Mount Elgon

Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon is an extinct volcanic mountain with the largest surface area in the world (50km by 80km) and a caldera with a diameter of about 8 km. It is among the Uganda`s physical features and its first eruption happened about 24million years ago. The highest peak of Mount Elgon is Wagagai, 4.321 m high and it was once the highest mountain in Africa, far higher than Mount Kilimanjaro but due to the ages of erosion, this mountain has now reduced to 4321m making it the 4th highest peak in East Africa and 8th on the African continent.
Mount Elgon lies in the border between Uganda and Kenya and it is the largest solitary volcanic mountain in East Africa. The lower altitudes of Mountain Elgon are very hot while the higher altitudes are very cool and this is where most flora and fauna seek refuge.
Mount Elgon National Park is a home to mainly to tribes of Ugandan people namely the Bagisu and Sabinyi, the other tribes are the Ndoboros but these were marginalized by the two major tribes and now they live deep in Benet forest.
The Bagisu refer to this Mountain by the name of their father Masaba whom they consider to be the founder of Mt Elgon.
Mt Elgon national park is home to over 300 species of birds including the critically endangered lammergeyer. The INESCO declared Mt Elgon a National Park and it higher slopes are protected by the Uganda’s and Kenya`s national park authorities respectively.
The common reason for many people visiting Mount Elgon National park is actually not to reach to Wagagai peak which is the highest peak with 4321m high but rather to descent into the vast 40km2 Caldera.

Caves; Due to the excessive erosion of soft volcanic deposits and moving lava, the slopes of Mt Elgon were damaged with caves such at the commonly visited Khauka cave on Wanale Ridge and the Kapkwai cave which is located near the Forest Exploration Centre. There caves were once homes for the local people and their livestock and later on they became homes for bats and these would provide manure in form of bat droppings. Previously, these caves have been used by the mountain climber and their assistants (potters), and they still work, for example there are campsites at the Hunters Cave, Mude cave, Tutum Cave, and Siyo cave (located near the hot springs. These campsites are ideal for overnight expeditions.

The Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak; the Jackson’s pool is a natural pool with swallow waters standing at 4,050m overlying in the shadow of a free-standing volcanic plug called the Jackson’s peak which rises up to 4,165m high from the western side of then mountain. This peak and a pool are features named after Fredrick Jackson who was the first European Explorer to Climb Mountain Elgon in 1889.

The Peaks and the Caldera; The highest peaks of Mount Elgon are a result of high points around the sharp rim covering one of the calderas at about 8kmwide and 40km long. Wagagai is the highest peak with 4,321, followed by Sudek at 4,303, Koitobos at 4,222m and the Mubiyi at 4,210m.

Caldera was formed as a result of volcanic forces which drained the magma from the chamber causing the overlying volcanic cone to collapse and a forma depression-like shape. At the start of the deep shape from the eastern side of the caldera are the hot springs while to the northwest is the Simu gorge which came as a result of too much water flow leading to two stream beds from the agglomerate walls and weak volcanic ash.

The vegetation; the vegetation of Mount Elgon is divided in various zones that are a result of the altitude and rainfall. The lower slopes of mountain are enclosed with dense and regenerating forests, epiphytes and lichens and hung with vine-like lianas. The floor of the mountain is covered with ferns, flowering plants and orchids.
At 2500-3000m, the zone changes into mixed bamboo which further turns into woodland.
At 3000-3500m, the woodland zone then turns into the heath zone characterized by giant heather which amazing grasses dotted with pink and white everlasting flowers and red hot pokers.
From 3,500 -4,321m is the moorland which contains ladies’ mantle tussocks, Erica tree, pink and white everlasting flowers and giant lobelias.
The peak of the mountain is covered by the rare Afro-montane species such as the huge types of lobelia and groundsel.

Sipi Falls: a series of massive basalt cliffs of several kilometers long rise from the northern and western sides of Mount Elgon where the Mountain Rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. There are mainly 3 waterfalls that are commonly known and visited and these include; the Sipi on Kapchorwa road located just outside the park. The most spectacular of the caves is the lowest as it cascades over 100m cliff. The other water falls are the Simba falls and Ngasire falls.
Wildlife; there are various animals that live in Mount Elgon National park such as Buffalo, Elephants, waterbuck, forest hog, duiker, oribi, leopard, bush pig, serval cat, aardvark, spotted hyena and many species of rodents. These animals are however not easily seen in the park. The most common ones include red tailed, vervet, duiker and tree squirrel, black-and-white Colobus, baboons, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys.

Birds; Mount Elgon national Park inhabits at least 300 species of birds of which 40are restricted rangeb species. Out of the 87 afro tropical highland biome species, 56 species live in Mt Elgon National Park, some of these species include; Mustached Green Tinker bird, Alpine Chat and Moorland Francolin. In Uganda, the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen in Mt Elgon soaring above the Caldera and the Suam gorge.

Mountain Climbing; many people who live within and outside East Africa have found Mt Elgon a suitable alternative to the very high mountains which require excessive energy. Mt Elgon features various attractions that are similar to other Mountains such as climate and this mountain requires no technical experience or special equipment.

Mount Elgon has several hiking trails which can be climbed by everybody. Some of these trails include (Sasa, Sipi and Piswa trails). About 5 to 6 days can be enough to hike to the peaks of this mountain.
There are several hiking trails around Mount Elgon, all open to everybody as this is not a difficult mountain to climb (Sasa, Sipi and Piswa trials). The full hiking circuit to the peaks takes 5 to 6 days to complete. You can encounter stunning flora and fauna, enormous caves, gorges and hot springs through nature walks. From the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkway, one day hikes are possible. Particularly fascinating is the hike from Sipi trading centre to the Sipi magnificent Falls, a series of four pretty waterfalls culminating in a 99m drop at an altitude of 1.775 m, along the river Sipi, that originates from Mount Elgon.

Mount Elgon National Park has a good number of accommodation facilities that can enhance visitor experience in the park. Among these facilities include; Mbale resort hotel, Mt. Elgon Hotel, Sipi Resort lodge, Lacam lodge and more. At the peak of the mountain, there are mountain huts that are ready to accommodate hikers. Camping in this park is much recommended

How to get to Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda

Mount Elgon National Park is about 235km away, in the eastern direction from Kampala. A tarmac road runs from Kampala through Jinja to Mbale-the neighboring town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western flank. Tarmac road lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.