Mount Elgon is not frequently visited like other higher and more famous mountains in East Africa. However when the trails on mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro become increasingly crowded and degraded, hikers come to appreciate the precious mount Elgon.
A climb on Mt. Elgon's deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains: the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is just descent into the caldera area of forty kilometers squared but not a final ascent to the Wagagai Peak which is 4321m.
The Wagagi Peak and the Bagisu people during a circumcision ceremony
Mt Elgon was once Africa's highest mountain, far beyond Kilimanjaro's current 5,895m. But due to Millennia of erosion it has reduced its height to 4,321m, pushing it back to the 4th highest peak in East Africa and 8th on the African continent and this extinct volcano is one of Uganda's oldest physical features and its first erupting occurred at around 24 million years ago.
It is home to three tribes, the Sabiny, Bagisu, and Ndorobo, the Ndorobo being the marginalized tribe, were forced to live deep within the Benet forest.
The tribe Known as the BaMasaba considers Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father of the Bagisu, Masaba and hence they decided to name the mountain by this name.
The Bagisu and Sabiny are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every other year to initiate young men into adulthood. Local people have long depended on the forest produce and have made agreements with the park to continue to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots (a delicious local delicacy.)
It has one of the largest intact calderas in the world and has number of caves i.e. Chepnyalil cave, Ngwarisha cave, Cave at Makingeny, and Kitum caves: Kitum Cave is estimated to be over 60 m wide and penetrates down to 200 m.
The cave is blessed with salt deposits and this attracts the elephants to frequently lick the salt exposed by gouging the walls with their tusks, The cave become dangerous following the release of the publication by Richard Preston'in his book titled The Hot Zone in 1994 following its association with the Marburg virus which claimed two people who had visited the cave (one in 1980 and another in 1987) contracted the disease and died.
The mountain is composed of red laterite soils and it is the catchment area for the several rivers like the River Saum, which final became the downstream of Turkwel and which drains into Lake Turkana, Lwakhakha River and The Nzoia River which flow to basins of lake Victoria.
Kitale which is the nearest town becomes the foothills of the mountain. All the surrounding areas in the mountain are being protected by the parks two boarding counties i.e. Uganda and Kenya.
The name of the mountain is derived after from Elgeyo tribe who were the inhabitants of the huge cave found on the southern part of the mountain and the cave was known as Ol Doinyo Ilgoon (Breast Mountain) by the Maasai and as Masaba on the Ugandan side by the Bamasaba.
The mountain consists of five major peaks i.e. Wagagai (4,321 m), in Uganda, Sudek (4,302 m or 14,140;ft) on the Kenya/Uganda border, Koitobos (4,222 m or 13,851;ft), a flat-topped basalt column in Kenya, Mubiyi (4,211 m or 13,816;ft) in Uganda and Masaba (4,161 m or 13,650;ft) in Uganda.
Mount Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and parts of western Kenya. Its vast form, eighty kilometers in diameter, rises three thousand seventy meters above the nearby surrounding plains and this has acted providing a welcome relief in different parts of the word.
The terrain which is mountainous introduces various forms to an otherwise monotonous landscape in the region. The cool heights of the mountain provide good living conditions for humans from the hot plains below, and its higher altitudes provide a refuge for wildlife and plant life.
Some rare plants are found on the mountain, including, Carduus afromontanus, Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Ranunculus keniensis, Echinops hoehnelii, and Romulea keniensis.
Mount Elgon experiences dry seasons from June to August and December to March .Night-time temperatures are cold at high altitude. Mount Elgon National Park is home to over three hundred species of birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer.
p>Forest monkeys, Small antelopes, elephants and buffalos also live on the mountainside. The higher slopes are controlled by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, which creates a large trans-boundary area for conservation and has also made it to be declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.
Why the Mount Elgon hike experience is memorable.
Mount Elgon has favorable peaks for hiking for those who can't take very exhaustive hikes on the steeper and higher slopes of other mountains. The highest peak reached on a Uganda safari is 4,321m (14,177ft) above sea level at Wagagai peak.
Since the altitude isn't so high, the climate is milder making hiking easier. For those who get altitude sickness then the Mount Elgon hike experience a comfortable one for you, don't miss the chance.
The mountain has fewer visitors therefore less congestion, this means you can hike on a less beaten track and enjoy the experience of hiking in a typical African bush.
Hiking mount Elgon can be made trans boundary. Either on a Kenya safari or a Uganda tour a tourist can cross to the other side of the mountain.
Mount Elgon hike trails
The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes different trails including;
The piswa trail is long but most gentle trail that takes 7 days covering 49km. The trail starts from “Kapkwata” on the northside of the mountain traversing the soft wood plantation to the podocarps forest. This trail gives you an opportunity to sight wildlife and have a spectacular view of the Karamoja plains, the Nandi and Kapeguria hills in Kenya as you go past the hot springs.
The Sipi trail round trip is 56km, takes 4-6days and is the longest starting from Kapkwai forest exploration center at 2,050m through the north western mountain side. The trail starts calmly as you hike to the caldera through tutum cave but becomes tougher on day three from Kajeri camp. This trail is the best hike attraction in Mount Elgon national park because of the time tourists spend discovering the mountain.
The Sasa trail round trip is the shortest but toughest route taking 4 days. The toughest climb of 1,600m is completed on the first day though the whole trek covers 1,250m.
Combined trail hiking is a perfect option for a memorable Mountain hiking safari in Uganda allowing you to traverse the caldera glimpsing at wildlife, birds and hot springs ascending through Sipi-piswa-sasa trail and descending from the Sasa-Sipi trail.
Transboundary hiking can be organized for as a tourist ascends by a Uganda trail and descend in Kenya.
Since the hike lasts days, accommodation in Mount Elgon national park is available along the trails as you hike to the summit.
A safari to Mount Elgon is usually tailored with a safari to Kidepo valley national park and a jinja source of the Nile tour towards Mount Elgon.
The heights shouldn't scare you, nature is loving and considerate, Mount Elgon will offer a milder hiking experience just plan your safari.