Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon Hikes and Climbing, Wildlife, Nature Walks, Birding, Cave Exploration
If you want a satisfying climb/hike that doesn’t require expert skills or equipment and is closer to home. Look no further than Mount Elgon. It’s the 7th highest mountain in Africa at 4,321m and the summit is readily accessible for climbers with limited experience. It’s the largest extinct volcano in the world that first/last erupted more than 24 million years ago, with a surface area of 50 km by 80 km. Mount Elgon is the fourth highest mountain in East Africa, with the second-highest peak in Uganda (Wagagi Peak – 4321 metres). It contains crater covering over 40 kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks.
Mount Elgon National Park is 140km North East of Lake Victoria and 280km from Kampala with estimated driving time of about 6hrs. The Park can be reached quickly by car or bus. You then drive to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) base outside Mbale town the day before you intend to climb. Payment has to be made before you climb. Entry into the national park is $90/person/day for foreign visitors (2013) but you may want to see the current UWA tariff stracture. Car parking at the base of the mountain is secure.
There are two main trailheads (starting points) which lead to the mountain’s peaks. The simplest, and fastest, way up the mountain is the Sasa trail leaving from Mbale, Budadiri, and is the most direct route to the peaks. On the way is Rose’s Last Chance which is worth the visit in itself. It is a cheap stay, but the cost is not included in your park fee. The trail goes through the Park’s largest area of bamboo forest. The first morning’s climb is steep and quick, so you can go up to over 1600m on the first day. But it involves the “wall of death” – so named for the frayed local ropes that, in previous years, was the only way to climb it. Fortunately, the UWA installed sturdy staircases up the cliff face several years ago, so porters can almost run up the mountain and you’ll feel the name is no longer deserved.
For a more moderate/calm climb of about 650 – 700m first day, you may choose to ascend via Pisa trail (Kapkwata trailhead ). Along this route you can explore a vast Podocarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing. The full trekking loop to the peaks may take 4-5 days to complete. It’s recommended that visitors should consider talking with the Information Clerk at the visitor centers of either Budadiri or Kapkwata, depending on trail choice.
Basic camping is possible at designated strategic points along the trekking at 15,000 – 25,000 UGX per night and around 15,000 – 25,000 UGX per day per porter. Each of those is actually 15,000 UGX but we just felt things change over time and perhaps its works good if you are planning not to take any chances. Carrying your own equipment is not recommended. Porters carry cooking equipment and cook for you, but they don’t provide the food so remember to bring this with you! A fuel-efficient camp stove is perfect if possible as it helps to reduce pressure on MENP firewood resource. You will also need to bring your own warm clothing, rain gear, hiking boots, tent, and sleeping bag. Things like tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale. Porter/guides will also help you carry up to 18 kg of your gear as well setting up/bringing down your camp, and collecting your water.
Good idea to support local community members and encourage them to continued conserving Mount Elgon’s valuable resources if you hire local guides and porters. They are all certified guides and have received training in natural/cultural histories, emergency first aid and communication. They are great people and you would love and enjoy it with them. The wages cover the guide or porter’s park visitation fee and the cost of sufficient food and supplies. Be sure to see a guide’s license before hiring. For additional safety reasons, a Park ranger escort must be hired when visiting the calderas or ascending the peaks. You will meet your ranger escort at Sasa or Piswa patrol hut where you must present your park receipt before proceeding upwards.
Lodging and Accommodations
Mount Elgon Park lodging and accommodations simply basic. There are five designated campsites at Sasa River, Mude Cave, Hunters Cave, Piswa Patrol Hut and Kapkwata Rest House. Kapkwata Guest House has three main rooms with a sleeping capacity for seven people and offers kitchen services, but visitors have to bring their own food supplies or provide money to buy on arrival. You may need to make arrangements ahead of time with the Mt Elgon Park office in Mbale as these facilities do not accommodate large numbers of visitors.
Also, there is a Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai inside the park, but this is more dormitory style and it takes up to 30 people. And of course there are several more decent lodging options in Mbale town.
Other interesting things to do and see in the Mount Elgon Park Area
Several trails in the area allow for intriguing day hikes through friendly local villages and beautiful farming country. Pleasant campsites and lodge facilities, including meal services and hot showers are available at Crow’s Nest located just before the Sipi trading centre. More decent but basic accommodation is available at the Sipi Falls Resort, Lacam lodge. You may check out our three day tour to Sipi falls including a visit to Jinja town and the source of the Nile River by clicking on this link.
Mt. Elgon supports a variety of wildlife, Elephants and buffalo can be found on the lower slopes. The park is also home to a variety of small antelope, leopard and spotted hyena and forest monkeys, including the Black-and-white Colobus and Blue Monkey. Over 300 birds can also be found in the area, including the endangered Lammergeier, African Goshawk, and Baglafecht Weaver. However, due to the dense forest vegetation, it is easier said than done to see all this abundant wildlife. Chanler’s mountain reed bucks can be spotted near the caldera rim. The ancient cave paintings near the trailhead at Budadiri also add great beauty to the park.
Mt. Elgon’s slopes support a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the giant lobelia and groundsel plants.The vegetation varies with altitude. The mountain slopes 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 alpina zone. Higher still is a Hagenia abyssinica zone and then moorland with heaths Erica arborea and Philippia trimera, tussock grasses such as Agrostis gracilifolia and Festuca pilgeri, herbs such as Alchemilla, Helichrysum, Lobelia, and the giant groundsels Senecio barbatipes and Senecio elgonensis.