Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda – In swirling snow, John Medenge prods a thin ice bridge over a crevasse with an iron-tipped spear, guiding climbers scaling the steep glacial wall using crampons and axes.
“We are the last few who will climb on the ice, it is going so fast,” said Medenge, after scaling the treacherous ridge up Mount Stanley, part of the dramatic Rwenzori mountain range straddling the border between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
At 5 109 metres, Stanley’s jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania’s iconic Kilimanjaro.
But experts warn the ice is melting at “disturbing” rates, and that within two decades Africa’s equatorial peaks will be bare rock, impacting agriculture and tourism.
“Every year the ice grows smaller,” 54-year old Medenge added, who has been climbing the range since a teenager.
Ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy in Alexandria wrote of the snow-capped Rwenzoris around the second century AD, dubbing the mysterious peaks the “Mountains of the Moon”, and identifying them as a source of the mighty White Nile.