Mount Elgon National Park
Climb The 4,321 Meters High Wagagai Peak
Mount Elgon National Park
The 1,145 km² Mount Elgon National Park protects the higher slopes of the 4,321 meter Mount Elgon, an extinct volcano on the Uganda-Kenya border. Mount Elgon is one of East Africa’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 20 million years ago. The trek to the summit passes through the distinctive altitudinal vegetation zones restricted to Eastern Africa’s highest mountains.
Mount Elgon’s cool slopes with its distinctive, waterfall-streaked cliffs are an ideal retreat, especially during the long drive through dusty Karamoja to/from Kidepo Valley National Park.
A massive, extinct volcano, 80 kilometer in diameter, Mount Elgon once stood far higher than Kilimanjaro’s current 5,900 meter. Its height was reduced when an unusually violent eruption emptied the volcano’s magma reservoir and the cone, no longer supported by underlying molten rock, collapsed inwards. Even so, Mount Elgon still rises 3,000 meter above the hot dusty plains of Karamoja to provide a cool respite for humans and a refuge for flora and fauna. The protected forest also represents an essential regional water catchment.
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 not the final ascent to the 4,321 meter Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40 km² caldera.
The Park supports a variety of wildlife including rock and tree hyraxes, elephant, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, duiker, forest hog, bush pig, leopard, civet and serval cats, serval cats, spotted hyena; aardvark and several rodent species. However these animals are rarely observed in the forest setting. More commonly seen creatures are the black-and-white colobus; baboons; red tailed, vervet, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys; duiker and tree squirrel.
The mountain is home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 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.
More Info On The Activities
Kapwai Forest Exploration Centre
The UWA-run Forest Exploration Centre (FEC) lies on the park edge, 13 kilometer beyond Sipi. It doubles as an education centre for local schools and researchers as well as a trailhead for the Sipi route to the peaks (see below).
Routes over varying length explore the forest around the FEC passing caves, waterfalls and viewpoints and providing the opportunity to observe birds and primates.
A number of routes ascend to the 4,321 meter high Wagagai peak, the summit of Mount Elgon. The Sasa Trail ascends from the small town of Budadiri (1,250 meter a.s.l.) in the Sironko Valley. The shortest and most direct option, it is possible to reach the summit and descend to Budadiri in 3 or (more comfortably) 4 days. It does however involve a stiff altitudinal gain of 1,650 meter including an ascent of the Mudangi Cliffs on Day One.
The Sipi Trail involves a longer but gentler ascent, starting 800 meter higher than Budadiri at the FEC (2,050 meter). Other options are the Piswa and Suam routes on the northern side of the mountain and a proposed new route at Bushiyi.
Jackson’s Peak Jackson’s Pool stands at 4,050 meter beside the Sasa Trail in the shadow of the 4,165 meter high Jackson’s peak, a freestanding volcanic plug rising above moorland on the western flank of the mountain.
The Peaks And The Caldera
Mount Elgon’s highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim that forms the circumference of a giant caldera which, at 8 kilometer across, is one of the world’s
largest. The tallest peak is Wagagai (4,521 meter) followed by Sudek (4,503 meter), Koitobos (4,222 meter) and Mubiyi (4,210 meter). A highlight of any ascent of Mount Elgon is the traverse through the distinctive vegetation zones peculiar to East Africa’s highest mountains. The lowest of these zones, between the park boundary and the 2500 meter contour is covered with dense mountain forest and regenerating forests, draped with with lianas, epiphytes and lichens. This gives way to the bamboo forest (2,500-3,000 meter) followed by groves of giant heather (3,000-3,500 meter). Above 3,500 meter, the mountainside opens into moorland dotted with outlandish forms of giant lobelias and groundsels.
Nkokenjeru Ridge And Wanale Cliffs
As the map shows, a narrow corridor of parkland extends 25 kilometer west from the Mount Elgon massif towards Mbale town. This follows the Nkokenjeru Ridge, a 25 km-long tongue of Lava that burst out of the side of the volcano after the cone had collapsed to block the main vent. A trail within this section of the park visits the Khaukha Cave. The ridge ends at the lofty Wanale Cliffs (outside the park) which tower 700 meter above Mbale. A road winding upwards from the town through a gap in the cliffs leads to some stunning viewpoints and sites with paragliding potential.