Story submitted by Roger Donne
When we began this trail hike there were six of us in the group and two local guides from the village of Nemba. Everyone in our group of trekkers were in acceptable physical condition. Some more so than others. There were two younger couples who appeared to be in their early thirties. On the other end of the spectrum were two lone travelers. Both of us were well north of thirty, but we were well aware of the challenge. The climb to the summit of Mount Kabuye in the Northern Province of Rwanda would take about three to four hours. We were fully rested from our stay at a small, but amazing lodge in Kinigi. Our overnight in Kinigi was a realistic way to prepare for the next day’s trek up the mountain. Our accommodations included very neat cottages, well planted gardens and a delicious Rwandan supper replete with grilled chicken, stewed pumpkin, dodo (like greens), two creole-type sauces, two types of steamed rice, chips (potatoes), African beans and an avocado salad. The dining room commons and the cottages all had fireplaces which the staff kept stoked with firewood. We ate our dinners while enjoying an assortment of local music. Drinks were simple. Local juices (mango and guava), or bottled soda pop and local beer. Not all of our group were able to overnight in a cottage. Some of us elected to pitch tents on the grassy grounds. The overnight temperatures were very cold when compared to what we had experienced in other parts of Rwanda such as the Capital city of Kigali.
On the Road to Gakenke District
This expedition was put together by Rwanda Trek and it was a curated experience that would not include the luxury features that are on offer for visitors that were on expensive gorilla treks. Breakfast, checking out and packing tents were all completed by 7:30 AM. The ambient temperature was still very cool, but the sun was up and shinning very nicely on clouded volcano peaks in the distance. The expedition leader and guide arrived on time to drive our group and gear towards the Gakenke District. Gakenke is located in the vicinity of Mount Kabuye. It was still misty and cool as we motored along tree-lined roads. The smells, sights and sounds of the local areas were entertaining. Our 4X4 vehicle competed for road space with bicycles, pedestrians, moto-taxis, human-powered carts, three-wheeled cargo rickshaws, other passenger vehicles and large trucks. What a show. I was happy to sit back in quiet contemplation of the day ahead. I was also happy not to be one driving. These road conditions were unlike anything one would experience in the UK. We passed several neighborhood areas with colorful shopping stalls painted yellow, blue, read and other bright colors. Some of the small buildings were emblazoned with the name brands of beer and other products. These small shops appeared to sell everything from ironing boards to raw charcoal. We arrived at our trek starting point without incident and assembled around our guides for quick a briefing on the conditions ahead.
Mount Kabuye Trail
Apart from the goliath volcanos of the Virunga range, Mount Kabuye is one of the highest mountains in Rwanda. The reported height is 2,700 meters. Our briefing was impressive in terms of the information we were provided in addition to a local weather report. The lead guide also supplied a small packet of printed maps, wildlife information and emergency telephone numbers. Our plan was to ascend to the summit, trek the general perimeters and eventually set-up camp for what was expected to be a very cold overnight stay. The weather report did not indicate any pronounced chance of daytime precipitation, but overnight weather was another story. Our lead guide told us to expect some rain and to erect our small tents with wet and windy conditions in mind. We walked at a comfortable pace up hilly farmland areas and a trail that was not too rocky and generally soft underfoot for the initial climb. The smell and tall presence of Eucalyptus trees were invigorating. There were many types of undergrowth and trees. We encountered some curious locals who were all smiles. We were probably not the first crazy Foreigners they had seen climbing up this mountain. Our group of trekkers had many rest stop opportunities. The guides had a good sense of the pace that was needed to keep everyone moving without the burden of creating stragglers. The changing views as we climbed higher up the trail were worth the effort. Fortunately, I had a proper camera to capture these outstanding vistas. Sometimes an iPhone or mobile camera just will not to do justice to brilliant landscapes.
Mount Kabuye Summit
The trek up the trail took about three hours and forty minutes. The higher we ascended the more dramatic the scenery became. By the time we had arrived at the summit of Mount Kabuye the morning mist had burnt off and the temperature was noticeably warmer. I cannot speak for my fellow trekkers, but I felt empowered and elated to have made it to the summit with a soft breeze blowing in the trees and a killer view of Lakes Burera and Ruhondo in the distance. The remainder of the day was spent making a few new trails of our own. We had a couple of birders in our group who were chuffed at every “new” species of winged creature they spotted. Later in the day we found an ideal spot to pitch our tents and sort-out our food preparation areas. Everyone was in possession of small backpack stoves, but apparently flying with fuel was problematic so the two trekkers that had fuel generously shared what was on hand. We also built a community fire pit that could be enjoyed by the group. Dinner was basic fare as you can well imagine. We only experienced two small rain showers with some wind that made sleeping all the more rewarding. Thanks to the constant shepherding and counsel from our guide, the rain and wind were no factors. I cannot relate all the things that made hiking this trail so special for me. There were many. Is this a trek that is worth the expenditure of holiday time and physical effort? Yes! If you are planning a trip to Rwanda do put Mount Kabuye on your short list. The hike back down the mountain required less time of course. We descended within a mighty cloud bank that had rolled in on us unannounced. Visibility was less than thirty meters at summit elevations, but as sunny daytime heating increased, the fog began to burn-off. Our guide took us on a few detours as we climbed down the trail. These mini excursions made things a bit more interesting. Our group was in high spirits when we finally arrived at the rendezvous point near the town District office. This was a medium to difficult trail hike that I completely enjoyed. Camping at the summit proved to be the extra ingredient that blended well with this Rwanda outdoors adventure.