Mountain Elgon National Park
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, 4321m) second to Margarita peak of Mountain Rwenzori. Mt Elgon contains the largest intact caldera, a collapsed crater covering over 40km at the top of the mountain, surrounded 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 8408ft)
- Ngwarisha, Makinyen, Chepnyalil and Kitum lava tube caves. Kitum Cave is over 60 meters wide and penetrates 200 meters. It is frequented by wild elephants that 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 a 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. Dagiz travel Ltd www.dagiztravel.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 lammergeyers, 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 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 overnight accommodation should not be a problem. The park is developing a trekker’s hut at Mude cave on Sasa trail.
Camping and Other accommodations 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.
The Public camp sites include; Rongai Campsite; Nyati Campsite; Chorlim Campsite. Special: Salt licks Campsite.
There is Mt. Elgon Lodge, 28 beds, situated 0.5km outside the park gate.
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, visitors’ information office will advise or contact your travel/tour agency.
If you intend to hike for short period say one day, two different hike areas will help you discover Mount Elgon’s diverse mountain 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.
Mountain Elgon National Park in Uganda also engages in cross boarder tourism with Mount Elgon Park-Kenya, handover 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 visitors can discuss hiking options with an information clerk at the Mbale, Budadiri, and Kapwakai or Kapkwata national park visitor’s centers.
Mount Elgon National Park - Mountain Climbing Tours & Day Hikes, Sipi Falls scenic Tours, Flora and fauna
Mt. Elgon is Kenya's second highest mountain. It lies 140km North East of Lake Victoria and is bisected by the Kenya-Uganda border. It is an ancient eroded volcano with a huge caldera and on its summit, the spectacular flat topped basalt column known as Koitobos. Another unique feature of the mountain is the lava tube caves, some over 60m wide and frequented by elephants (and other animals) digging for salts. The mountain soils are red laterite. Mt Elgon is an important water catchment for the Nzoia River which flows into Lake Victoria and for the Turkwel River which flows into Lake Turkana.
Mt Elgon National Park was gazetted in 1968 and covers a narrow transect up the North Eastern slopes of the mountain, from lower montane forest to the caldera edge. The remaining forest and moorland is part of the Mt Elgon Forest Reserve. The Ugandan side of the mountain is protected within Uganda's Mt Elgon National Park.
Vegetation cover of Mt Elgon depends on the altitude. The slopes of the mountain are covered with olive Olea hochstetteri and Aningueria adolfi-friedericii wet montane forest. At higher altitudes, this changes to olive and Podocarpus gracilior forest, and then a Podocarpus and bamboo Arundinaria alpine zone. Higher still is a Hagenia abyssinica zone and then moorland with heaths Erica arboreal and Philippia trimera, tussock grasses such as Agrostis gracilifolia and Festuca pilgeri, herbs such as Alchemilla, Helichrysum, Lobelia, and the giant groundsels Seneca barbarizes and Seneca elgonensis.
The botanical diversity of the park includes giant podocarpus, juniper and Elgon olive trees cedar Juniperus procera, pillarwood Cassipourea malosana, elder Sambucus adnata, pure stands of Podocarpus gracilior and many orchids.
Over 400 species recorded for the area the following are of particular note as they only occur in high altitude broad-leaf montane forest: Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis (previously thought endemic to Mount Kenya), and Romulea keniensis.
On the western border of Kenya with Uganda, in Trans-Nzoia District of Rift Valley Province. It covers an area of 169km2.
The climate is moist to moderate dry. Annual rainfall is over 1,270mm.
How to get there?
Mt. Elgon is located 470km from Nairobi. Access is via tarmac road to Kitale and then to the Chorlim Gate. Two routes to the gate can be used, either via Endebess or take the tarmac road 11km past Kitale and turn left onto a Murram road leading to the gate.
At Park Headquarters.
There is adequate road network
There are four park gates i.e. Chorlim main gate, Kassawai, Kiptogot and Kimothon.
Together with the fauna and flora, the park is endowed with variety and breathtaking scenery of cliffs, caves, waterfalls, gorges, mesas, calderas, hot springs, and the mountain peaks.
The most popular areas are the four explorable, vast caves where frequent night visitors such as elephants and buffaloes come to lick the natural salt found on the cave walls. Kitum cave, with overhanging crystalline walls, enters 200m into the side of Mt. Elgon.
The breathtaking natural beauty of the park can be best appreciated from the Endebess Bluff where one gets a panoramic view of the areas' escarpments, gorges, mesas, and rivers.
The highest peak of Mt. Elgon on the Kenya side, Koitoboss, measures 13,852ft (4,155 m), and is easily reached by hikers in about two hours from the road's end.
There is one picnic site at the Elephant platform with no facilities.