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Rwenzori Mountains

A Photographic Essay by Julius Hirtzberger

In regards of the top three highest mountains in Africa you are likely (if you’re like most people) to know Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak), probably Mount Kenya sounds familiar and at Rwenzori Mountains you are like “what?”. Although climbing the 5109m of the Margherita Peak (the massif's and Mount Stanley's highest peak) are what we sat out for (and it isn't the easiest task even for experienced alpinists), the 8-day-journey to even get to the foot of Mount Stanley, is what bears the real adventure. No road, no helicopter, no civilization at all. 

Starting out in a tropical jungle, the landscape were continuously transforming as we proceeded further. We wandered through deep jungle, imprecated woods, vast highland moors, jagged rock formations and eventually climbed steep glaciers and almost vertical cliffs. We passed rivers, lakes, exposed passes and deep canyons. “Rwenzori” actually means “Rainmaker” and I can assure you, these mountains live up to their name as the weather changes every 30 minutes between rain, fog, rain, snow, hail and if you’re lucky, sun which is als where the rather special and exotic fauna derives from. We hiked most of the time in simple rubber boots with an poncho ready to hand (at this point: Afield Out, please consider bringing rubber boots! ;) ) but had also heavy boots and crampons in our backpack. We slept in very basic tent-like fixed shelters providing at most the idea of warmth. Although the day-marches (at least 10hrs a day) were very strenuous and selective,  wandering through those fantastic, wild and in some cases almost unreal landscapes with no man in sight (except for our group) was a rewarding and not your average mountain experience, it was truly special. 

One particular highlight (and there were plenty) was the final stage to the summit for sure. Getting up at 1am at 4500m in altitude, amidst a rather uncomfortable snowstorm at -15°C wasn’t the most pleasant experience I admit but it got wiped off once we experienced the most spectacular sunrise in all of our entire lives by chance as the storm lifted exactly once the sun appeared on the horizon, giving us the only clear morning of the entire trip. I took the photo of the two climbing mates surrounded by pink enlightened ice, with my Hasselblad medium format camera while I had tears in my eyes from being overwhelmed with emotion of these special moments. The photo became later a winning photo in an important global photo competition, the Hasselblad X You challenge with gave my career as a photographer a significant boost.

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