Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Kampala. A tarmac road runs through Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western flank. Murram roads lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.
The ascent of Mount Elgon passes through a series of roughly concentric vegetation zones. The lower slopes of the mountain are intensively farmed up to the park boundary. The first zone of natural vegetation is montane forest which runs from the park boundary up to 2500m. this is followed by bamboo and low canopy forest (2400-3000m), then high montane health (3000-3500m) which includes the giant heather (Philipea excelsia) growing up to 6m tall. Above 3500m, cold temperatures and fierce winds force the heather to give way to open moorland. Finally, above 3800m, dramatic afroalpine vegetation is found among tussock grasslands and Carex bogs. This rare and spectacular vegetation type is restricted to the upper reaches of East Africa’s highest mountains and includes the giant groundsel (Senecia elgonensis) and the endemic Lobella elgonensisi.
Mount Elgon supports a variety of wildlife including elepahant, buffalo, Defessa’s waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, leopard and spotted hyena. However, as usual in forest environment, most of these species are rarely seen. The most commonly seen creatures are black and white colobus, blue monkey, duiker and tree squirrel.
The mountain is home to 296 birds including 40 restricted range species. Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include Jackson’s francolin, moustached green tinkerbird, and black collared apalis, the Uganda ranges of which are limited to Mount Elgon. The bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turaco and tacazze sunbird are limited to Mount Elgon and few other mountains in eastern Uganda. Mount Elgon is also one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammmergeyer can be seen, soaring above the caldera and Suan gorge.
Mount Elgon is home to three tribes, the Bagisu, the Sabiny and the Ndorobo. The Bagisu and Sabiny are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every other year to initiate young men ( and in the Sabiny’s case, girls0 into adulthood. Traditionally, the Bagisu, also known as the Bamasaba, consider Mount Elgon to tbe the embodiment of their founding father Masaba, and you may hear the mountain called by his name. local people have long depended on forest produce and have made agreement with the park to continue to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots (a delicious local delicacy).
Mount Elgon National Park is a roadless wildness. The park can only be explored on foot. On routes that range from day walks to extended hikes over several days to reach the upper mountain. You can also make your hike a transboundary adventure, ascending the Ugandan slopes and descending on the Kenyan side (or vice versa). This requires prior arrangement to meet with Kenya Wildlife services (KWS) rangers at a crossover point at the hot springs in the caldera.
A trained ranger is required on all treks. Local porters make your hike easier, each carrying up to 18kg of supplies, in addition to collecting water, cooking and preparing the camp.
The best time to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry seasons of June-August and December-March. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main peaks. The caldera and the peaks are the main destinations, while along the way, a choice of trails passes interesting and unique flora and fauna, waterfalls, lakes, caves, gorges and hot springs.
Rain gar and both warm clothing are required as the area is subjctef to sudden weather changes. You should also take a camera, binoculars, hat, torch, wildlife guidebooks and insect repellant.
Hikers should familiarize themselves with the symptoms and treatment of hypothermia and the varius forms of altitude sickness. Be aware that above 2500m, altitude sickness can affect anyone, irrespective of age, fitness or previous mountain experience. The risk is reduced by slow ascent to enable acclimatization, while the most effective treatment isimmediate withdrawak to a lower altitude. Hence affected hikers should not descent into the caldera, which you must climb upwards to leave.
Routes from three main trailheads lead to the caldera. The trek length gives below rfer to return journeys.
The Exploration Centre is also the starting point for day hikes which penetrate the dense montane forest to visit Chebonet Falls, Kapkwai cave and spectacular viewpoint overlooking the plains 1200m below.
It is possible to vary your hike by ascending from one trailhead and descending to another, for example:
Ascending Sasa Trail and descending via Sipi Trail (5 days)
Ascending Sasa Trail and descending via Piswa Trail (6 days)
Ascending Sipi Trail and descending via Piswa Trail (7 days)
The national park extends out from the main massif of Mount Elgon along the 25km-long Wanale Ridge. A massive huge of lava, this culminates in the dramatic cliffs that overlook Mbale town. A trail explores the national park’s regenerating forests on the ridge. Look for petrified wood in the Khaura Cave and enjoy splendid views over the plains of eastern Uganda.
The national park provides dormitory accommodation and self contained wooden cottages at the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. Meals are available on request. The park also has self catering guesthouses at Kapkwata and Suam. Outside the park, simple accommodation is available at Kapchorwa and Budadiri. A range of accommodation is found around the scenic Sipi Falls, and at the foot of the mountain in Mbale.
Mount Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and westernKenya. Its vast form, eighty kilometres in diameter, rises 3070m above the surrounding plains, providing welcome relief in more than one sense of the word. Its mountainous terrain introduces variety to an otherwise monotonous regional landscape. Its cool heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitude provide a refuge for flora and fauna.
Mount Elgon has been a regional landmark for a long time: this extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 20 million years ago. It was once Africa’s highest mountain. Towering above Kilimanjaro’s 5895m. millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4321m, relegating it to 4th highest peak in East Africa (and 7th on the continent). However, its 4000km2 surface area is still the largest base of any volcanic mountain worldwide.
Mount Elgon is a hugely important water catchment. Its forests receive up to 3000mm of rain each year, which they store and release to support flora, fauna and more than a million Ugandans. Elgon’s water is equally important to many Kenyans, for mount Elgon is bisected by the international boundary. The mountain’s natural vegetation, and its role as a giant biological sponge, is protected by a Mount Elgon National Park on both sides of the border. The Ugandan park, which was upgraded from a forest reserve in 1993, covers 1,110km2. Though its Kenyan counterpart measures just 170km2, it is adjoined by a forest reserve and national reserve. These parks and reserves in both countries combine to form a transboundary conservation area covering 2,229km2, which have been declared Man & Biosphere Reserves under UNESCO.
Mount Elgon receives far fewer visitors than other higher and more famous mountains in East Africa. However as routes on Mts. KILIMANJARO AND Kenya becomes increasingly crowded and degraded, hikers are appreciating Mount Elgon’s deserted moorland. A climb on Mount Elgon is to explore a magnificent and uncluttered montane wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to higher regional mountains. Indeed the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mount Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321 Wagagai peak, but the descent into the vast 40km2 caldera.