Mount Elgon is on the border of Uganda and Kenya. The mountain is named after the Elgonyi tribe, who once lived in huge caves on the south side of the mountain. It was known as “Ol Doinyo Ilgoon” ( Breast Mountain ) by the Maasai and as “Masawa” on the Ugandan side. Mountain Elgon has been an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24 million years ago. With the largest surface area of any extinct Volcano in the world (50km by 80km), Mountain Elgon is the fourth highest mountain in East Africa, with the second highest peak in Uganda (Wagagai peak, 4321 m) scond to Marghraita peak of Mountain Rwnzori. Mt Elgon contains the largest intact caldera, a collapsed crater covering over 40kms at the top of the mountain, sorrounded by a series of rugged peaks. Mt. Elgon consists of five major peaks:
- Mubiyi (4,211m or 13,816 ft)
- Masaba (4,161m or 13,650 ft)
- Wagagai (4,321m), being in Uganda.
- Sudek (4,302m or 14,140ft) in Kenya
- Koitobos (4,222m or 13,248 ft), a flat topped basalt column (Kenya Side)
C.W. Hobley became the first European to circumambulate the mountain In 1896. Kmunke and Stigler made the first recorded ascent of Wagagai in 1911. F. Jackson, E. Gedge, and J. Martin in 1890 made the first recorded ascent of Sudek. The main peak is an easy scramble and does not require any mountaineering equipment. Other interesting features on this mountain include:
- The caldera — Elgon’s is one of the largest intact calderas in the world
- The warm springs by the Suam River
- Endebess Bluff (2563m or 8408 ft)
- Ngwarisha, Makinyen, Chepnyalil and Kitum lava tube caves. Kitum Cave is over 60 metres wide and penetrates 200 metres. It is frequented by wild elephants who lick the salt exposed by gouging the walls with their tusks. It became notorious for its association with the Marburg virus after two people who had visited the cave (one in 1980 and another in 1987), both contracted the disease and died.
The mountain Elgon soils are red laterite. The mountain is the catchment area for the several Uganda and kenya rivers such as the Suam River, Nzoia River and the Turkwel River, some of which flow to Lake Victoria on both ugandan side and Kenyan side and others in Lake Turkana of Kenya. Mbale town on the ugandan side is the best town near the mountain. The area around the mountain is protected by two Mount Elgon National Parks — one on each side of the international border of Kenya and Uganda . The Bagisu and the Sabiny are the two ethnic tribes around the mountain. They practice subsistence farming and conduct circumcision ceremonies every even year to prepare young men/women for challenges of adulthood. The two communities have made agreements with the park for sustainable harvest of traditional forest products. Abacus African Vacations (www.abacusvacations.com) organizes the cultural tour to these communities during even years to witness the circumcision. Flora and Fauna
While ascending Mount Elgon’s enchanting slopes you will meet four-distinct forest types: the lush montane forest where you will find the Elgon peak, mixed bamboo belt, the fascinating heath and spectacular moorland hyrachs which contain stands of some of the most rare endemic plant species, like the giant lobelia elgonensis and dotted clusters of peculiar groundsels which are unique in Africa.
You will also encounter the dense shrubs and brilliant wild everlasting flowers that will add to your Mount Elgon adventure. Some rare plants are found on the mountain, including, Carduus afromontanus, hoehnelii, Echinops , Ardisiandra wettsteinii
Bird lovers will enjoy over 300 bird species including the endangered lammergeiers, the rare Jackson’s francolin, guinea fowls, sunbirds and turacos among others.
A number of primates find refuge on this mountain, other animals found in this park include bushbucks, antelopes, civets, wildcats and the elusive leopards roam freely below the mountain. Bush duiker, hyena, jackal, rock hyrax, buffalo and elephant rove between the forest and the moorland. Many of these animals visit Mount Elgon ’s bat filled caves for their valuable mineral deposits. Trekking the mountain : The main Routes
There are three main trailheads or starting points that lead the trekkers to the mountain’s peaks. You may decide to begin your ascent from Budadiri (Sasa trailhead), forest exploration center-Kapkwai (Sipi trailhead) or Kapkwata (Piswa trailhead). Sasa trail is accessible from Mbale town and is the most direct route to the peaks though steep with rugged climb of over 1600m on the first day. It passes through the park’s largest area of bamboo forest.
Sipi falls trail offers the spectacular Tutum cave hidden within extensive forest, while Piswa trail is renowned for the towering Podpcarpus forest this being an excellent place for animals and birds viewing. In contrast, Sipi and Piswa trails start at much higher elevations with a longer more gradual climbs to the peaks.
After reaching the peaks you can either return using the same trails or descend via a different route. Each trail/route has camping stages with a nearby water source, as well as tent pads and latrines.So an ovr night accommodation should not be a problem. The park is developing a trekker’s hut at Mude cave on Sasa trail.
Mountain Elgon National Park in Uganda also engages in cross boarder tourism with Mount Elgon Park-Kenya, hand over of visitors to either team takes place at the Hot Springs . The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes about 5 days to complete. This however requires pre booking with either Uganda wildlife authority or your tour operator/travel agent for arrangements.
However vistors can discuss hiking options with an information clerk at the Mbale, Budadiri, Kapwakai or Kapkwata national park visitor’s centers. Camping and accommodation while on the Hike Nine basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit. Please respect park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. Camping equipment must be carried with you. You can acquire some while in Uganda . Ranger Guides and Porters
A trained ranger guide is required on all trekking excursions to show you the way and enrich your journey by interpreting the environment and ensuring your safety.While on the hike, Local porters make your trip easier by carrying up to 18kgs of supplies, in addition to collecting water, cooking and preparing the camp.How to get these rangers and porters,vistors’ information office will advise or contact your travel/tour agency. Short Hikes
If you intend to hike for short period say one day,two different hike areas will help you discover Mount Elgon’s diverse mountane forest. The popular forest exploration center trail loop site can make one enjoy the cool mist at Chebonet falls, Kapkwai cave, the talking tree and a spectacular viewpoint, which lies just beyond.
A long “arm” of Mount Elgon bears the Wanale trails loop site. It has vertical cliffs of ridge and several cascading waterfalls that make a very scenic drive. Look for petrified wood in the Khauka caves as you enjoy splendid panoramic view over the plains of Eastern Uganda . These two-day hike areas have short walk trails ranging between 3-11kms that offer an excellent opportunity to experience Mt. Elgon’s unique plants and wildlife in a short time period. Jungle walking shoes and rain gear are recommended in addition to extra cells for your torch if you plan to explore the caves. Reservations can be made through the visitor information center at the park headquarters in Mbale or at Uganda wildlife Authority in Kampala or your local safari operator will help you.