Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon is aone of Uganda's interesting parks for mountain climbing / hiking safaris. A climb on Mount Elgon is to explore a magnificent and uncluttered montane wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to higher regional mountains. Indeed the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mount Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321 m Wagagai peak, but the descent into the vast 40km2 caldera.

Mount Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Its vast form, eighty kilometres in diameter, 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 provide a refuge for flora and fauna.

Mount Elgon has been a regional landmark for a long time: 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's 5895m. Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4321 m, 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.

Mount 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 Ugandans.
 Elgon's water is equally important to many Kenyans, for Mount Elgon is bisected by the international boundary. The mountain's natural vegetation, and its role as a giant biological sponge, is protected by a Mount Elgon National Park on both sides of the border. The Ugandan park, which was upgraded from a forest reserve in 1993, covers 1,11O km2. 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 transboundary conservation area covering 2,229km2, which have been declared Man & Biosphere Reserves under UNESCO.

Flora and fauna

The ascent of Mount Elgon passes through a series of roughly concentric vegetation zones. The lower slopes of the mountain are intensively farmed up to the park boundary. The first zone of natural vegetation is montane forest which runs from the park boundary up to 2500m. This is followed by bamboo and low canopy forest (2400 - 3000m), then high montane heath (3000 - 3500m) which includes the giant heather (Phillipea excelsia) growing up to 6m tall. Above 3500m, cold temperatures and fierce winds force the heather to give way to open moorland.
 Finally, above 3800m, dramatic Afroalpine vegetation is found among tussock grasslands and Carex bogs. This rare and spectacular vegetation type is restricted to the upper reaches of East Africa's highest mountains and includes the giant groundsel (Senecio elgonensis) and the endemic Lobelia elgonensis.

Mount Elgon supports a variety of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, Defassa's waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, leopard and spotted hyena. However, as is usual in forest environments, most of these species are rarely seen. The most commonly seen creatures are black and white colobus, blue monkey, duiker and tree squirrel.

The mountain is home to 296 birds including 40 restricted range species. Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include Jackson's francolin, moustached green tinkerbird, and black collared apalis, the Ugandan ranges of which are limited to Mount Elgon. The bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub's turaco and tacazze sunbird are limited to Mount Elgon and a few other mountains in eastern Uganda. Mount Elgon is also one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen, soaring above the caldera and Suam gorge.

Local People

Mount Elgon is home to three tribes, the Bagisu, the Sabiny and the Ndorobo. The Bagisu and Sabiny are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every other year to initiate young men (and in the Sabiny's case, girls) into adulthood. Traditionally, the Bagisu, also known as the BaMasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba, and you may hear the mountain called by this name. Local people have long depended on forest produce and have made agreements with the park to continue to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots (a delicious local delicacy).

Climbing the mountain

Mount Elgon National Park is a roadless wilderne. The park can only be explored on foot, on routes tha from day walks to extended hikes over several days to reach the upper mountain. You can also make your trans boundary adventure, ascending the Ugandan slopes and descending on the Kenyan side (or vice versa). This requires prior arrangement to meet with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) rangers at a crossover point at the hot springs in the caldera.

A trained ranger guide is required on all treks. Local make your hike easier, each carrying up to 18kg of supplies, in addition to collecting water, cooking and preparing the camp.

The best times to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry days of June-August and December-March. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main peak. The caldera and the peaks are the main destinations, while along the way, a choice of trails passes interesting and unique flora and fauna, waterfalls, lakes, caves, gorges and hot springs.

Rain gear and both cool and warm clothing are required area is subject to sudden weather changes. You should also take a camera, binoculars, hat, torch, wildlife guide booksand insect repellant.
 

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