Mount Elgon from Uganda

In 1990 the MEP/IUCN Mt Elgon Project provided funds to develop Mt Elgon on the Ugandan side. A great deal of good will was generated by the project involving the Ndorobo and Sabin people on the northern slopes of the mountain and the Bugisu on the south west. Two routes were developed - the old Sasa route and the new Piswa route. A task force was created to protect visitors and reduce the activity of hunters and poachers in the caldera. The encroachment of tree cutting and cultivation was stopped within the forest boundaries and some encroachers have been pushed back. In January 1994 the National Park Services took over the management of the mountain. In theory this should safeguard the environment further. Unfortunately the mountain has for many years been crossed by trading, rustling and smuggling routes, also the forest communities around the mountain have roamed the mountain hunting for any animals they could find. At present only the forests of the Kenyan Elgon National Park support a large wildlife population. All the big animals on the Ugandan side are extremely scarce and those that do come over from Kenya to Uganda are still being poached. The ranger force on Mount Elgon is not adequate to deal with the problem and unwilling to upset the old traditions. For these reasons it is possible to encounter groups of armed poachers and even rustlers in the caldera. In December 1995 a group of 20 poachers with dogs and several guns from the Bumasobu village region took over the Hot Spring area for several days to kill and butcher a buffalo and to poach on smaller wildlife in preparation for Christmas. They shot towards tourists (to keep them away) and later returned to their village, mainly using the Sasa Route, totally unopposed. Such encounters are rare and so far have resulted only in minor inconvenience to tourists - do not be put off.

It is hoped that the National Park Authorities will eventually take a stronger line with the poachers and rustlers so that once again tourists will be able to camp in the caldera safely in order to be able to enjoy this most beautiful part of the Mount Elgon National Park. The most idyllic campsite on Elgon is at the Hot Springs - wood is scarce here so provisions must be made for porters to carry in charcoal or wood. Porters can be very comfortable at the nearby Siyo Cave which is dry and well sheltered.

The Sasa Route
Note all reverse times are given in as [1h].
Access: From Mbale (1000m) tarmac then dirt roads to Budadiri (1200m) (1h driving). 1 km beyond Budadiri the left fork leads in 4km to Bumasola (1650m, 4WD or 1h on foot). The right fork leads in 3km to Busolani Subcounty Campsite (h). Route: From Bumasola (1650m) walk up the cultivated slopes (cassava, bananas, coffee, potato, yams) to the base of steeper slopes and cliffs capped by the forests. At the top of several sets of ladders there is a fine view point (2400m, 2h, 5km from Bumasola, [1h]). Enter the forest soon to cross a small stream (good water), fine forest walking to the Sasa River. Campsite in forest, (2800m, 2h, 2 km from ladder, [1h]). Now mixed bamboo and mountain forest (crossing stream at 2970m) to open moorland and the Sasa Campsite (3270m, 1h, 3 km, [1h]), this is located 5 mins. from the Sasa Patrol Hut on a small hill - excellent view point (3300m, for ranger use only, radio contact with Mbale available).

Open moorland to the small Mude Cave with a good campsite and water nearby (3460m, 2km, 400m left (N) of main path, h, [h]). Continue above Mude to rejoin the main path at 3580m. At 3620m a trail leads off down (S) to second Mude Cave. At 3700m (h and 2 km from Mude [20 mins]) the path divides:
The right fork leads to Jackson's Pool (4050m, cave nearby, 1h, [h]). From here Jackson's Summit can be reached (4135m, h, [20 mins]) and Elgon's highest top - Wagagai (4321m, 2h, [1h]).
The left branch leads to a view point over the Simu Gorge (3780m, 20 mins, km, [10 mins]). The path drops slightly to Maongongo or Hunters Caves (3750m, 10 mins, [10 mins], good water but little firewood). The rim of the Caldera and Uganda Pass is reached in a further 40 mins, [30 mins], 3870m, 2km). At this point a faint path leads to Wagagai.

The main path drops to Makutano Junction (3750m, 40 mins, [1h]). From here the Hot Springs (3565m) are a further 40 mins away [1h].

The Piswa Route
This route has only been open to the public since 1993. The scenery and walking easily rival that available on the other major East African mountains, a traverse of Elgon using the Piswa Route provides a tremendous 5 or 6 day expedition.

The northern slopes of the mountain have in the past been heavily poached and traversed by rustlers. The Piswa Route uses their paths almost exclusively over it's 30 km length.

Access: Tarmac from Mbale to Sironko then a spectacular dirt road to Sipi Falls. Viewpoint, rest house, and possible campsite (2 h, 1900m). Continue along the dirt road to Kapchorwa and a few km. beyond turn off right onto a poor trail (4WD might be required) to Kamnerkut (1 h, longer or impassable if wet, 2300m). This is a small, characterless and shadeless roadhead trading centre. Route: A good path follows the Ngenge stream valley through cultivated lands newly carved out of the once magnificent lower forests. After 1h, [1h] the park boundary is reached (2460m). The Sabin and the Benet homestead thin out and soon the forests are entered, a steep climb leads to a magnificent viewpoint (1h, 2750m, [h]), possible campsite, no water (good water may be collected at the stream crossing before entering the forests). Fine forest walking, passing one or two Ndorobo communities, leads to a grassy valley and stream junction, a fine possible campsite (1h, [1h]). In a further 20 mins. [10 mins] the Piswa Patrol Hut is reached (2850m). This is situated on a ridge top. Radio contact with Mbale, campsite, water from stream to the east. An open ridge top 1km N of the hut provides a magnificent panorama of the caldera.

The path now follows a ridge through forest to more open country with shrub and flowers. Two small streams are crossed at ca. 3050m. The path now climbs more steeply to a gap in the line of cliffs defending the upper slopes of the mountain. The upper reaches of the Atari River are crossed at ca. 3200m, 2h [1h]. The path crosses Afro-alpine moorlands, passing one stream with good water, to a pass (fine views of caldera), the path drops gently, soon to reach a beautiful stream overlooking a gorge (3350m, 1h, [1h]). Waterfall just below crossing point. The W bank of the Cheberen river is followed, crossing several small streams till a rocky, wooded knoll on the E side of the river is passed. There is a magnificent cave amongst the rocks of the knoll and a good campsite by the stream (3430m, h, 2km, [25 mins]). The main path crosses a stream at 3475m, then another stream at 3535m and soon a small cave in a groundsel forest is reached. Good campsite with water nearby (3590m, 2km from knoll, 30 mins [20 mins]). The path becomes steeper as it approaches the caldera rim which is crossed at a broad col, (4010m, 2 km, 1h, [45 mins]). The path drops down to the caldera crossing a stream at ca. 3840m and then the Suam River at 3720m, 8 mins beyond this crossing, and overlooking it, are the two Makutano caves 3760m, a further 8 mins away lies the track from Sasa to the Hot Springs (1h from the Col, [1h]).

Accommodation
The Mt Elgon Hotel is located near the centre of Mbale. It is set amongst trees and has lawns. It is slightly run down but it is comfortable and the best option in town. 1996: $15 per person in a double room B&B. Lunch and Supper cost $10. Tel. Mbale (045) 3454 or 3612, Fax 3565. P.O. Box 670 Mbale.

The Salem Brotherhood is a children's village and health centre run by and German Aid Project . To help fund the project the centre runs guest houses. These comprise thatched rondavels housing 2-4 guests with full amenities. High quality locally produced foods are cooked & served in a dining hut. The whole area is set amongst shady trees and is relatively cool even in the hottest weather. 1996 prices are about 2/3 of those at the Mt Elgon Hotel and vary with types of rondavel.
Contact: Salem Brotherhood, P.O.Box 1558, Mbale, Uganda. Fax 00256 45 3368 or 00256 41 256696.

Sipi Falls, campsite and "hotel". The fresh air and magnificent views make this a very pleasant place to stop. Charges are minimal and services more so.

Busolani Development Committee Tourist Campsite, P.O.Box Budadiri. Basic.

Local Tour Operators
The Salem Brotherhood: Accommodation at Salem or elsewhere, catering on and off the mountain, porters, guides, transport. Also trips to Ugandan parks:
Ngoro Painted Rocks, 1h drive from Mbale.
Murcheson Falls Park, 8h drive from Mbale. Allow 2 nights at Murcheson.
Masindi lies a short way from the Murcheson and offers morning Chimpanzee walks.
Transport to and from Entebbe (4h).

Mount Elgon Tours and Travel, P.O.Box 2104 Mbale, will make arrangements for: travel, porters, guides, catering on and off the mountain and accommodation. They can arrange visits to places of local interest.
Contact: Agatha Wagoye Masifa, Rapid Enterprises Ltd., P.O.Box 6392 Kampala. Tel & Fax 041-241877.

Access to Mbale
3h on good roads from Kampala, bus or taxi. Vehicle hire is expensive in Uganda.

Entry procedure to Mt Elgon, (January 1996)
Visitors should report to the Mt Elgon office in Mbale to collect permits and to check on the current situation. Visitors using the Sasa Trail should then check-in at the Budadiri Tourism Office, where they can arrange for a guide and porters. Permits should be retained for inspection by the Guards. All tourists must be accompanied by a licensed guide, and people wishing to enter the Caldera will need a Ranger who is picked up at either the Sasa or Piswa Patrol Hut. If ascending by the Piswa Route a guide is best organised in advance to meet the group at Mbale, porters can be picked up at short notice at Kamnerkut.

Park Charges: $10 per person (pp) per day entry fee. $10 pp rescue fee and $10 pp per day camping fee.

Porters and Guides
1996 Wages: Guides $5/day Porters $4/day

The guide should ensure that the porters are adequately equipped (blanket, sweater, mug and plate) for the mountain. Visitors should buy all food for the porters or provide $1.50 pp per day for food. The former option is cheaper and ensures food is there for them. Porters will not be happy with European food.

Porters and guides can be organised in advance by contacting: Mt. Elgon Guides and Porters Association, P.O. Box 98, Budadiri, Mbale.

Mount Elgon Project
Aberdeen University is carrying out a research project on Mount Elgon. Their web pages cover a variety of interesting topics including the ascent of Wagagai. Project page.


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© Andrew Wielochowski 13/04/02. From the "Mount Elgon Map and Guide"