There is a house in the south west part of Uganda. It’s just on the outskirts of a village called Kilembe. It’s a lodge more like, made of wood, and it sits at the base of a mountain.
The way to get there might seem long at first. From Kampala, you take a bus across the country to the town of Kasese. It takes about eight hours with all the stops, but don’t worry, you’ll get there. Pole Pole. Buy some nuts and plantains from the boys out the window if you like.
Once you reach Kasese, there will be a group of men sitting around on motorbikes by the bus stop. Get on one and tell them ‘mlima’. Mountain. They’ll know where to go. But don’t pay more than 20,000 shillings.
The roads in that part of the country are bumpy and unpaved. When it rains, sometimes there’s no way through. The landscape changes from buildings and homes, to lush forest, coffee and Banana Trees everywhere.
Eventually you will reach the tiny village, and from there you can get off and walk. You might notice something strange about the buildings there. That they seem out of place. It’s because back in the 1950s, a Canadian company came and built these homes for minors. So they could live and work up in the mountains. But after the company was sold to the Government, they were abandoned, and the villagers moved in.
It is at the very end of the village that you will find the wooden house. It has a large front porch and a water tan on one end, surrounded by tall, lush grass.
As you approach, you might see a worn pair of boots by the front door, or a pair of trekking poles leaning against the side. And you will hear voices. Laughter.
The house is used as a sort of basecamp. A place for climbers to sleep and organize their gear before they head up into the mountains. On one side, there is a sign that reads ‘The Rwenzoris’, and an arrow pointing ahead. ‘Highest point in Uganda.’ And in the distance you can see the snowcapped peaks.
The days on the mountain are long and hard. The terrain constantly changing. There are waterfalls, and bamboo forests, and ladders and boardwalks to help get through the mud.
You will move from forest, to low grasslands, to passes with giant rocks. You’ll hike through sun, and rain, and heavy mist.
There are birds, antelope, even monkeys swinging overhead.
The food will taste like the best thing you’ve ever eaten.
A tip as you get higher up. Drink lots of tea. It helps with the altitude. And try stuffing all your clothes into your sleeping bag with you. That way you’ll stay warm and they won’t get damp.
‘Place of snow.’ That’s what Rwenzori means.
The mountain range borders Uganda and the Congo. Margherita peak is the tallest point in both countries. The third highest peak on the continent. So people come from all over the world to attempt the climb.
It’s fun hearing the guides talk about the people they’ve met over the years. The eighty-five-year-old Canadian woman who reached the summit. The Ugandan Tourism Board who brought a whole film crew with them. The expression on people’s faces the first time they saw snow.
Time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level. We learn that in physics.
But if you were to ask climbers, it feels like the opposite. As you get higher up and the air thins, it feels like time slows. Expands. Life becomes simple. Eat. Sleep. Hike. There is finally time to think. To examine the thoughts that have been sitting at the back of your mind.
On summit day, you wake up around 1 a.m. The only light outside is from the moon.
You leave camp with your helmet and harness on. Begin trekking through the dark. Navigating over rock and ice.
There are two glaciers where you’ll need crampons and ice axes.
Eventually, the sun will begin to peak out as you’re approaching the summit, and you’ll realize you’re standing above the clouds.
In the mornings, before a trip, the front porch of the house is filled with people. Young men and women checking their gear, planning, drinking tea.
But now it is quiet.
Down at the other end of the porch, there is a young boy sitting with his legs dangling off the edge. That’s Alfred. He spent the last eight days with us. He’s training to become a guide.
He has his boots off, and a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth. He nods and smiles. Then we both turn to watch the sun as it begins its descent. Red and orange across the horizon. Sitting in a little house in the middle of Uganda.
Glen Bullock is a writer from Toronto, Canada. He summited Mount Stanley with Rwenzori Trekking in 2021. His work can be found at glenbullock.com.