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