Karisimbi – Snow in the Heart of Africa 

It was magical to break through the clouds on the second day and see snow in the heart of Africa.

A few years ago when I lived in Rwanda, I climbed the highest mountain in the Virungas, the 4,500 metre extinct volcano, Karisimbi.

  • The start of the two day trek in the Volcanoes National Park affords a mesmerising jungle trek, green tunnels with lichens, mosses, swampy ground and above us lianas.  A million shades of verdant green that a photo can never do justice to.

  • As we ascended, we climbed through thick mountain vegetation, huge waxy leaves and fallen trunks that straddled our path. This photo reminds be of Rousseau’s Tiger. Can you see someone here?

  • We pitched tents at 3,000 metres and collected water from a waterfall to make a big bowl of pasta, complete with Parmesan shavings which we shared with our guides and armed guards. The smoke from our cooking pot rose to meet the mountain mists, shrouding the brooding border with DR Congo in the west.

  •  Mine was a shallow, breathless sleep for I started to suffer from mountain sickness after that rapid ascent to the camp and my head throbbed. The view westward to the veiled Moujt Mikeno in DR Congo was spectacular and the sunrise, that warmed my back, gave me energy.

  • As we climbed, the vegetation grew stranger and stranger. Tall pineapple-like trees, vertical okra-like rockets and others that looked like cabbages and ferns from a land of giants.

  • The vegetation gave way to steeper slopes, draped with soft, volcanic soil. The mists made visibility poor and the snow appeared in patches at first, but got thicker the higher we climbed.

  • We broke through the mist to be greeted by blue skies. I then realised we had walked through the clouds with the silhouettes of the soldiers (photo credit: Mike Silvey)
Climbing Karisimbi
  • Only the ground under my feet betrayed the airline window view.

  • We sang and danced the Okey Cokey on Karisimbi’s snowy peak and we made Innocente, the world’s first jelly-bean eyed snowman of the Virungas (ignore the frown, he’s happy).

  • We had climbed Karisimbi  but my one regret of living in Rwanda was not being able to see the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda ( it’s a long waiting list for the organised tours) but Karisimbi held for us one final surprise: On the way back, just past the path that leads to Diane Fossey’s grave, we came face to face with a whole troop of mountain gorillas who knuckle-walked past us as if to say “what are you guys doing here?”Strangely, with them so close, I felt no fear. Their facial expressions and body language were far too familiar for me to consider them dangerous and unpredictable and seeing them so close up energised my last legs.



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