MSU President Paul Lumala speaking at the handover ceremony in Kasese on Saturday. Photo: Ronald Tusiime
Mountain Slayers Uganda (MSU) over the weekend handed over mountain climbing safety equipment to the Rwenzori mountains’ guiding community. The equipment handover is part of a project that also saw guides and rangers from the Rwenzori mountains receive safety training for the mountains back in June 2021.
The activity took place at Rwenzori Base Camp Guest House in Kasese. It was the culmination of a project dubbed “Galvanizing Mountain Tourism Through Enhancing Mountain Safety” and led by Mountain Slayers Uganda President Paul Lumala.
The project is sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The handover of equipment preceded a 10-day training of 14 guides and two rangers from Rwenzori Ranges Hikers Association (RRHA), Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) on safety in the mountains carried out in June 2021 by Sentinel Outdoor Institute.
The training which is aimed at increasing the level of safety for both local and international tourists while climbing the Rwenzori focused on the following areas: Outdoor Leadership, Group Organisation and Management, Wilderness First Aid (WFA), Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Leave No Trace (LNT) and Field Emergency Evacuation.
The equipment comprised of: Climbing safety: static ropes (200m), 30 units each rappelling devices, self-locking, and spring gate carabiners, harnesses, helmets, ice axes, crampons, ascender devices, and 20 ice screws; Crevasse rescue: pulleys, snow pickets, cords webbing, and slings; Evacuation: Six stretchers (one for each hut on the Central Circuit of Rwenzori) and Emergency communication: 15 pairs of radio sets.
For quality assurance, a team of hikers from Mountain Slayers Uganda went to Rwenzori to test the equipment and to summit Margherita Peak. They were led by a team of three guides and two additional staff trained in June. According to Lumala, the team completed the test without incident and found the equipment to be effective. The guides led the team to summit Rwenzori’s highest peak, Margherita, at 5,109 metres.
Josephat Baluku, who has been a professional guide with Rwenzori Mountaineering Services for over 30 years, said that the training empowered them and has made them more efficient guides.
“Most of the equipment we were using was not the standard recommended gear. For example, with the new ice axe, we can now easily identify the crevasses (holes in the glaciers) so that hikers don’t fall in them. I once fell into a crevasse and couldn’t remove myself. I sustained an injury that left a scar. With the new gear and the training we received, I can remove myself from a crevasse using the different static ropes and other equipment,” he said.
Baluku is excited to use the gear and invites all Ugandans to try climbing the Rwenzori. The climbing experience will be easier with their improved skills plus the safety equipment. “It’s their mountain and not only for foreigners,” he added.
Nelson Bwambale, who has been a guide for two years, says the training has boosted his confidence and made him a better guide.
“We will be able to guide hikers in the way it should be done. We have been well trained, and I encourage Ugandans to come and enjoy the mountains and their beauty,” said Bwambale.
Lumala said Mountain Slayers Uganda are on a mission to make more Ugandans take up hiking as a hobby but, having had several trips to the Rwenzori in the past, had observed issues with safety in the mountains.
For instance, if a climber suffered from Acute Mountain Sickness or an injury, the guides used a “human ambulance system” or “manbulance”. This is where a 10-man team takes turns carrying the injured hiker down steep, slippery rocks back to safety at the mountain foothill, Lumala explained.
“Many people fear that they may fall off a cliff, get altitude sickness, get injured and unable to move, which are all valid fears. We, however, believe that through the training that was conducted coupled with the gear we’ve supplied the guides, safety issues have been minimized. This alleviates one of the biggest barriers preventing some people from going into the mountains,” said Lumala.
He added that the success of this project will make MSU feel even more confident in selling the idea of climbing the mountain because the right skills were imparted in the guides to provide necessary responses to the different situations that may arise.
“Most of the experienced guides are past 55 years and will eventually retire. It’s nice to know that we are helping the younger guides sharpen their skills beyond what they are picking up on their own. This all culminates into a winning situation for adventure seekers out there,” Lumala said.
MSU plans to replicate similar training on other mountains in Uganda.