Once called the Ruwenzori Ranges, and now called the Rwenzori Mountains, the Mountains of the Moon are located between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stretching to heights of about 5, 109 metres the Rwenzori Mountains are one of the highest mountains in Africa.

The mountains are said to have been formed three million years ago. The range is about 120 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide. The Rwenzori is composed of a group of mountains referred to as massifs. The massifs are separated by deep gorges. They are Mount Stanley (5,109 metres), Mount Speke (4,890 metres), Mount Baker (4,843 metres), Mount Emin (4,798 metres), Mount Gessi (4,715 metres) and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4,627 metres).

Vegetation in Rwenzori Mountains. Photo: Jorn Eriksson/Flickr

The peak of the mountains is the Marhgherita Peak which is on Mount Stanley. It is the third highest peak in Africa. The name Ruwenzori was changed to Rwenzori around 1980. This was in order to keep more closely with the local name Rwenjura.

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The mountains are one of the sources of the river Nile. Although glaciers are disappearing from the mountains due to global warming, the Rwenzori peaks are permanently snow-capped.

Ornithologist James P. Chapin displays Flag #4 on expedition in the Ruwenzori Mountains, 1925
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The mountains are a host to two national parks, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Virunga National Park. The mountains also boast of lush vegetation which ranges from tropical rainforest through alpine meadows to snow.

The reference to Mount Rwenzori as Mountains of the Moon came from Greek explorers trying to locate the source of the Nile. A merchant called Diogenes reported that the source of the Nile came from a group of mountains which the indigenes of the land called Mountains of the  Moon because of their snow-capped whiteness. Unfortunately this snow-capped whiteness has been reducing and is likely to stop existing.

Snow Capped Rwenzori Mountains
Photo: Jorn Eriksson/ Flickr

The glacial recession on the Rwenzori Mountains has been a cause for worry. It is one of the evidence of global warming. In 1906, the Rwenzori had 43 glaciers across six mountains. Almost 100 years later, in 2005, less than half of those glaciers were present on three mountains.

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The Rwenzori Mountains experience high and regular rainfall throughout the year making it have one of the most diverse vegetation. The Rwenzori has five vegetation zones which changes as one goes higher. The grassland which is found at 1000 to 2000 metres, montane forest (2000 to 3000m), bamboo/mimulopsis zone (2500 to 3,500m), heather/Rapanea zone (3000 to 4000m) and finally the afro-alpine moorland zone (4000 to 4,500m).

Uganda has three UNESCO Heritage Sites and Rwenzori Mountains National Park is one of them.