Mt. Elgon National Park, Kenya
Untamed wilderness, secluded splendour
High in the mist-wreathed hills of western Kenya presides a towering vulcanic giant, crowned by a vast crater. Etched by glacial tarns, honeycombed by labyrinthine caves, fissured by valleys and cascaded by streams, Mt. Elgon is cloaked in forest and straddles the border between Kenya and Uganda.
Sometimes known as the Mountain of the Beast, other times the Mountain of Illusion, the basalt bluffs of enigmatric Elgon have been held sacred for centuries and ancient beyond comprehension, remain a potent link with the dawn of time.
Mt. Elgon, the Mountain
An ancient massif, Mt. Elgon reaches over 4.300 m (14.000 ft) at its highest peaks.
Like other East African mountains, Mt. Elgon is part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley and the eighth highest mountain in Africa today. Mt. Elgon slopes are famous for its towering cliffs, snaking river valleys, caves and plunging waterfalls.
What to See
Mt. Elgon is dotted with caves formed from ancient lava tubes namely Kitum, Makingeny, Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha. The caves were used until recently by the local communities for traditional ceremonies. A range of creatures including bats and spiders use the Mt. Elgon caves as their shelter.
Kitum and Makindgeny caves are easily accessible from a park road on well maintained trails.
Salt-Mining Elephants of Kitum Cave
Kitum Cave is regularly visited by herds of elephants, dubbed the troglodyte tuskers, as well as bushbuck, duiker and buffalo, all in search of the salts that around in the mineral-rich earth of the caves. These elephants are elusive. Typical of most forest animals, thy are shy and generally wary.
Makingeny Cave, located not far from Kitum, has a spectacular waterfall over its mouth.
Game Viewing around the Mountain
As one of Kenya’s more secluded and less disturbed areas, Mt. Elgon offers its wildlife and visitors alike a truly natural haven. In addition to the elephants, other commonly sighted animals include leopard, buffalo, waterbuck, olive baboon, giant forest hog, duiker, black and white colobus monkey.
Mt. Elgon is an Important Bird Area (IBA). More then 240 species of birds have been sighted on the mountain. Bird watching at the glade itself and along the quiet forest roads you may find Thick-billed Honeyguide and Purple-throated Cukoo-shrike. The designated trails are great for early morning birding with the possibility of sighting Toss’s and Hartlaub’s Turaco’s.
Black- and white-casqued hornbills and if you are lucky an African Crowned Eagle.
The diverse terrain and dramatic ascents of altitude combined with the vagaries of rainfall and weather produce four distinct vegetation zones on Mt. Elgon.
The Lush Montane Forest (2000 m – 2500 m) The forest is of the dry, highland evergreen type and includes over 100 species as well a epiphytic orchids, ferns and trailling lianas. The best place to see this type of forest is on the Chelulus circuit.
Mixed Bamboo (3000 m – 3500 m) Togehter with the forest contain the highest biodiversity on the mountain.
Heath Zone (3000 m – 3500 m) Is characterized by dense scrub and brilliant wildflowers.
Moorland Zone (3000 m – 4321 m) Boasts the highest number of endemic plants species on the mountain. The open moorland grassland is dotted with clusters of peculiar Giant grounded plus Lobelia plants which are unique to East Africa.
Mountain Climbing, Hiking and Walking
Mt Elgon offers a moorland panorama with breathtaking views that is ideal for walking, trekking and hiking expeditions. The climbing routes are gentle and largely free of vegetation, making the going easy. While there is no permanent snow on the mountain,seasonal snow sometimes lies in the crater and the mountain can become extremely cold at night.
Because of its milder climate and moderate slopes, the park offers fine climbing choices for those looking for a less strenuous climb. The mountain requires no technical climbing skills and all the major summits are easily accessible to hikers. There are several routes to the peaks accessible to any moderately experienced hiker. If you prefer a gentler stroll, a number of well-marked nature trails lead around the Elkony Caves.
To trek to the higher slopes you need a tent and camping gear and a KWS ranger is rquired to accompany you. Mt. Elgon can be climbed any time of the year, but it is the best to avoid the months of heaviest rain: from the end of April to May and August to September.
For the finest views from the mountain, discover some of the traditional vantage points:
Elephant Platform, a flat outcrop overlooking the northern acacia-filled valley and the northern Cherangani Hills
Endebess Bluff, a basalt columm that offers magnificent views over the rolling reaches of the Cherangani Hills
Horse Riding at Mt. Elgon
Experience the unique exhilaration of riding on the mountain past a herd of elephants. It is possible to get unusually very close to wildlife on horseback. For reservation please contact the warden. (in advance we can do the reservation for your)
Area: 169 sq km
Altitude: 2100 m to 4222 m
Location: 420 km northwest of Nairobi, Trans Nzoia District in Rift Valley
Gazetted: April 1968
Climate: The wettest season occurs from march to October, with a short dry period around June/July and the driest is from November to February.
Vegetation: Ranges from wet montane and bamboo forest to afro-alpine moorlands on the upper slopes. Endemics include giant senecious
Mammals: Elephants, leopard, giant forest hog,bushbuck, buffalo, duiker, black and white colobus, blue monkeys and golden cat among others.
Birds: More then 240 bird species in the area, including the African crowned eagle, Ross’s turaco, and red fronted parrot.
Peaks: The highest peak is Wagagai (4321 m) on the far side of the crater in Uganda. The highest peaks on the Kenyan side are Lower Elgon or Sudek (4301 m), Koitoboss (4222 m) and Endebess Bluff (2563 m). There are hot springs on the floor of the crater.
Roads: Roads are largely well maintained dirt, suitable for 2wd for most of the year. Use of 4wd is advisable in the wet season.