east africa maps
No. 10 - MOUNT ELGON
Mount Elgon lies on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya, 1o north of the equator and 235km east of the Ugandan capital city, Kampala. A massive, extinct volcano, its vast form rises over 3000m above the surrounding plains to dominate the regional landscape.
Covering an area of 4000km2 and measuring 50 x 80km, Mount Elgon is one of the world’s largest examples of a ‘shield’ volcano; created by fluid lava these take the form of flattened, shield-like domes rather than steep cones. A cross section through the mountain shows a typically shallow profile of just 3-4 degrees. It is indicative of Mount Elgon’s vast scale that, despite this gentle outline, the mountain’s western flank actually steps upwards in a series of huge basalt cliffs. The result of horizontal, fissure eruptions, these are usually several kilometres long and up to 300m high. A delightful landscape results in which numerous rivers radiating outwards from the central peaks drop over these distinctive, yellow-ochre rock faces to create Mount Elgon’s emblematic waterfalls.
Natural habitat on the higher slopes is protected by a 222,984km2 transboundary system of conservation areas. The forests and moorland on the Ugandan side were first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1938 before being upgraded to create the 1,121km2 Mount Elgon National Park in 1993. Across the border, a Kenyan national park of the same name, a forest reserve and national reserve cover 107,821km2.
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AROUND MOUNT ELGON
Mbale The gateway to Mount Elgon, Mbale lies 235km east of Kampala on a good tarmac road. One of Uganda’s pleasanter towns, it enjoys a definite sense of place thanks to its location at the foot of the dramatic Wanale Cliffs.
Sipi Falls The best known of Mount Elgon’s numerous waterfalls are found in a 3km section of the Sipi Valley where the river plunges over three sets of cliffs. Numerous paths and tracks criss-cross a landscape of rivers, waterfalls and cliffs to create fabulous opportunities for walking and mountain biking.
Kapkwai (Mount Elgon Forest Exploration Centre). Set just inside the national park at Kapkwai, 13km from Sipi, the Forest Exploration Centre doubles as an educational centre for local school children and communities, and the starting point for a number of tourist trails on the mountain. Three circuits of varying length explore the forest around the Exploration Centre while the Sipi Trail ascends to the caldera. Simple accommodation and camping facilities are available at the site.
CLIMBING MOUNT ELGON
Three trails ascend the mountain through the Mount Elgon National Park. The Sasa Trail is the most popular of the three, offering the shortest and most direct ascent to the peaks. The Sipi and Piswa trails provide longer but also gentler ascents. Overnight stops use campsites provided with a clean water source and latrine. A tent is required at all sites except Mude Cave where there is a 16-berth mountain hut.
Bradt Guide to Uganda (7th edition: 2013) Philip Briggs & Andrew Roberts.
Updates on blog: http://bradtugandaupdate.wordpress.com
Uganda Travel Planner
Mbale Resort Hotel
Tel: 04544 33920/34485; web: www.mbaleresorthotel.com
Mount Elgon Hotel
Tel: 04544 33454; web: www.mountelgonhotel.com
Sipi River Lodge
Tel: 0751 769109; web: www.sipiriverlodge.com
Mount Elgon NP HQ & Information Office
Masaba Road (near Mount Elgon Hotel), Mbale.
Tel: 04544 33170
Uganda Wildlife Authority