Lying on the border between Kenya and Uganda, Mount Elgon is said to have the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world and a caldera which covers over 40km2 at the top of the mountain. The highest peak ,waggagai ,sits at 4321m and is the second highest in Uganda after Rwenzori mountains in the west .it is the 8th highest in Africa.though millions of years ago it was the tallest.
Its cool heights offer for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provide diverse habitats for flora and fauna. The lower slopes are clothed in tropical montane forest with extensive stands of bamboo .Above 3000m the forest fades into heath and then afro-alpine moorland ,which blankets the caldera .Rare plant species present here include the giant groundsel and the endemic Lobelia elgonensis .As far as mammals ,the duiker are more commonly seen,but lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of a leopard ,buffalo,hyena or elephants . Birdwatchers will enjoy the endangered Lammergeier vultures ,jacksons francolin
The higher slopes are protected by by the national parks in Uganda and Kenya ,creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserve.
Activities in the park
The major activity carried out in the Park is mountain climbing. Numerous day hikes depart from the forest Exploration centre near sipi falls , which the most popular being a trio of short loops taking in valleys, ridges and caves.
The most popular areas are the four explorable , vast caves where frequent night visitors such as Elephants and buffaloes come to lick the natural salt found on the cave walls. Kitum cave ,with overhanging crystalline walls, enters 200m into the side of mount Elgon
From Mbale side of the mountain it is possible to access the wanale Ridge where day long hikes can be organized to pass through a variety of heath and moorland.
Birdwatching is another activity that is carried out on this mountain .The secondary forest and thick scrub along the chebonet River near camp supports , african Goshawk , Chubby’s cristicola , white chinned prinia , African blue flycatchers , chin-spot Batis , mackinons fiscal , Doherty’s and Luhder’s bushshrike and baglafecht weaver.
TREKKING TO THE TOP
Mount Elgon is considered a good alternative to climbing Rwenzori in Uganda or Kilimanjaro in Tanzania since it offers a milder climate ,lower elevation and much more reasonable prices .the full trekking to the peaks takes five days to complete ,following either Sasa or Sipi trails.
Exellent travels Uganda organizes this tour to start from Sipi Falls .full board accommodation before and after the trekking is included at the great sipi river Lodge overlooking one of the many waterfalls . A day of hiking to the falls (1800m) is also included to help you adjust to the altitude and climate .Hence , you will need to allow a total of six days for this option.
All equipment is included, so you only have to bring good clothes ,your camera and yourself. The best times to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry seasons of june to August and December to March . No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main caldera or the peaks . A choice of trails are available ,making for interesting and unique flora ,fauna ,waterfalls ,Lakes ,caves, gorges and hot springs which bubble up to 48 degrees centigrade .
LOCAL ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE THE PARK
The magnificent Sipi falls are located 66 km from Mbale town en-route to the forest exploration center and kapkwata . 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 sipi trading centre . more expensive accommodation is available at the Sipi falls Resort . please inquire about guides to escort you on the gradual 1.5 hour walk to the exploration Center
Seven rock climbing routes are are open at Nagudi rock halfway between Mbale and Budadiri .The routes are bolted , but climbers must bring their own rock climbing equipment . Each climber pays to the local Parish treasurer .
TREKKING TRAIL HEADS AND ROUTES
There are two main trailheads (starting points) which lead to the mountain peaks .Salsa Trail (buddukiro trailhead) is the most direct route to the peaks . it passes through the parks largest area of bamboo forest.. however it is also a steep and rugged climb of over 1600m on the first day . for a more gentle climb (660 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 wildlifeviewing.
The ful trekking to the peaks takes 4-5 days to complete . all visitors are encouraged to discuss options with an information clerk at the Male ,budadiri or kapkwata visitor’s centres.
Five basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit , please respect park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. No camping is allowed within the caldera .MENP camping is primitive , and all necessary camping equipment must be carried with you . some items such as tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale . make sure not to forget a warm jacket and rain gear, as extreme waether conditions will add to your Mt. Elgon adventure. Also please take a fuel-efficient camp stove if possible to avoid placing additional pressure on Mount Elgon National Park firewood resources
GUIDES PORTERS AND RANGER ESCORTS
Please support community members and encourage continued conservation of MENP’s valuable resources by hiring local guides and porters . All certified guides have received training in natural/cultural histories , emergency first aid and communication . porters will assist you by carrying up to 18kg of your Gear as well as preparing meals,setting up/taking down your camp and collecting your water . the wages paid to the porter or guide cover the guide or porter’s park visitation fee and the cost of sufficient food and supplies . Make sure to ask to see a guide’s Licence 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 at Sasa or piswa patrol hut where you must present your park receipt before proceeding upwards.