Home Magazine Issues June - July 2013 Travel Review Uganda

Hiking, climbing and learning to whitewater kayak

By Steve Hynd, Dan Smith, Jenny Farmer, Victoria Butegwa

The Mountain Club of Uganda has had all sorts of adventures so far this year. For the hikers, climbers and kayakers alike there has been some pioneering exploring! Uganda offers an abundance of stunning scenery and plenty of opportunity for getting those leg muscles going….

Bwamba Pass- from Bundibugiyo to Fort Portal
The group breaks for lunch and the views are breathtaking as we look down over the steep slopes onto the plains which stretch out into the rainforest of the Congo. From this vantage point you can begin to see why Stanley referred to the Ituri Forest as nothing but miles and miles of endless forest. We set off again in the heat of the midday sun with nothing but altitude as relief from the heat. We move out of the agricultural lands and into the deep thick rainforest. After five hours, a 1,400 meter ascent and some tired looking walkers later we reach the pass surrounded by thick bamboo forest. A second wind enters the group as we are safe in the knowledge that it is all downhill from then on.

It isn’t long until the heavens open and hamper our progress. Heavy balls of rain hit the red-earthed paths we are following and reduce them to streams of slippery clay. Some of our party skips through the thickening mud while others slip and slide their way down a series of precarious paths. Red mud marks the bottoms of those who lose their grip while red faces are a sign that for some the descent is as hard as the way up. Walking in unrelenting rain we finish our walk on the Ugandan side of the mountain range seven hours after we set off. Looking back we see the cloud curl round the hills and cover the path on which we had just descended. There is no hint at how far into the cloud the path goes or how far we had just come.

Learning to whitewater kayak
The first part of learning to kayak with Kayak The Nile is learning to paddle, properly! To do this, one of the instructors takes the group down to the flat pool by Nile River Explorers Campsite for a morning of paddling around, learning to be rescued and, hopefully, rolling back up.

After a quick packed lunch they head off to the Bujagali dam to get on some moving water;¬¬where the dam has conveniently created a calm area of moving water perfect for training beginners. After this the guides and safety kayakers take the group down to Jaws, the biggest rapid of the day; a grade 3 with a fun wave to the right, resulting in a little swim. Not to worry though because the guides are quick to scoop up the swimmers, getting them and their huge grins back in their boats. The next rapids are smaller but a brilliant opportunity to build confidence. After this it’s a quick paddle down to where the rafts put in before a short scramble up the bank and a cool Nile Special on the banks of the river.

Some of the members have become so enthusiastic for kayaking that they’ve continued with lessons and are now surfing at Super Hole, shooting big rapids with confidence and rolling like pros. Those that have been bitten by the paddling bug here are a little apprehensive of the cold waters outside of Uganda!

Rock climbing in Lake Mburo
Off we went, looking for the route Charlie had shown me. I don’t think I found it; again I turned too soon, and quickly found myself on a ledge full of baboon excrement! There are no bolted routes at Leopard Rock and it’s one of the few places in Uganda I’ve seen that has any placement for traditional climbing gear – metal chocks or camming devices placed in holes in the rock for protection.

The climbing is generally easy but the placements are quite sparse and you quickly find yourself running out on a fairly dodgy placement. So at the baboon excrement ledge I carefully slung a sling around a big rock and belayed Jenny up who removed the gear that I’d put in. So I suppose we set a new route too! We didn’t name it, but in hindsight I think it should be called ‘Baboon Excrement Balcony’.

We scrambled to the top of the rock and went looking for some more places to climb, which we found at the far end of the rock. We quickly slung up an anchor and Jenny rappelled down to look at what she could find. The wonderful thing about rural Uganda is the lack of pollution, signified by the thick layers of lichen that covers the rock. This is good for the lungs but not so good for climbing. But, after much giggling at the end of the rope, Jenny managed to find some good holds under all the lichen and on sight, climbed without falling. I think we called that one ‘I lichen the way you move’.

Once I’d rappelled down and climbed back up, we were starting to get worried about the time. So after a quick stop to admire the panoramic view of the park and lake, we headed back down the rock to have some cool (ish) sundowners whilst retracing our route back home to Rwakobo Rock lodge.

The Mountain Club of Uganda
The Mountain Club of Uganda has a strong history of exploration, documentation and adventure in the mountains, hills and rocks of Uganda. Established in 1946 the Club currently serves as a forum for those wishing to adventure into Uganda’s countryside, as well as developing mountaineering and outdoor adventure across the country. MCU meets on the first Thursday of every month at the Athina Club, and can be contacted at info@mcu.ug. Check out the website www.mcu.ug or Facebook group ‘Mountain Club of Uganda’ for more info.

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