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Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.)

Quick Facts:

www.virunga.org  is a strategic partner to the AST 7SummitsAfrica Expedition and we are proud to be associated with a park that has been through so much over the years and defied all odds to still not just exists but also to be custodians of a quarter of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.

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Virunga and their team conserve the most dangerous national park on the planet and it is the dedication of the people of Virunga that makes it possible to include Mount Nyiragongo to the AST 7SummitsAfrica annual Pro-Event.  – “We are committed to bring people to Virunga and Nyiragongo to help look after a part of the world that deserves help, the more visitors and mountaineers to Virunga the higher the income through park fees and gorilla permits.  Conservation through tourism is an established and well known method of conservation and we are happy to come back in 2018 with 20 athletes for the inaugural AST 2018 7SummitsAfrica Pro-Event.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and borders Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park, established in 1925, and is also the most biologically diverse protected area on the African continent. The park is 7800 square kilometers (3000 square miles) in size and includes habitats like forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the peaks of the Rwenzori mountains also referred to as the “mountains of the moon”.

Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s two other Great Ape species, eastern lowland (Grauer’s) gorillas and chimpanzees, make Virunga the only park in the world to protect the habitat of three taxa of Great Apes.  The Okapi, an endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe is the other main attraction to the area.  Large colonies of hippopotami, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and numerous rare bird species are also be found in the park.

Virunga national park is in charge of protecting the forests of the Congo Basin that contain the greatest number of mammals, primates, birds, amphibians, fish and swallowtail butterflies in Africa, more than a thousand species of birds.  The Congo Basin is the only place to shelter all three subspecies of gorilla: the western lowland gorilla, the endemic eastern lowland gorilla and the endangered mountain gorilla.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Virunga mountain gorillas as part of the experience review package of Mikeno Lodge, Virunga national park the morning of the 7th of November and can be viewed here.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Quick Facts:

Spanning on a 160sqkm area in the northern part of Rwanda, Volcanoes national park is the oldest national park in Africa, first gazetted in 1925. It was initially a small area around Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes to protect the Mountain gorillas from the threat of extinction as a result of poaching.

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In 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park. During early 1960s, the park was divided as Rwanda and Congo gained their independence and by the end of that decade, the park was almost half of its original size.

The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey who researched mountain Gorillas. She established her research base between Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes in 1967 and spearheaded the conservation campaign of the mountain gorillas and mobilized resources to fight against poaching in this area, a fight she put up until her murder in 1985.

The Volcanoes National Park became a battlefield during the Rwandan Civil War, with the park headquarters being attacked in 1992. The research centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities (including visiting the gorillas) were stopped. They did not resume again until 1999 when the area was deemed to be safe and under control.  The park continued to suffer at the mercies of poachers though conservation efforts were also under way. In early 1990s, the park became a battle field for the Rwanda’s civil war.

Volcanoes national park is home to Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei); golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), elephants , black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). The park also harbors 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori mountains and the Virungas.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Volcanoes mountain gorillas as part of the experience review package of Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Volcanoes national park the morning of the 11th of November and can be viewed here.

Mt Kenya National Park, Kenya

Quick Facts:

Climbing to 5,199 meters, Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa and the  highlight of the 2,124 sq km of Mt Kenya National Park. The Park was established in 1949 to protect Mount Kenya, the wildlife and surrounding environment which forms the wild animal’s habitat as well as act as a water catchment area that supplies Kenya’s water.

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It is an ancient extinct volcano, which during its period of activity (3.1-2.6 million years ago) is thought to have risen to 6,500 m. There are 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain, all receding rapidly, and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the U-shaped glacial valleys. With its rugged glacier-clad summits and forested middle slopes, Mount Kenya is one of the most impressive landscapes in East Africa. The evolution and ecology of its afro-alpine flora provide an outstanding example of ecological and biological processes. Through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve, the property also incorporates lower lying scenic foothills and arid habitats of high biodiversity, situated in the ecological transition zone between the mountain ecosystem and the semi-arid savanna grasslands. The area also lies within the traditional migrating route of the African elephant population.

The scenery surrounding this designated World Heritage Site is breathtaking. It is pristine wilderness with lakes, tarns, glaciers, dense forest, mineral springs and a selection of rare and endangered species of animals, high altitude adapted plains game and unique montane and alpine vegetation.

Wildlife includes elephants, tree hyrax, white tailed mongoose, suni, black fronted duiker, mole rat, bushbucks, waterbuck and Elands. Animals rarely seen include leopard, bongo, giant forest hog  and over 130 bird species have been recorded.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of Mount Kenya as part of the experience review package of Sweetwaters Serena Camp, the morning of the 15th of November and can be viewed here

Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya

Quick Facts:

Ol Pejeta Conservancy – a 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy – is situated on the equator, in Kenya’s Laikipia District, between the foot hills of the Aberdares and the magnificent snow-capped Mount Kenya.

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Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary in east Africa, and home to three of the world’s last remaining northern white rhino. It is the only place in Kenya to see chimpanzees, in a Sanctuary established to rehabilitate animals rescued from the black market. It has some of the highest predator densities in Kenya, and still manages a very successful livestock programme. Ol Pejeta also seeks to support the people living around its borders, to ensure wildlife conservation translates to better education, healthcare and infrastructure for the next generation of wildlife guardians.

In 2015, they published their 2020 Management Plan – which was developed by staff in consultation with a range of stakeholders, and sets out the vision for the years leading up to 2020, outlining the major projects that will help to deliver that vision. They want to become an innovative and sustainable model that conserves biodiversity (particularly endangered species) and contributes to economic growth and the improvement of the livelihoods of rural communities.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Ol Pejeta game viewing experience as part of the experience review package of  Porini Rhino Camp, the morning of the 19th of November and can be viewed here

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Quick Facts:

Maasai Mara (Masai Mara) is situated in south-west Kenya and is one of Africa’s Greatest Wildlife Reserves. Together with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania it forms Africa’s most diverse, incredible and most spectacular eco-systems and possibly the world’s top safari big game viewing eco-system.

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Maasai Mara National Reserve stretches 1,510 sq km (580 sq miles) and raises 1,500-2,170 meters above sea level. Add the conservancies and the area is at least twice the size. It hosts over 95 species of mammals and over 570 recorded species of birds. This is the World Cup of Wildlife, and together with the Serengeti National Park is one of the best locations for wildlife viewing in the world.

The Maasai Mara is regarded as the jewel of Kenya’s wildlife viewing areas. The reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley in primarily open grassland. The annual wildebeest’s migration alone involves over 1.5 million animals arriving in July and departing in November.  Nowhere in Africa is wildlife more abundant, and it is for this reason a visitor hardly misses to see the big five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino).

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Masai Mara Reserve’s game viewing experience as part of the experience review package of Governors Camp, the morning of the 20th of November and can be viewed here.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda

Quick Facts:

Undoubtedly one of Africa’s most beautiful and dramatic natural environments, the Rwenzoris, or ‘Mountains of the Moon’, are also among its least visited. They offer an example of nature at its most wild and untamed, totally untouched by industry or human habitation, and teeming with life.

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Indeed, the word ‘prehistoric’ often features in descriptions of the Rwenzori Mountains, and with good reason. The Rwenzori range is home to rich and varied vegetation, from dense rain and bamboo forests, to valleys of giant heathers and lobelias. Much of the vegetation is endemic to the region, for which reason the Rwenzoris are now a protected World Heritage Site.

Wild and remote, the Rwenzori Mountains provide a tough but rewarding trekking environment. Due to the low number of visitors, the few trails that exist into the mountains are not at all well-trodden, with many of them relatively new. Prospective trekkers should be forewarned that the weather and terrain can make proceedings difficult if they are not well prepared. The rewards, however, in the form of the unique and beautiful scenery, will more than compensate your efforts.

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The AST 7SummitsAfrica team will bring you a live broadcast of the beauty of the Rewenzori Mountains National and the summit of Mt Stanley and Mt Speke , the mornings of the 25th and 27th of November and can be viewed here.

Kibale National Park, Uganda

Quick Facts:

Kibale National Park contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. Forest cover, interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp, dominates the northern and central parts of the park on an elevated plateau.

The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primate including the chimpanzee.

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It also contains over 375 species of birds. Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale National Park.

The Kibale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding destinations to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and within half a day’s drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.

The forest cover in Kibale National Park is broadly classified into three. It is mid-altitude, moist evergreen in the north, gradually decreasing in elevation to moist semi-deciduous in the south and a mixture of deciduous and evergreens in the central parts.

Kibale National Park has one of the highest diversity and concentration of primates in Africa. It is home to a large number of endangered chimpanzees, as well as the red colobus monkey considered Endangered and the rare L’Hoest’s monkey that are considered Vulnerable. The park is also home to over 325 species of birds, 4 wild felids, 13 species of primates, a total of at least 70 other species of mammals, and over 250 tree species.

There are 13 species of primates in Kibale National Park. The park protects several well-studied habituated communities of common chimpanzee, as well as several species of Central African monkey including the Uganda mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae), the Ugandan red colobus (Procolobus tephrosceles) and the L’Hoest’s monkey. Other primates that are found in the park include the black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza) and the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis). The park’s population of elephants travels between the park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Other terrestrial mammals that are found within Kibale National Park include red and blue duikers, bushbucks, sitatungas, bushpigs, giant forest hogs, warthogs, and buffalo. The carnivores that are present include leopards, african golden cats, servals, different mongooses and two species of otter. In addition, lions visit the park on occasion.

Bird life in the park is so prolific, boasting over 375 sited species of birds, including the western green tinker bird, olive long-tailed cuckoo, two species of pittas (African and green-breasted) and the African grey parrot, Imperative to note that the ground thrush (Turdus kibalensis) is endemic to Kibale National Park.

The park boast over 229 species of trees found within the moist tropical forests of the park. Some endangered timber species of trees include; Lovoa swynnertonnii, Cordia millenii, and Entandrophragma angolense. The forest understory is dominated by shade-tolerant shrubs and herbs, which include Palisota schweinfurthii and Pollia condensata, in addition to ferns and broad leaf grasses.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Kibale chimpanzee experience as part of the experience review package of (package to be confirmed), the morning of the 1st of December and can be viewed here.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

Quick Facts:

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants.

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More famously, this “impenetrable forest” also protects an estimated 340 mountain gorillas – roughly half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked.

This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.

The neighboring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas and budget campsites, as well as restaurants, craft stalls and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy cultures through performances, workshops and village walks.

The park is most recognized for the 340 Bwindi Mountain Gorillas, half of the world’s population of the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, although it is sanctuary for the chimpanzees, many birds and the colobus monkeys.

This afromontane forest is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa, and the diversity of species is an attribute of the park. The park provides habitat for some 120 species of mammals ten of which are primates and more than 45 small mammal species, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many endangered species. In terms of fauna, the Bwindi area is amongst the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern sector which has a lower altitude is rich in species of the Guineo-Congolian flora. These include two species internationally recognised as endangered that is; Brown mahogany (Lovoa swynnertonii) and Brazzeia longipedicellata.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ecological importance. The park has a large variation of altitude and habitat types, thereby supporting a variety of species of trees, reptiles, butterflies, birds, moths, and small mammals.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Bwindi mountain gorilla experience as part of the experience review package of Clouds Gorilla Lodge, the morning of the 3rd of December and can be viewed here.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Quick Facts:

The vast plains of the Serengeti comprise 1.5 million ha of savannah. The annual migration to permanent water holes of vast herds of herbivores (wildebeest, gazelles and zebras), followed by their predators, is one of the most impressive natural events in the world.

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The biological diversity of the park is very high with at least four globally threatened or endangered animal species: black rhinoceros, elephant, wild dog, and cheetah.

The Serengeti plains harbour the largest remaining unaltered animal migration in the world where over one million wildebeest plus hundreds of thousands of other ungulates engage in a 1,000 km long annual circular trek spanning the two adjacent countries of Kenya and Tanzania. This spectacular phenomenon takes place in a unique scenic setting of ‘endless plains’: 25,000km2 of treeless expanses of spectacularly flat short grasslands dotted with rocky outcrops (kopjes) interspersed with rivers and woodlands. The Park also hosts one of the largest and most diverse large predator-prey interactions worldwide, providing a particularly impressive aesthetic experience.

The remarkable spatial-temporal gradient in abiotic factors such as rainfall, temperature, topography and geology, soils and drainage systems in Serengeti National Park manifests in a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The combination of volcanic soils combined with the ecological impact of the migration results in one of the most productive ecosystems on earth, sustaining the largest number of ungulates and the highest concentration of large predators in the world. The ecosystem supports 2 million wildebeests, 900,000 Thomson’s gazelles and 300,000 zebras as the dominant herds. Other herbivores include 7,000 elands, 27,000 topis, 18,000 hartebeests, 70,000 buffalos, 4,000 giraffes, 15,000 warthogs, 3,000 waterbucks, 2,700 elephants, 500 hippopotamuses, 200 black rhinoceroses, 10 species of antelope and 10 species of primate. Major predators include 4,000 lions, 1000 leopards, 225 cheetahs, 3,500 spotted hyenas and 300 wild dogs. Of these, the black rhino Diceros bicornis, leopard Panthera pardus, African elephant Loxodonta africana and cheetah Acynonix jubatus are listed in the IUCN Red List. There are over 500 species of birds that are perennially or seasonally present in the Park, of which five species are endemic to Tanzania. The park has the highest ostrich population in Tanzania and probably Africa, making the population globally important.

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The GMC LiveReview team will bring you a live broadcast of the Serengeti’s game viewing experience as part of the experience review package of the GMC Serengeti Mobile, the morning of the 7th and 8th of December and can be viewed here.

Arusha National Park, Tanzania

Quick Facts:

The closest national park to Arusha town, northern Tanzania’s safari capital.  Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, often overlooked by mountaineers and safari enthusiasts, despite offering the opportunity to explore a huge diversity of habitats within a few hours.

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The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colourful turacos and trogons – the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black-and-white colobus monkey is easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.

Further north, rolling grassy hills enclose the tranquil beauty of the Momela Lakes, each one a different hue of green or blue. Their shallows sometimes tinged pink with thousands of flamingos, the lakes support a rich selection of resident and migrant waterfowl, and shaggy waterbucks display their large lyre-shaped horns on the watery fringes. Giraffes glide across the grassy hills, between grazing zebra herds, while pairs of wide-eyed dik-dik dart into scrubby bush like overgrown hares on spindly legs.

Although elephants are uncommon in Arusha National Park, and lions absent altogether, leopards and spotted hyenas may be seen slinking around in the early morning and late afternoon. It is also at dusk and dawn that the veil of cloud on the eastern horizon is most likely to clear, revealing the majestic snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, only 50km (30 miles) distant.

But it is Kilimanjaro’s unassuming cousin, Mount Meru – the fifth highest in Africa at 4,566 metres (14,990 feet) – that dominates the park’s horizon. Its peaks and eastern footslopes protected within the national park, Meru offers unparalleled views of its famous neighbour, while also forming a rewarding hiking destination in its own right.

Passing first through wooded savannah where buffalos and giraffes are frequently encountered, the ascent of Meru leads into forests aflame with red-hot pokers and dripping with Spanish moss, before reaching high open heath spiked with giant lobelias. Everlasting flowers cling to the alpine desert, as delicately-hoofed klipspringers mark the hike’s progress.

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The AST 7SummitsAfrica team will bring you a live broadcast of the beauty of Arusha National Park and the summit of Mt Meru, the mornings of the 10th and 11th of December and can be viewed here

Mt Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania

Quick Facts:

At 5,895 m, Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa. This volcanic massif stands in splendid isolation above the surrounding plains, with its snowy peak looming over the savannah. The mountain is encircled by mountain forest. Numerous mammals, many of them endangered species, live in the park.

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Kilimanjaro National Park covering an area of some 75,575 ha protects the largest free standing volcanic mass in the world and the highest mountain in Africa, rising 4877m above surrounding plains to 5895m at its peak. With its snow-capped peak, the Kilimanjaro is a superlative natural phenomenon, standing in isolation above the surrounding plains overlooking the savannah.

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the largest volcanoes in the world. It has three main volcanic peaks, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. With its snow-capped peak and glaciers, it is the highest mountain in Africa. The mountain has five main vegetation zones from the lowest to the highest point:  Lower slopes, montane forest, heath and moorland, alpine desert and summit. The whole mountain including the montane forest belt is very rich in species, in particular mammals, many of them endangered species.  For this combination of features but mostly its height, its physical form and snow cap and its isolation above the surrounding plains, Mount Kilimanjaro is considered an outstanding example of a superlative natural phenomenon.

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The AST 7SummitsAfrica team will bring you a live broadcast of the beauty of Kilimanjaro National Park and the summit of Kili , the mornings of the 19th of December and can be viewed here.