Mount Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda – Kenya border it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in east Africa. Its vast form in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding or refuge for flora and fauna.
Mount Elgon national park is the home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lanmergeyer. Small entelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffolos also live on the mountainside. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which Has declared a UNESCO man and biosphere reserve.
A climb on mt. Elgon’s deserted moorland 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 4321m wagagai peak but the descent into the vast 40 square kilometers caldera.
AREAS OF INTEREST
Forest Exploration Centre
The forest exploration centre at kapkwai, 13km from Sipi town, doubles as the educational centre for schools and the trailhead for climbers using the sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits of between, 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escapments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates.Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub’sturaco, eastern bronze-napped pigeon, lemon dove, dusky – turtle dove, African hill babbler, alpine chat, black-throated wattle-eye, mountain yellow warbler, thick-billed honey guide, grey cuckoo-shrike.
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are kapkwai cave, near the forest exploration center, and khauka cave on wanale ridge. Historically such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock; later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings. more recently, they were used by climbers and their porters, and even today, campsites are still located at hunter’s cave, siyo cave (near the hot springs), mude cave and tutum cave – ideal for overnight expeditions.
JACKSON’S POOL AND JACKSON’S PEAK
Jackson’s pool stands at 4,050m and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165m high jackson’s peak, a free- standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain. These features were named after the explorer federick Jackson, who in 1889 was the first European to climb mount Elgon. The peak is used by the locals as a spot to communication with their ancestors.
THE PEAKS AND THE CALDERA
Mount Elgon’s highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim enclosing one of the world’s largest calderas, the tallest peak is 4321m wagagi, followed by sudek 4303m, koitobos 4222m and mubiyi 4210.
The caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. When it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone, it collapsed into a depression like shape. In the eastern corner of the caldera, hot springs are found at the start of the deep suam gorge. In the northern, simu gorge was formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera cutting two streams beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
NKOKENJERU RIDGE AND WANALE
Nkokenjeru ridge is a distinctive finger of the forest extending outward from themain massif of mount elgon. It lies at an elevation of 2347m and covers a 25km – long tongue of lava that flowed out of the side of the volcano after the cone collapsed to block the main vent. Nkokenjeru ridge culminates at the superb wanale cliffs which tower above mbale town; the seasonal Nabuyonga and Namatyo waterfalls are located here. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to khauka cave where petrified wood can be found.
The ridge also offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over the mbale town.
The Nabuyonga trail is an 5km loop withbirding, fauna and flora. Viewpoints overlook mbaletown , lakes kyoga, bisina and salisbara, and the rugged mountains in karamoja region. On a clear day, you may enjoy vistas of wagagai peak and even areas of western Kenya. Beware of throwing a stone into the Nabuyonga stream- locals folklore claims that if you do so, a thunderstorm will strike before you leave!
The northern and western sides of mount elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometers in length, over which the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. The best known are the three waterfalls at sipi on the kapchorwa road, just outside the park. The lowest of these falls is the most spectacular as it cascades over a loom cliff. The second, know as samba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave. Visitors can stand in the cave and enjoy a view of the black of the fall. The third water fall, also known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Sipi falls is less than an hour drive from mbale on a paved road.
Easily accessible waterfall are also found at sisiyi, bulago, chebonet and wanale and many more are scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
Outside the park overlooking sipi falls is the hill where during the 1960s, chemongeskingo, king of the sabiny would meet his subjects. From the top you can view the three falls, the karamajongo plains and the wagagai