a terrain filled with green plants and a creek

How to Climb One of Africa’s Tallest Mountains

A hike up the Rwenzori range quickly changes from tropical rain forest to cold and snowy.

This story appears in the July 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

By the Numbers

20ºF
Night temperature at 13,000 feet

15,893
Summit of Mount Baker (feet)

22
Days on Mount Baker

T MINUS SIX MONTHS

Plotting the course: I was invited to photograph a group of German geologists who were using very detailed GPS readings to measure how tectonic-plate movement is shifting the Rwenzori Mountains. Months before our departure I bought waterproof clothing and bags to protect my equipment from the wet climate. Then we planned our strategy. The range is on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At my urging the team decided to travel on the Ugandan side to avoid rebel activity in the DRC.

T MINUS TWO WEEKS

Essential packing list: At the base of Mount Baker, the temperature was in the 80s. As we climbed, it became cold, wet, windy—and then snowy. We went from sweating to freezing in just a few days.

  • A warm sleeping bag
  • Four waterproof bags
  • A GPS device
  • Chocolate (not enough)
  • Polarizing filter for camera lens to diffuse the mountain light
  • A backup hard drive for downloading photos every night
  • Aspirin for altitude sickness

T MINUS 48 HOURS

Ready for launch: Climbing to such a high altitude in the Rwenzoris was a dream, and I couldn’t wait to get there. I flew from my home in Panama to New York, then on to Amsterdam and finally to Entebbe, Uganda. I met the geologists there, and we drove together to the western border. In a town at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains, we arranged for 15 porters and cooks, as well as one armed guard, to accompany us up Mount Baker.

Read This Next

How your favorite plant-based milk impacts the planet
Christianity struggled to grow—until this skeptic became a believer
Winter is coming. These trips help you embrace it—or escape it.

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet