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Recently two new members of the Volcanoes Team, Holly and Richard, took some much needed down time from the hustle and bustle of Kampala life and traveled to Mount Gahinga Lodge to climb the misty Sabinyo Volcano...
My first impression upon arriving to Mt. Gahinga Lodge was the breathtaking scenery. The lodge itself and the surrounding bandas are situated into the mountainside like soft little thatch nests. I was fortunate enough to arrive early in the morning, just in time for breakfast. Ali was our server, and attended to my friend, Richard, and me over the entire weekend. Not only was the hot porridge, coffee, toast with Nutella and eggs much appreciated, the service was fantastic.
Ric and I spent a lot of time sitting by the warm fire in the main room in the lodge, playing cards and generally enjoying the down time away from the city madness. It’s the little touches at the lodge that make you feel welcome. Before we got up in the morning, hot water was added to the portable canister in our bathroom, and if we wanted a hot shower, water was delivered quickly. (The showers are “bush showers” so water has to be placed by hand above and let down with a handle by its occupant.) I enjoyed the sustainable feel of the lodges and its facilities, since sometimes tourism can end up negatively affecting the surroundings it’s meant to promote. The facilities have drop toilets so no water is wasted in flushing (may sound scary but are completely clean and odorless.) Before we headed to bed in the evening, hot water bottles were magically and strategically placed between the sheets, so you could jump straight into a warm bed!
I loved the hot chocolate, gorilla-shaped cookies and generally cozy feel of the place. It was just right for getting warmed up after a rainy hike up a dormant volcano.
I am not really a mountain climber, more someone who looks at great hills in the distance with romantic notions and thinks ‘I wonder what’s up there?’ regretting the decision immediately once it’s clear I am too far up to turn around. My previous attempt to climb one of Uganda’s Virunga Mountains went rather badly, caught in a snowstorm on Mt Muhavura with no jacket or any waterproof gear, I did actually summit the peak, it just probably shortened my life considerably and made me very fearful of volcanoes. But I could not continue this anti-volcano stance for long, Uganda’s volcanoes collection is beautiful and everyone deserves a second chance, even huge volcanoes!
Early in the morning Holly and I met our guide at the Ugandan Wildlife Authority park headquarters building. With introductions and other formalities out the way, it was time to hike Sabyinyo!
The first peak was reached just after eleven or so in the morning. We were tired when we reached it but all thoughts of resting were forgotten when we saw the view. Most might argue that there cannot be much more of a thrill when going up a mountain than to look at the view below, but Sabyinyo looked like something out of Jurassic Park and where we were forested pinnacles, huge and foreboding, actually rose up toward the sky! It was something I have never seen before in my days.
To get to the second peak you have to climb down the first and the thought of taking some of the strain off my thighs felt good for about three minutes before the ladders started. The ladders are made from eucalyptus wood, which is rather ironic since it is an invasive species brought over from Australia in the distant colonial past and is currently being cut down and removed from the forest.
The third peak is the steepest and tallest of Sabyinyo and forms the highest point on the entire mountain and the only way to access it is yet another ladder. Despite its rather daunting appearance though, in the end climbing the final ladder wasn't actually the ‘ride’ that I had expected.
Now, at the very top the vistas were sweeping and unobstructed. As well as the unforgettable views, the top of Sabyinyo, the reward for five hours of hard work is being able to stand in three countries (Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC) all at the same time!
Ultimately Sabyinyo isn't a challenge to seasoned climbers, its a nice walk in the woods with one or two tricky sections and one of the world's most amazing ladders, but after the snow and cold of Muhavura where I stated 'I will never climb again!' it was great to get back up there and put my misgivings in the past!
Holly and Richard, Uganda Office
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.