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Mount Mikeno

Mount Mikeno is in the Virunga National Park’s southern sector. The park spans 7,800 km² and borders both Uganda and Rwanda where it is known as the Mgahinga National Park and Volcanoes National Park respectively.

The national park got upgraded to its current status in 1925 making it the DRC’s oldest national park. It’s listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The Virunga Mastiff consists of 8 volcanoes. 7 are within the Virunga National Park’s boundaries. Mount Mikeno is a dormant volcano and is the second highest after Mount Karisimbi. Despite its stature, it’s only visible from inside the DR Congo.

Other prominent mountains of this range include Mount Bisoke, Nyamuragira, and Nyiragongo. Earl Denman from Canada climbed all these mountains in preparation for the summit of Everest in 1932.

Mount Mikeno creates relief rain due to the winds that hit its sides and rise. The mountain is actually responsible for boosted crop growth as this process makes the soil more fertile. The vegetation on the slopes effectively controls soil erosion caused by running water. Overall, the DRC is noted for superior agriculture when compared to other African countries.
Best Time to Visit Mount Mikeno
For hiking and specifically gorilla trekking, the best times to go are January, February and from June to September.

Mountain Fact File

Continent: Africa.
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo.
Province: Northern Province.
Location: 5.5km northwest of Mount Karisimbi close to the Rwandan border
in eastern Congo.
Coordinates:  1.4631 ° S, 29.4183 ° E
Height: 4,437 meters above sea-level.
Prominence: 13th highest mountain in Africa and third tallest in the country.
Range: Virunga Mountains.

Other Nature Info

Mount Mikeno is also world renowned for the mountain gorillas inhabiting its flanks. The gorillas were made famous by the zoologist and scientist Dian Fossey who was immortalized on the silver screen by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist.

Before being forced out of Congo by civil war, Fossey lived with the mountain gorillas for some time. She consequently moved her research to the Rwandan side of the national park where, in 1985, she was found murdered. It’s presumed that because she was hacked to death that it was the work of poachers.  

These gentle giant are generally shy and only become aggressive when threatened.  However, they are on the verge of extinction despite having very few natural predators. Also known as silverbacks (although this only actually refers to the males), the numbers of these mountain gorillas have drastically declined due to poaching, illness, habitat destruction, and civil war. They are listed on the IUCN’s Red List as critically endangered.

The Virunga National Park is home to over a quarter (approximately 300 of 880) of the world’s remaining population of this protected species.  They can also be found in the Ugandan Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.  

The lush forest covered slopes of the volcano are also inhabited by other primates like chimpanzees, Grauer’s gorillas, several species of monkeys (most notably blue and colobus), and baboons. In fact, the Virunga National Park is the only place on the planet where 3 types of Great Apes can be found.

Another borderline extinct species to be found is the Okapi. Although this animal is a close relation of the giraffe, it looks more like a zebra! The park has the highest wildlife concentration than any other African park. Other animals include rare birds, hippos, forest elephants, warthogs, and lions.

Mount Mikeno Name Origin

The word Mikeno means “poor” and the mountain was named as such because the harsh slopes cannot be inhabited by humans.

Mount Mikeno Geology and Formation

Sometimes called the Mufumbiro Mountains, the Virunga Mountains or Virunga Mastiff is comprised of a series of 8 volcanoes running perpendicular to the rift where Lake Kivi and Lake Edward are found. Spanning over 3 countries, the 6 center volcanoes are dormant.

Mount Mikeno and Sabyinyo are the oldest and were created through the shifting of tectonic plates in the Atlantic Ocean over 30 million years ago. It’s at this point that parallel rifts were created after heating causing the plates to inflate and shrink which in turn birthed the Virunga Mountains. Both of these mountains have jagged reliefs and craters that have been filled by millennia of erosion.
Mount Muhabura a.k.a. Mount Mahavura as well as Karisimbi, Mgahinga, and Visoke formed during the Pleistocene Period and are between 900,000 to 130,000 old.  The first two have craters at the peak with that of Mahavura filled with water to form a lake.

Nyamulagira and Nyiragongo were formed last along in the west of the Congo. Both of these volcanoes are active. Nyiragongo features a bubbling lava pool that measures 1.2 km across which is the biggest in the world.

Mount Nyirangongo’s excessive lava has been reported as reaching the shores of Lake Kivu when erupting. The nearby town of Goma has been damaged by eruptions 3 times (1977, 2002 and 2007). The last eruption of Nyamulagira continued for several weeks in 2010.

These 2 volcanoes are considered the most active as they are jointly responsible for 40% of all African volcanic activity.

Hiking and Climbing Mount Mikeno

For hikers, there is the opportunity for viewing waterfalls and coffee plantations. Other options for tourists include guided tours to the local villages. Hiking gear is available at Mikeno Lodge as are various required permits.

At the top of the summit of Mount Mikeno, which is considered the toughest to climb out of the Virunga volcanoes, is a spectacular view of the great East African Rift. The East African Rift is still forming despite being 30 million years old. It’s also one of the largest geographical features on the planet. So much so it’s visible from the moon!

The first solo climber to reach the summit of Mount Mikeno was W.J. Ganshoff van der Meesch in 1932. He is noted for being a skilled technical climber.

In 2011, when it was climbed for the first time in 28 years by Cai Tjeenk Willink, Pierre Peron, and Lewis Mudge, they climbed to 5 “fake” summits before reaching the real deal! They actually did not think they would ever reach the summit but persevered due to “summit fever”.
Posts/Campsites on Mount Mikeno
  • Bakima Patrol Post: Almost all mountain expeditions in search of gorillas depart from this point.
  • Kabara: This is the first campsite and takes approximately 4 hours to reach. It is also the burial place of Carl Akeley who died of fever in 1926. However, the actual grave is in pieces and was desecrated by either Congolese or Rwandians in search of an abundance of nonexistent gold believed to be buried with the nature photographer and conservationist. This is also approximately the highest that most hikers go.
  • Campsite 2: This nameless campsite is a tough climb from Kabara as it is a 60° incline upwards for the latter half. A further harrowing climb of near vertical terrain of about 4 hours is necessary to reach the summit of Mount Mikeno.
Climbing or Hiking Mount Mikeno – Our Top Tips
  • Plan Your Itinerary: To be able to be granted a VISA and access into the DRC, proof of an itinerary must be presented.  

    Solo backpacking is prohibited so visitors need to make travel arrangements through an agency or directly with the Virunga National Park.
  • Don’t Be Afraid: Many tourists are scared to visit the Congo due to the media reports of rebel groups or the ironically named guerillas. However, visitor safety is a top priority for the Congolese who are trying to improve tourism.

    Expect to be accompanied by at least 1 armed guard/ranger at all times and to travel in an armored vehicle to the park! The only individuals that target tourists are excited children, many of which are hoping for a much-needed handout.

    In the event that tourism must be put to a halt due to the unstable political situations, the embassies will be informed to pass these warnings on to any travelers planning a trip to the country. Visitors will be redirected to the national park from one of the bordering countries.
  • Protect The Endangered Gorillas: Gorilla trekking is a tourist highlight and although routes differ depending on these Great Apes’ movements, they are usually found lingering on the slopes of Mount Mikeno.

    Tourists who are sick with a cold, fever, respiratory illness or a tummy bug must cancel their trek as the gorillas (and chimps) are highly susceptible to common human ailments. These can be fatal to the gentle giants!

    It is further compulsory for all tourists to wear the surgical masks provided when in the presence of the gorillas.  
  • Book Out Of Season: For those on a budget, consider booking offseason which is during the rainy periods of March through May and October to November. Lodges rates are reduced to attract more tourists and even the gorilla permits are half the normal price.

    Although the rains may affect travels, the downpours are regularly interspersed with sunshine which does not hinder many of the safari activities.
  • Set Realistic Goals: Mount Mikeno has a record of fewer than 100 people reaching the top. It’s considered the most difficult to climb of the 8 volcanoes of the Virunga Mastiff.

    Climbing Mount Mikeno should only be considered thus by experienced climbers.

    Novice climbers should set their sights on hiking the flanks of the mountain where the gorillas reside. This is definitely worth it as the Gorilla beringei beringei, as they are scientifically called, cannot be found in any zoo in the world. Those in captivity are the lowland gorillas.

The Legend Of Nyiraginga And Ryang’ombe

A Bantu legend tells of the forever heroic Ryang’ombe who, upon his death, moved to Muhavura where he still lives to this day with certain family members. It’s said that his spirit sometimes migrates to Karisimbi as well.

The eternal villain of the story, Nyiragongo, resided on Mount Mikeno. In a battle between the 2, Nyiragongo’s home was chopped in two vertically by Ryang’ombe’s fiery sword. This caused the volcano to erupt and Nyiragongo was forced to flee to a new mountain home in the west.

Ryang’ombe chased after Nyiragongo to his new abode where he cut off the peak of the mountain. He threw his enemy into the hole and then covered the top with hot stones to ensure that Nyiragongo could not escape. This legend is where the Nyiragongo volcano got its name.

It is believed that every time Nyiragongo erupts that these two are fighting again.

A point of interest is that the Bantu originally had no beliefs in regards to life after death. After the Hamitic invaders arrived and later the Christian missionaries (it is not sure which may have had the most influence on the local culture), the Bantu adapted their belief system to one where those who were good and were initiated into the kubandwa in their lifetime would live with Ryang’ombe on Muhavura when they died.

Those that were labeled as nzigo, which directly translates as “profane”, would find themselves with Nyiragongo for the rest of eternity.

To make the most of your trip to Mount Mikeno, install the below two apps to conveniently take photo routes and measure the height for peaks in the surrounding area.
Routes.Tips App
download routes
tips app for mobile

Routes Tips is available as a free app from the App Store or Google Play.

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