Nestled on the border between Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda, Mount Muhabura, also known as “Muhavura,” is an extinct volcano that offers an exhilarating hiking experience. One portion of this remarkable volcano resides in Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, while the other lies within Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Standing proudly at 4,127 meters above sea level, Mount Muhabura ranks as the third highest peak among the Virunga Ranges of mountains, with only Mount Karisimbi and Mikeno surpassing it in height.
Despite not being the tallest, Mount Muhabura distinguishes itself as the steepest of the eight volcanoes within the Virunga ranges. This imposing mountain, named “Muhabura” in the local language, means “the guide,” possibly due to its role as a guiding landmark for distant travelers.
Mount Muhabura’s Unique Characteristics
Mount Muhabura boasts a distinctive cone-like shape adorned with volcanic ash and related materials covering its slopes and foot. This volcanic ash supports a lush landscape of shrubs and thickets that grace the mountain’s sides. The prominent Kabiranyuma river/swamp acts as a natural boundary, separating Mount Muhabura from Mount Gahinga.
The mountain’s allure lies not only in its rugged terrain but also in the rare species it harbors. Hikers on the Uganda side may have the opportunity to spot diverse wildlife, including buffaloes, elephants, and even the elusive mountain gorillas. However, encountering buffaloes can be challenging, as they are naturally aggressive. Fortunately, armed rangers are always on hand to ensure hikers’ safety and keep these formidable creatures at bay.
Hiking Mount Muhabura is a demanding endeavor, and it’s known as the most challenging climb among the Virunga Ranges. Despite its relatively shorter height compared to some of its neighbors, hikers are required to complete the ascent in a single day, before nightfall. To conquer this mountain, mental preparation and determination are paramount.
Planning Your Hike
Hiking Mount Muhabura can be organized from both the Uganda and Rwanda sides. If you choose to embark on this adventure from Uganda, you’ll be greeted by resident guides from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, who will lead you to the Ntebeko Visitors Centre. On the other hand, if you opt for the Rwanda side, you must report to the Kinigi Visitors Center, where you can make the necessary arrangements if you haven’t already.
Upon reaching the respective offices, a guide and a team of rangers will be assigned to your group. They will accompany you throughout the challenging hike. For those carrying heavy luggage or equipment, porters are available for hire at the mountain’s base. In the case of large groups, hikers are often divided into two categories: the slow hikers and the experienced ones. If it becomes evident that you won’t reach the summit in time, you will be advised to descend along with others who have completed the hike.
Climbing Mount Muhabura usually begins around 7 am and takes between 5 to 7 hours to complete. Prior to setting off on the head trail, the rangers will provide a comprehensive briefing for all hikers. This session covers essential aspects of the hike, including the mountain’s history and formation. Hikers will also receive advice on how to prepare mentally for the expedition and how to handle injuries or symptoms of altitude sickness. During the briefing, the guides and rangers will verify that all hikers are properly equipped with hiking boots, walking sticks, appropriate clothing, packed lunches, drinking water, and other essential gear. All necessary supplies must be organized before commencing the hike.
The Challenging Ascent
Hiking Mount Muhabura from the Uganda side involves two significant stops before reaching the summit. The first stop is situated at approximately 3,117 meters above sea level, while the second one is at about 3,860 meters above sea level. Many hikers choose to rest at the first stop, enjoy lunch, and decide whether to continue. In fact, in most large groups, fewer than 50 participants make it to the very top.
For those who persevere, the journey becomes even more demanding after the second stop. At this point, there’s no turning back, as the summit is within reach. To continue from this stage demands increased stamina, determination, and a reasonable level of physical fitness. The conditions also become colder, and the mountain is often shrouded in mist. Some hikers may encounter altitude sickness or sustain ankle injuries.
For those who conquer the challenging hike and reach the summit, a breathtaking reward awaits. The panoramic scenery includes picturesque countryside, pristine lakes, and views of neighboring volcanoes within the Virunga ranges, such as Sabyinyo