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A History of the Lunæs Montes

The arch-colonist Henry Morton Stanley in his In Darkest Africa, Vol II (Ch. 29) provides a good summary of the written history of the quest for the Rwenzoris. That quest is inextricably linked with the quest for the source of the Nile.

Some History

It is perhaps not surprising that explorers from as far back as Homer's age (c. 850 BC), whose knowledge of Africa was primary through their interaction with Egypt, were captivated by the quest for the source of the Nile.

The Nile's source however was to prove elusive for many years to come. A map by Hipparchus (c. 100 BC) shows the Nile flowing out of three lakes north of the equator. Another by Ptolemy (c. 150 AD) follows the same idea, but places the lakes south of the equator. (It is interesting to note how so close to the truth the ancients were.) With succeeding years, more detail was added to this picture, but it was not until 1862 that the source of the White Nile was finally fixed on the map by J H Speke. (We don't like to use the word 'discovered' much, since the locals knew for centuries wherere the source was. It's just the nosy explorers who didn't!)

As far back as 500 BC, geographers had come to believe that the Nile flowed out of "fountains" somewhere in Central Africa. Ptolemy was the first to postulate that these were to be found in the Lunæs Montes ("Mountains of the Mooni"), somewhere deep inside central Africa. This is echoed in subsequent Africa maps through the ages.

Of all the explorers who wrote of these mountains, none seems to have seen them, as is evidenced by the amount of myth surrounding them. Tales abound of magical kingdoms, strange beasts, bright shiny objects and great mists. H M Stanley first glimpses them in the 1870s from a great distance. As is the case today, because the peaks are usually shrouded in clouds, the mountains were not easy to see. Stanley provides a lucid and engaging account (ch. 30) of his encounter with the Rwenzoris, which he finally fixes on the map of Africa in April 1885.

About the Rwenzoris

The Rwenzoris are a 90-mile long range of block mountains on the western border of Uganda, somewhat between Lake George and Lake Albert. They form the western border of the part of the Great East African Rift Valley that passes through Uganda.

The Rwenzoris consist of a variety of peaks, ravines and ridges. The three highest mountains in the range are Mt. Speke, Mt. Stanley and Mt. Baker. The highest peak of the Rwenzoris is Margherita Peak on Mt. Stanley (at 5110m above mean sea-level). This is the third highest peak in Africa, after Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, but is considered the most arduous climb in Africa.

Because they receive a large amount of rainfall, the mountains are criss-crossed by many rivers and streams. The vegetation in the Rwenzoris also tends to be quite thick and prone to gigantism. There is also a variety of wildlife, including elephants, chimpanzee, monkeys, leopards and antelope.

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