Mt. Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. It rises 3070m above the surrounding plains, providing welcome relief in more than one sense of the word. Its mountainous terrain introduces variety to an otherwise monotonous regional landscape. Its cool heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provides a refuge for flora and fauna. This extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 20 million years ago. It was once Africa’s highest mountain, towering above Kilimanjaro 5895m. Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4321m, relegating it to 4th highest peak in East Africa (and 7th on the continent). However, its 4000km2 surface area is still the largest base of any volcanic mountain worldwide.
Mt. Elgon is a hugely important water catchment. Its forests receive up to 3000mm of rain each year, which they store and release to support flora, fauna and more than a million Uganda’s. Mountain Elgon covers an area of 1,110km2 though its Kenyan counterpart measures just 170km2; it is adjoined by a forest reserve and national reserve. These parks and reserves in both countries combine to form a trans boundary conservation area covering 2,229km2, which has been declared Man & Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO.
Trekking: There are three main trailheads or starting points that lead to the mountain’s peaks. You may choose to begin your ascent from Budadiri (Sasa trailhead), forest exploration center-Kapkwai (Sipi trailhead) or Kapkwata (Piswa trailhead). Sasa trail is accessible from Mbale 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. Sipi trail offers the spectacular Tutum cave hidden within extensive forest, while Piswa trail is renowned for the towering Podocarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing. In contrast, Sipi and Piswa trails start at much higher elevations with a longer more gradual climbs to the peaks. After visiting 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. The park is developing a trekker’s hut at Mude cave on Sasa trail.
Day Hikes: Two different day hike areas allow you to explore Mount Elgon’s diverse montane 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.
Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Uganda’s capital city. A tarmac road runs through Jinja to Mbale 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.