This week’s dream: the king of the Con­golese peaks

The Week Middle East - - Consumer Leisure -

Its lower slopes are a botan­i­cal won­der­land, and the views from its ser­rated ridges are breath­tak­ing. But ac­cess to Mount Stan­ley – Africa’s third­high­est peak – has been lim­ited over the past half-cen­tury, says Martin Fletcher in the FT, ow­ing to wars and po­lit­i­cal up­heavals in Uganda and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, whose shared bor­der it strad­dles. In re­cent years, climbers have been able to ap­proach it through Uganda, but ear­lier this year a bet­ter way – far less boggy, and less fre­quented – opened up on the Con­golese side, thanks to the “frag­ile” new peace there. At 5,109m, the peak is a chal­lenge, but “rea­son­ably fit” novice moun­taineers stand a fight­ing chance of con­quer­ing it, with the help of ex­pert guides.

The Con­golese side of the moun­tain lies in the Virunga Na­tional Park, home also to moun­tain go­ril­las and the world’s largest lava lake. It is the tallest of the snow­capped Rwen­zoris (“the rain­mak­ers”), a range that has been iden­ti­fied by some as Ptolemy’s Moun­tains of the Moon, said by the Greco-Ro­man poly­math to be the source of the Nile. The first Euro­pean to set eyes on them was Henry Mor­ton Stan­ley, in 1888; and the first to climb Mount Stan­ley it­self was the Duke of Abruzzi, in 1906. The Duke took 150 porters, but you might make do with ten – armed with AK-47s in case of “stray gueril­las”.

The scenery is “as­tound­ing”: you walk through bam­boo groves, and forests of “Tolkienesque” gi­ant heather trees, then pass through a “fan­tas­ti­cal, pre­his­toric” land­scape dot­ted with gi­ant spiky lo­belias, “like trif­fids”. There are lakes, tun­nels of green moss, end­less wild­flow­ers – and fi­nally, towering peaks of rock and ice. From here, the stars are “bril­liant”, and the sight of elec­tric storms rag­ing far be­low un­der­scores “the im­mense power of this el­e­men­tal world”. Se­cret Com­pass (020-7096 8428, www.se­cret­com­pass.com) has a 14-day trip from £3,999pp in­clud­ing guides, but ex­clud­ing flights.

Mount Stan­ley: a “fan­tas­ti­cal, pre­his­toric” land­scape

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