Mountains of the Moon
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN KENYA
IT WAS a rumor that persisted for centuries: Somewhere in Central Africa, there were snow-covered mountains—the true source of the Nile. But the notion of snow near the equator in Africa seemed unlikely. Yet, early in the second century C.E., the Greek geographer Ptolemy had suggested the existence of these mountains, calling them Lunae Montes—Mountains of the Moon.*
For centuries, efforts to locate these mountains proved futile. But then, one day in the late 1800’s, explorer Henry Stanley—famous for finding Dr. David Livingstone—witnessed a fortuitous event. Cloud cover, which had concealed the mountains from previous explorers, dissipated briefly, giving Stanley a stunning glimpse of a group of snowcapped peaks. He had found the Mountains of the Moon. But he called them by the name then used by local residents: Ruwenzori, which means “Rainmaker.”
Today, it is generally agreed that the Ruwenzoris play but a minor role in providing water for the Nile. Even so, they are still popularly called the Mountains of the Moon. And despite numerous exploratory expeditions, this awe-inspiring mountain range still maintains an aura of mystery. Lying just north of the equator, the Ruwenzoris are a natural boundary between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, stretching some 80 miles [130 km] long and 30 miles [50 km] wide.
Unlike most mountains in East Africa, which are of volcanic origin, the Ruwenzori range is a huge block of the earth’s crust that was thrust upward millenniums ago by enormous geologic pressures. Although the Ruwenzoris reach a high point of 16,763 feet [5,109 m], they are rarely visible to viewers. Most of the time, the range is enshrouded in mists and clouds.
As the name suggests, the Ruwenzoris enjoy a superabundance of rain and snow, the “dry” season being only slightly drier than the “wet” season. Walking can therefore be hazardous; in some areas mud is waist deep! The heavy rains have carved out a number of exquisite small lakes, which provide moisture for the unusually thick vegetation that blankets the mountain slopes. In fact, the Ruwenzoris are the home of a number of unusual plants, some of which grow to enormous sizes.
For example, the giant hairy fingers called lobelia are usually less than a foot [30 cm] in length elsewhere, but in the Ruwenzoris they may reach 20 feet [6 m]. The senecios, or giant groundsels, look like large cabbages sitting on top of branched trunks. There are moss-covered heath trees 40 feet [12 m] high. Flowers of all colors and fragrances add beauty to the scenery. There is also a diverse and beautiful population of birds, some of them unique to the Ruwenzoris. On the lower slopes live elephants, chimpanzees, bushbuck, leopards, and colobus monkeys.
A Wonderful View
Those who hike up the mountain paths go through a tropical rain forest and cross the Bujuku River a number of times. When they reach an altitude of 11,000 feet [3,000 m], they can look back and see all the way down into the Rift Valley—a stunning view!
Farther up is the lower Bigo Bog, an area of tussock grass and heath trees. The mud here is often knee-deep. A steep climb to the upper Bigo Bog and Lake Bujuku, at the top of the Bujuku Valley, some 13,000 feet [4,000 m] high, provides a wonderful view of Mount Baker, Mount Luigi di Savoia, Mount Stanley, and Mount Speke, the best-known peaks in the range.
Higher up is the permanent Elena Glacier. Here one must put on crampons, climbing irons, and use a rope and ice axes to climb up the glacier. Next comes a walk across the Stanley plateau on the way up to Margherita peak at the top of Mount Stanley, the highest peak in the Ruwenzori mountain group. Looking down from that height at a panoramic view of peaks, valleys, forests, streams, and lakes is truly awe-inspiring.
By no means, though, has this mountain range been conquered. The Ruwenzoris have only begun to yield their secrets. Much is still unknown about the range’s geology, animal life, and plant life. The Ruwenzoris thus remain shrouded in mystery—secrets fully known only to their wise and all-powerful Creator. Yes, he is truly the One “to whom the peaks of the mountains belong.”—Psalm 95:4.
According to the book The Nile, by Emil Ludwig, ancient native residents could not explain the snow on the mountains. They thus believed that “the mountains had drawn the moonlight down to them.”
[Pictures on page 17]
1. Thick cloud cover usually conceals Ruwenzori
2. “Rainmaker’s” heavy rains moisten its moss-covered slopes
3. Along the trail, flowers and fragrances are many