I actually posted this as a review, but thought I might post it here for people who are perusing the subject lines for items that relate to their trip. Enjoy!
In this review I am going to focus on the hike to the summit of Mt Sabyinyo, one of several guided hikes offered by the ranger staff at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Background info: Hiked on November 19th, 2012. 4 guys aged 29-36, all average shape. No porters taken. All carried a day pack consisting of --- rain gear, fleece, stocking hat, gloves (for cold weather at top of peaks), lunch (banana, cheese sandwich, hard boiled egg, groundnuts), snacks (almonds, peanuts, cashews), water (4 bottles of water each, 300 ml/10 oz in size), camera equipment and binoculars. The staff at the station provided bamboo walking sticks for those who wanted them (they are free and would recommend taking one).
Duration: 9 hours roundtrip. Began at 8:00 am, ate lunch on Mt Sabyinyo at 1:00, completed at 5:00 pm.
We begin at the ranger station with a short briefing and informational meeting about the hike, the park and the environment with our guide prior to starting out the hike. An armed guard also joined us to provide support should we encounter elephants or buffalo on the trail. While this wasn't an issue for us on this hike, the next day the guard did have to fire his riffle to scare buffalo off the trail in front of us when we were trekking golden monkeys.
Once we began hiking, we set off at a brisk pace as the trail was in good shape and only slightly inclined. The initial stages brought us through secondary growth forest (forest that had once been farmland that was converted back to forest when they increased the size of the park), open grassland and the bamboo zone. The next part of the trail increased in slope as we began climbing the lower flanks of the mountain. We crossed out of the bamboo zone and entered primary rainforest. The increase in slope also brought changes in the trail. We began seeing 'stairs' cut into the clay slope of the trail and rock/boulder 'stair' inclines. As we proceeded ever higher, the views of the Ugandan and DRC countryside opened up in spectacular fashion, but the peak of Sabyinyo still loomed ahead. We soon left the primary forest behind as we entered the cloud forest of the higher elevations. Here we found a stark difference in vegetation. A variety of mosses and other 'airy' plants hung from the trees and swayed in the breeze. The landscape here was absolutely breathtaking. It was as we passed through this section that we spotted 3 Rwenzori Turacos, a bird of stunning beauty. It was here too that the natural 'stairs' became more frequent.
Upon leaving the cloud forest, we could tell we were getting to the higher elevation as the trees became fewer and shorter. We also began seeing the start of the famed ladders of Sabyinyo (handmade ladders of varying lengths used to assist climbers up the ever steepening incline of the mountain). Oxygen levels were decreasing, the air was getting cooler and the climb ever harder, but we pushed on. Soon we had hit the summit of Peak 1. A short break allowed us to survey the surrounding countryside of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda, as well as look at what awaited us with Peak 2 and 3 looming above us. Up to this point the weather remained clear and sunny, however clouds were beginning to set in.
The next segment of the hike, down Peak 1 to the 'saddle' between Peak 1 and 2 and the subsequent climb up Peak 2 was by far the hardest and most strenuous of the hike. We saw an ever increasing use of 'ladders' as the slope steepened even more for this portion. Fatigue really began to set in here---our muscles ached, tempers rose and the ever present thought of failure were on our mind. At the summit of Peak 2, we felt defeated. The previous segment had completely kicked our butt. The prospect of finishing seemed completely unrealistic. Then we looked at Peak 3 and saw our enemy laughing at us, a trail made almost entirely of ladders. A short discussion ensued about whether we should throw in the towel or proceed and it was decided that we would never forgive ourselves if we turned around now so we pushed on.
As clouds were increasing and rain looked more a possibility, we decided to lighten our load a bit and left some camera equipment and other unneeded provisions under a tarp in the bushes before proceeding. Then as we descended Peak 2 into the saddle between Peak 2 and 3, we lost one of our companions. He felt his legs were too shaky to proceed up the ladders to Peak 3 and decided to turn around and wait atop Peak 2. We also left our bamboo walking sticks here so that we would have both hands completely free to hold onto the ladders. As horrifying as the ladders looked, they ended up being much easier to climb than we anticipated. With exception of one section that was almost completely vertical, the rest all had a slight angle to them. Before long we had mastered the ladders and were sitting on top of Peak 3.
What a sense of accomplishment. We were all relieved and exhausted and sat and enjoyed our lunch where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC meet. it isn't often you have the opportunity to be in 3 countries at once (which was the driving force behind our climb). By this time clouds had almost entirely blocked our views to the west and the DRC and were sporadically covering the views into Rwanda and Uganda. Fearing ran was close at hand, we decided to make hast and head down the ladders before they became even more treacherous with rain.
We picked up our companion and supplies at the top of Peak 2 and continued on with the journey. Aside from being tired, sore and running extremely low on water, the hike down was fairly uneventful aside from a slip/fall here and there.
This was by far one of the most gratifying experiences of my life and is definitely a highlight of the entire trip.
Recommendations: Bring more water! I would strongly suggest bringing about 1800 ml/60 oz (6 bottles) of water for this hike. it is a strenuous hike with changing elevations. Water helps fight the negative effects of both. Take one of the bamboo walking sticks the rangers offer you. It really helps with the climb, both up and down. Peak 1 to Peak 2 is the hardest. Don't give up here or at the top of Peak 2. Push through the ladders of Peak 3 and you will forever be rewarded with the views you receive there as well as the knowledge that you made it!