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The Virungas: Hiking Mountain Muhavura and Sabyinyo

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I wanted to climb to the peak of Mountain Rwenzori like yesterday. It was a tale of passion, curiosity, anxiety, ignorance, all these things mixing into one great combination. Some friends had just been to the peak of Mountain Kilimanjaro and I was determined not to miss out on conquering Rwenzori.

Then I started sharing my desires. A friend wondered what was stopping me. I complained that it was the shoes. They bought me the shoes (a nod to Natif). Now with the shoes acquired, what was my excuse for not going for my desires?

Then it was announced in 2019 that Rwenzori would be the mountain. I was a newbie to the game, and I was determined to break my hiking virginity with Uganda’s highest. A friend was relocating to United States, I bought their Pantagonia Day pack. I bought the hard-shell jackets and I was convinced I was beyond ready.

A week to the real day, COVID-19 happened in March. And it was lockdown, and everything just go cancelled. When the country eased up, a group Mountain Slayers organized a hike to Rwenzori. Once again, I was disqualified for lack of experience. I couldn’t present a certificate or photo of myself at one of the mountains. In hindsight, I was glad they disqualified me. I was unprepared, at least after going for Muhavura.

Then in November, the 3-mountain challenge came up. Uganda is host to three Virunga mountains, that’s Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. Of the three, Muhavura is the beast, the highest and the hardest to conquer. This 3-mountain challenge was a dare to hike all the 3 in one-go. These three are known as the Mufumbiro mountains. When Muhavura was erupting, the locals used to say, that’s where God was cooking from thus the name; “in the kitchen” aka “Mufumbiro.”

I got to Kisoro on a Thursday evening. On Friday morning I was ready to Muhavura. My accommodation was UGX 90K per night (bed and breakfast). Each mountain costs UGX 50K and that entitles the team to a guide. If you must get a porter, prepare another UGX 60K for the porter. Here’s my warning, if you are carrying a heavy backpack, please invest in a porter for Muhavura. It’s the best advice. That mountain can shred you to pieces. It gets too vertical at some points. It laughs at you, it’s painful, it’s exciting, it makes you rethink your hiking passions. While there, you get to a point when you can head off to Rwanda or to the peak. I chose to head to the peak.

Some of the wooden stairs on Muhavura

I returned beaten and thinking I should halt any further hiking activity. But once I got to the base, I knew I was ready for the next mountain. On Saturday, the routine started once again. It was time to go for Sabyinyo. Sabyinyo means the rugged teeth of an old woman/or man. I think it’s a woman because Sabyinyo is beautiful. It’s motherly. Where Muhavura has that strong paternal love, Sabyinyo has that motherly touch. It beats you while pleading with you to keep quiet. It will beat you then hug you. It smiles, then pinches you. You will never forget the stairs. Those stairways to Heaven are adorable.

I started on Sabyinyo and once at the peak, I had the beauty of being in three countries at the same time. You will be in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. Not very many people have had the chance to be in those three countries at once. In fact, those jaws you see at the corner of the Ugandan map, that’s Sabyinyo. Sabyinyo is a compressed mountain Rwenzori, so they say. If you can’t make it to Rwenzori, then Sabyinyo is the mountain.

In 3 countries at the same time

On the day I was doing Sabyinyo, a couple of people were smashing records. The great Herman Kambugu was speed-climbing two mountains. He went up and down Sabyinyo and then up and down Gahinga. Angie too represented the ladies by smashing the record of doing two mountains in one day. I couldn’t do baby Gahinga. It deserves its own day.

A lot of people have asked me about the budget. I must say, the one thing you shouldn’t compromise on is your gear. I have spent quite a bit on the gear. Every other thing you can get creative around it, from transportation to lodging options. For example, invest in a good shoe. My current shoe is from North Face, it’s the best thing ever to happen to my feet.

Also, try to find several friends, at least a group of five enthusiasts. Costs just go down when you can bargain as a group. It’s also fun when you have that diversity with you. I am now already thinking of Nyiragongo, the mountain with an active lava lake, the closest you can get to hell. Huh!

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