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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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
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 a 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.