Famous in both ancient and modern times, the "mountains of the moon" are legendary for their beauty and biodiversity. But they are threatened by the changing climate.
The Rwenzori mountain range is home to Margherita peak, which at 16,762 feet is the third-highest mountain peak in Africa, after Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya. It’s considered the more challenging of the three, however, because of the rainforest trek required to reach the top. The Rwenzori range is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its exceptional beauty and biodiversity.
The name Rwenzori is said to come from the nearby Bakonzo people’s rwe nzururu, which means “place of snow.” Margherita peak and the rest of the Rwenzori Mountains are unique in their glacial origins; most of Africa’s snowy mountaintops were formed instead from volcanic activity.
Known in antiquity as the “Mountains of the Moon” because of their misty, snowy peaks, this famed mountain range was once rumored to be the source of the Nile as established by the ancient merchant Diogenes and famed scholar Ptolemy—more than a millennium before the English explorers Livingston and Stanley declared the Nile’s source at Jinja, Uganda.
Although the highest peaks are still white-capped, snow was more abundant when the mountains first acquired their majestic nickname. A glacial recession has more than halved the 46 glaciers that were recorded on the range in 1906, and climate events like wildfires and drought—once unheard of in the Rwenzori area—are increasingly common. The mountains are held as sacred by those living in the nearby community and are said to be the home of 30 gods, each associated with a different natural resource found in the Rwenzori.
Around 1,000 people living around the mountains are usually employed as porters and guides. But a massive flooding event brought on by landslides in 2020, coupled with a reduction in tourism from the Covid-19 pandemic, has threatened their livelihoods. A number of trekking paths were destroyed in the flood, and guides have built new ones to replace those lost with help from UNESCO and other institutions.
Know Before You Go
Although the Rwenzori range can be accessed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as Uganda, it’s recommended to trek on the Uganda side due to changing safety conditions on the DRC side. There are multiple travel companies that plan comprehensive hikes up the Rwenzori mountains inclusive of park permits, meals, travel to and from Entebbe, and lodging off the mountains. Different companies may use different trekking routes, so visitors are encouraged to research and select a trek based on their preferred experience.
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