Mountain Elgon National park
Mt. Elgon is the fourth-highest mountain in Eastern Africa, with the second-highest peak in Uganda (Wagagi Peak – 4321 meters). 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 (50 km by 80 km), It contains the largest intact caldera, a collapsed crater covering over 40kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks.
A round Elgon, the Bagisu and Sabiny are the two ethnic tribes around the mountain. They practice subsistence farming and conduct circumcision ceremonies in men and women every year to prepare them for the challenges of adulthood.
A climb to Mt Elgon is to explore a magnificent and uncluttered montane wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to higher regional mountains. Here the ultimate goal in reaching the top of Mount Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321 m Wagagai peak, but the descent into the vast 40km2 caldera
Key attractions and tour activities
Spectacular scenery is a great attraction for Mountain climbers on this oft-neglected and relatively undemanding mountain.
Flora and fauna
There is a wide variety of forest primates such as the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, and small antelope, along with elephants and buffalo. A checklist mounting to 300 birds includes Golden-Winged and Tacazze sunbirds, Ross’s and Hartlaubs Turacos, Black, and White Casqued and Crowned Hornbills, the endangered Lammergeier and many other species not recorded elsewhere in Uganda. While ascending Mt. Elgon’s enchanting slopes, you will pass through dense montane forest and mixed bamboo belts. You will then enter the fascinating heath and moorland zones containing several interesting endemic plant species such as Giant lobelia and groundsels.
Very observant and lucky visitors can also see buffalo, duiker, hyena, or even the elusive leopard.
NOTED BIRD SPECIES
Visiting Mount Elgon National Park forests and thick scrubs along the Chebonet River near camp boosts, Chin-spot Batis, Mackinon’s Fiscal, Doherty’s and Luhder’s Bush-Shrikes African Goshawk, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catchers, and Baglafecht Weaver.
Hiking trails and route
The most popular trails are two starting from the bottom of the mountain and which lead to the mountain’s peaks. Salsa Trail (Buddukiro trailhead) is the most easily accessible from Mbale and is the most direct route to the peaks. It passes through the Park’s largest area of bamboo forest. However, it is also a steep and rugged climb of over, 1600 m on the first day. For a more gentle climb (660 m first day) you may choose to ascend via the Pisa trail (Kapkwata trailhead). Along this route, you can explore a vast Podocarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes 4–5 days to complete. All visitors are encouraged to discuss options with an Information Clerk while at the Visitors’ Centre.
Other attractions include ancient cave paintings close to the trailhead at Budadiri, and spectacular caves and hot springs within the crater.
The Forest Exploration Centre has three “day ” hikes ranging between 3 and 7 km. These trails offer an exceptional opportunity to experience Mt. Elgon’s unique scenic view, plants, and wildlife in a shorter time period. Of recent, a fourth trail has been opened to reach the enormous Tutum Cave, 11 km from the centre. This trail also passes through a range of vegetation types and offers opportunities to see wildlife such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys and a variety of birds.
Sipi Falls hike
Sipi Falls is located a few kilometres from Mbale, en route to the Forest Exploration Centre and Kapkwata. Several trails in the area allow for intriguing day hikes through friendly local villages and a beautiful farming country.
Seven rock-climbing routes are open at Nagudi rock, halfway between Mbale and Budadili. The routes are bolted, but climbers must bring their own rock-climbing equipment. Each climber pays the local Parish treasurer.
When and how to Climb Mount Elgon
Mount Elgon National Park is a roadless wilderness. The park can only be explored on foot, on routes that range from day walks to extended hikes over many days to reach the upper mountains. You can also make your hikes a transboundary adventure, ascending the Ugandan slopes and descending on the Kenyan side. This requires prior arrangements to meet with Kenya Wildlife Services
A trained ranger guide is required on all treks. Local porters make your hikes easier, each carrying up to 18 kg of supplies in addition to collecting water, cooking and preparing the camp
The best times to climb Mt 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 calderas 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 gear and both cool and warm clothing are required as the area is subject to sudden weather changes. You are highly recommended to take cameras, binoculars, a hat, a touch, wildlife manuals and insect repellant.
Simple and pleasant lodge accommodation facilities are available inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. New and well-furnished units have been also put in place, these include Sipi River lodge, and Lacam lodge very strategically located with a clear view of the spectacular Sipi Falls.
In Mbale town, you can find Mbale Resort among many other lodge facilities offering basic facilities to visitors
Pleasant five basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit. Campsites facilities, including meals and hot showers, are available at Crow’s Nest, located just before the Sipi trading centre. Executive and high-end hotel accommodations are available at the Mt Elgon Hotel, Sipi Falls Resort, and Mbale Resort.
Do carry a warm jacket and rain gear, as the weather conditions change aberrantly. Also, take as much sufficient fuel in your camp stove to avoid placing additional pressure on firewood resources while hiking Mt Elgon.
ACCESSING MT ELGON
Mbale lies a 3–4-hour drive from Kampala along a good tarmac road via Jinja and Iganga districts that are 235 km. Before climbing from Budadili a Murram road of 20 km lead you from Mbale town. Public transport is also available.