- Mt Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain, far exceeding Kilimanjaro’s current 5,895m.
- Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4,321m, relegating it to the 4th highest.
- Peak in East Africa and 8th on the continent.
- This extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 24 million years ago.
- Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world
- To do list: Mountain/ Volcano climbing/hiking, Nature walks, Birding, Sport fishing, Abseiling, rock climbing and Mountain biking.
- Mt Elgon National Park is located on the Uganda-Kenya border. The mountain is the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa with the largest volcanic base in the world (50 km by 80 km)
- It is an extinct volcano that first erupted around 24 million years ago.
The Caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. When it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone, it collapsed into a depression-like shape. In the eastern corner of the caldera, hot springs are found. In the northwest, Simu Gorge was formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera cutting two stream beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
Mt Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.
Climbing to the peaks takes 5-6 days. Mt. Elgon is an exciting alternative to the more strenuous mountain climbs in East Africa. The ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40km² caldera There are three trails to the peaks: The Sasa trail, Sipi trail and Piswa trail.
At 4,050m is Jackson’s Pool lying in the shadow of the 4,165m high Jackson’s Peak. Explorer Frederick Jackson was in 1889 the first European to climb Mount Elgon. The tallest peak is the 4,321m Wagagi, followed by Sudek (4,303m), Koitobos (4,222m) and Mubiyi (4,210m).
Mt. Elgon’s vegetation is banded into broad zones whose characteristics are dictated by altitude and rainfall. The lower mountain slopes are covered with dense forest and regenerating forests. Common tree species encountered in the tropical montane forest (1,500-2,500m l) are olive, Elgon teak and many more. The zone changes to mixed bamboo at 2,500-3,000m. The heath zone (3,000-,3500m) is characterized by giant heather interspersed with grassy swards of blonde tussock grass dotted with pink and everlasting flowers (ericriceum brownie and jonstonii). The moorland or Afro-alpine zone (3,500-4,321m) contains senecio elgonensis, Erica tree, giant lobelias, mantle tussocks (archimilla elgonesis), pink and white everlasting flowers. The summit of the mountain is vegetated by rare Afro-montane species that include giant forms of lobelia and groundsel.
Mt Elgon is home to: Rock and tree hyraxes, elephant, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, duiker, forest hog, bush pig, leopard, civet and serval cats, spotted hyena; aardvark and several rodent species. Others are Red tailed, vervet, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys; duiker and tree squirrel. Note that these animals are not easily observed apart from monkeys.
Out of the 300 birds, 40 are restricted range species while 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinkerbird and Alpine Chat. Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include the Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis. Among those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda are the Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird.
Mount Elgon is one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen, soaring above the caldera and Suam Gorge. Excellent birding opportunities exist around Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, in particular in the secondary forest and thick shrub. Some of the birds to watch out for are: the African Goshawk; Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catcher, Chinspot Batis, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Dohertys and Luhders Bush-shrikes, Baglafecht Weaver, Cinnamon Bee Eater, Moustached Tinkerbird, Hartloub`s Turaco, Tacazze Sunbird, Olive- and Bronze-naped pigeons and many more.
A full-day nature hike leads from Budadiri to the Mudange cliffs, known as the Walls of Death, at the boundary of the national park. The Nabuyonga Trail is a 5km loop with birding, fauna and flora. Viewpoints overlook Mbale town, Lakes Kyoga, Bisina and Salisbara, and the rugged mountains in Karamoja region.
The Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai, 13km from Sipi town, doubles as an educational centre for schools and the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits of between 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escarpments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates.
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. Historically, such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock.
The Wanale Cliffs tower above Mbale Town. Wanale ridge offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over Mbale town. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to Khauka Cave. The route to Kapchorwa beyond Sipi Falls to the north provides a stunning view towards Mount Kadam and the vast plains of Karamoja. The top of the Sironko Valley in Budadiri, enclosed by the Mudangi Cliffs and the Nkonkonjeru Ridge, provides a picturesque view of the montane forest and caldera peaks. In Kapchorwa, a 20-minute Sunrise Trek at 6am to the nearby Tewei Hill enables you to watch dawn spreading across the vast Karamoja plains at the base of the mountain.
Tewei Hill outside the park overlooking Sipi Falls is where Chemonges Kingo, King of the Sabiny would meet his subjects. The area has great views of the three falls, the Karamajong plains and the Wagagai peak.
Activities outside the park
Sipi Falls: The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometres in length, over which the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. The most spectacular of these are the three waterfalls at Sipi on the Mbale- Kapchorwa road. The lowest is 100m, the second known as Simba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave while he third waterfall, known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Absailing is done of the lower falls. Sport fishing is also done above the middle waterfalls. Fish cought is the battling rainbow trout.
Other outdoor activities are: Mountain biking and Rock climbing. There are 14 climbs requiring various levels of rock scaling techniques. A mountain biking trail takes 1.5 hours and provides views of various waterfalls and the Karamoja plains. Sipi Falls is less than an hour’s drive from Mbale on a paved road.
People and Culture
Grown on the slopes of Mt Elgon is the Arabica coffee also known as Sipi or Bugisu by the farmers with a reputation for producing some of the finest washed Arabica in the region. A visit to community gives you a chance to learn and participate in coffee processing. You will also learn about life of the Sabiny, participate in traditional weaving and preparing of local cuisines. Purchasing an item from the women’s handcraft shop helps the community in maintaining the coffee trees and rising school fees for orphans. Nyero Rock Paintings: The Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. The most impressive is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures. The site 65km north of Mbale,
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve
About two hours’ drive from Mbale to the north of Mount Elgon lie the plains of Karamoja that are home to Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve and the expansive Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. Pian Upe is the second largest protected area in Uganda, with an area of 2,788km2.
Wildlife found here includes rare species such as the roan antelope, lesser kudu, Bright’s gazelle and ostriches which in Uganda are found only here and in Kidepo Valley National Park.
Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub’s Turaco, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, African Hill Babbler, Alpine Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Thick-billed Honey guide and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike. Rock paintings found at various sites within the Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve are believed to date back over 3000 years and were created by the Kushite and Nilotic peoples.