Hiking Mount Sabyinyo: worth the climb?

We stand back at the foothills of Mount Sabyinyo in Uganda, the place where it all started 10 hours ago. I am soaked, exhausted and still shiver when I think of the dangerous tumble my dad made during the slippery descent. I sigh and wonder if I would hike this mountain again.

I am soaked, exhausted and still shiver when I think of the dangerous tumble my dad made during the slippery descent.

Our ranger, equipped with Kalashnikov, and female guide are waiting for us in the visitor center of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, on the border of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC Congo. My dad and I have the guide all to ourselves today. All the other visitors have gone looking for the rare mountain gorillas, as the name of the park suggests. Having the chance to stand eye to eye with gorillas comes with a steep price tag, so we decided to go for the much cheaper hike in the hope to enjoy the same amazing green views. I never encountered some big wildlife by foot before and secretly I hope to see the endangered golden monkeys as well, as other guests bragged in our hostel yesterday.

“The slopes of Mount Sabyinyo contain biologically diverse ecosystems”, our female guide says while pointing at three extinct volcanoes. I throw a glance in the direction of the mountain and already realize we are not facing an easy 14 km hike. The first kilometers go smoothly in near-flat grasslands, despite the extremely muddy conditions, and we are having fun conquering the natural obstacle course on this clear and sunny day. We jump over pools and enjoy the wonderful damp smell of the stagnant water.

Not only the birds on Mount Sabyinyo are colorful...
Not only the birds on Mount Sabyinyo are colorful…

We enter the bamboo zone and set our eyes on giant elephant dungs and footprints. Suddenly we hear the sound of cracking bamboo in the distance. My heart skips a beat and we all stand still. Our ranger has a concentrated twinkle in his eyes. I wonder when he used his gun for the last time. Then the sounds fade away and the tension is broken. “Yes, you just heard a herd of strolling elephants”, the guide replies my unasked question.

Our ranger has a concentrated twinkle in his eyes. I wonder when he used his gun for the last time.

Once in the primary forest the steep ascent begins. We admire the song of the birds and even spot a colorful Ruwenzori Turaco. The bird is larger than I expected and in his flight I see a blur of green, blue and red colors. Higher up the mountain, the scenery becomes even more magnificent with a variety of heather trees festooned with mosses and old man’s beard (Usnea) that swayed back and forth in the breeze. We imagine ourselves in a fairy tale. A fairy tale with lush green views and handmade wooden stairways. These ladders, however of varying quality, help us to overcome the steepest parts. We make it to the summit of the first peak!

Old man’s beard swaying in the wind
Old man’s beard swaying in the wind

We gather some strength during a well-deserved lunch break and curiously I focus my eyes on the two peaks ahead of us. They still seem so far away… We continue on more of those wobbly ‘natural ladders’. The steep hills take my breath away but together we push on and reach the second summit. As clouds are rolling over and we are running out of time, our guide suggests to start the ascent. For a second, I feel defeated. I was so looking forward to reach the top! I stumble and feel a little lightheaded. We follow her downwards without protest. For the last time, I take a brief look at the countryside of Rwanda and Congo.

The second peak of Mount Sabyinyo at 3,537 meters above sea level
The second peak of Mount Sabyinyo at 3,537 meters above sea level

Hail and rain showers alternate on our way back and turn the ladders into dangerous slides which prolongs the descent. My dad tries to safely descend the stairways backwards. While I am descending forward-facing, I see how he misses a step. He is falling and I fear the worst. Then the karate instincts of my dad take over. He performs a perfect backwards roll, which breaks the fall, and lands on his spine. “I am alright”, he yells. The crack in his voice gives away that he is not yet recovered from the shock. I check all of his limbs for any injury. Surprisingly, it seems like his backpack intercepted most of the damage. We continue the remaining of the hike with nothing more than a broken eyeglass case.

Slippery descent…
Slippery descent…

Once returned to the bamboo zone, our muscles ache and the thought of giving up grows with every step. When the ground starts to shake, I don’t realize what is happening. I look in my dad’s eyes with a questioning look. “You are going to like it”, our ranger says smirkingly. In the distance, we see buffalos crossing our walking path. I cannot wipe the smile off my face. These buffalos give me the sparkle to carry on and we reach the visitor center before sunset.

When the ground starts to shake, I don’t realize what is happening.

My wet clothes stick to my body and I shiver despite the pleasant temperature. I hug my dad and feel such a sense of accomplishment. It was worth the effort and every step. Where on earth can you walk through such a gorgeous scenery through various ecosystems and have the chance to drop across elephants and buffalos? Yes, I would hike Mount Sabyinyo again, but maybe not today…

Find more destinations in Uganda for nature lovers here.

 

You want to hike Mt. Sabyinyo too?

Hiking passes can be bought at the Mgahinga park headquarters or, easier when you are in town, at the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) office in Kisoro, situated on Bunagana Road. For 2017, the pass costs US$80 including the park entrance and guide fees. We bought our passes just one day in advance at the UWA office. Up to date prices for all national parks in Uganda can be found on the UWA website.

The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park headquarters in Ntebeko is a 40 min drive from Kisoro (let your hostel arrange a taxi) and you should aim to be at the entrance gate around 7.30 a.m. as the guides set off at 8 a.m. The best time for the hike is the dry season around January and late June – begin September.

What to bring?

  • Lunch and snacks
  • At least 2 liters of water
  • Hiking shoes or rubber boots
  • Rain coat and fleece
  • Gloves and hat

 

Click trough to know how much to budget for your Uganda trip.

 

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Uganda travel tips, wanderlust and things to do in Kisoro. Ultimate guide to hiking Mount Sabinyo including packing list and price.

9 Replies to “Hiking Mount Sabyinyo: worth the climb?”

  1. Okay so this sounds like my idea of HELL haha but I can understand how rewarding it must have been to actually do it 🙂 Also you are a fantastic writer, genuinely had me gripped from start to finish, and that’s not something that I say all the time!

    1. Hi Cory, a ranger and guide are obligatory 😉 They inform you about the fauna and flora and the gun is also good to have in case of emergency…

  2. I really need to get myself to go and start hiking! I was worried for your dad though!! Btw, I love the way you narrate your stories…made me feel like I was listening to you in person!

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