I finally I set time to explore Mount Moroto (and Napak) in the middle of Karamoja. These mountains, nowadays quite easily reachable, have been little travelled up to now for various reasons: difficult to access, lack of guides/services and relative perception of insecurity in the area (now not the case).
Being in the ‘Pearl of Africa’, one never expects extended bad weather – so I usually never check the forecast. This time I wish I did as this 4-day trip turned out to be one of the rainiest in years. Not a typical few hour storm followed by blue skies, but waves and waves of clouds coming from all directions.
Almost completed new road from Kampala means “only” 8-9 hour drive so I was set in Kara-Tunga’s camp in Moroto at 4 pm. One minute after arriving, the skies opened up with torrential rain: which put my plan to scale the top of the mountain on hold: too slippery & muddy. The trails here turn into muddy slick paths easily. The alternative to scale another peak of 2,400 meters in one day was advised – there is always a way!
Up at 6 I was ready to go and the weather looked decent, not clear but just some clouds wandering in the sky. First came the foothills: about the only trees left were fig trees, which the local Tepeth people believe are inhabited by ‘spirits’, hence are never cut. As the terrain got steeper, we met local women (complaining of slippery terrain) passing carrying large bags of ‘wild greens’ for sale to the market. Lots mushrooms around due to rains – apparently very tasty delicacy and eaten with those wild greens.
Loud singing birds were everywhere welcoming us. The highlight was to see this Black Shouldered Kite. Otherwise, not much wildlife on the mountains which is also used for cattle grazing.
My guide Emma was happy with our pace and soon (2.5 hrs or so) we were up on a ridge with some flat area, which serves as a ‘campsite’. We met a couple of local women making bits of charcoal in small pits from small trees. Through my work I’ve seeing general destruction of forests for this every day cooking fuel (sold to urban towns). Yet it is quite disturbing seeing people high on this beautiful mountain do this: not many other alternatives for people here.
After resting a bit, we hit the last part of the hike, which was supposed to be about an hour but turned much longer and more difficult: the trails became almost non existent and the terrain much steeper. And as always in any mountain, there is always another ridge to scale when you think you are reaching the top.
Around 12:30 we enjoyed our egg-sandwiches (I ate about 6 eggs that day…. :-), and marveling at some views around. The Kenyan side was in clouds but we could see parts of Karamoja’s plains. One intrepid road snaking into Kenya, apparently used by Turkana to bring donkeys for sale, buy grains, and sometimes find local wives. Next time maybe good to explore this road, no visa required :-).
One could also see artisanal gold mining activity. Nowadays, the entire region is not at risk of being negatively impacted by large mining excavations: entire blocks of land are being awarded as concessions. Many risks here how these can affect this beautiful pastoralist country and its people.
Hiking down was both easier on lungs but more difficult for legs as it was quite muddy. Some locals never were coming up from Moroto, many fueled by local beer, which they carried to their villages.
Little more downhill, we saw some beehives on the trees: an encouraging sign both for livelihoods and conservation. Though the numbers seemed very few. I believe there could be a beehive on almost any mature tree on the hills, as the trees are quite scattered. One could easily see 5,000-10,000 (?) beehives. A household taking care of e.g. 50 beehives can make significant living. This way perhaps all this tree cutting high up for charcoal can be reduced or stopped.
About 4 pm we were back in the camp (and big storm coming at night). It was actually a great weather for hiking: not hot and lush green scenery was much different than from the usual dry (and burnt) landscape of the dry season. Looking forward for another trip here, this time camping on top of the mountain in the dry season!