and clambered up the last rocky section to reach the summit.  It was so cold at the top that the water in our camel-pack straws froze and ice encrusted our hair as we posed for the summit pictures with our school and Zimbabwean flags flapping wildly.  The thick mist that washed over us in waves didn’t lift, so we never got to enjoy the view, but this did nothing to diminish the immense sense of accomplishment that we felt individually and as a team.

We were inspired by the leadership of the professional guides from the Rwenzori Trekking Services, who led us throughout the expedition.  They hold the concession for the Kilembe route up Mount Stanley, which they mapped out and developed, and were exceptionally competent and professional.  We were also humbled by the strength and service of our porters, who carried our large backpacks in addition to all the food and cooking equipment for the entire group.

The whole expedition team is left with indelible memories of finding strength to rise to a formidable challenge, of new and deep friendships, of the sense of awe of wild open spaces, of endless games of “Werewolf” around smoky stoves in the overnight camps, of gathering berries from the trail and plunging exhausted legs into freezing rivers and how good everything tastes after a long day’s hiking.  It was a deeply rewarding once-in-a-lifetime experience for all. 


Post published in: Africa News

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