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Wagagai, your tourist destination at Mt Elgon

The Highest peak at Mt Elgon, one of the biggest tourist attractions about 4321m above sea level. (Photo by David Mafabi)

BUDADIRI – When it comes to trekking for adventure, Mt Elgon stands out. Those who have visited it will agree that it is the most beautiful mountain in Africa you’ve never heard of!

Tourists who have climbed this resource remark “It is the most stunning volcano climb in the continent.” And if you have visited it, you will agree that its extra-ordinary features shape its outstanding beauty”.

Wagagai is Mt Elgon’s highest peak [Point] located entirely within Uganda; Mt Elgon is an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya, north of Kisumu and west of Kitale.

Many tourists say Wagagai is so much more than just being the highest peak on Mt Elgon and East Africa but one of the tallest free-standing mountain in Uganda.

For many, it represents the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime personal challenge – an arduous but highly rewarding 3 to 4-day trek up to Wagagai Point (the actual summit) or to the Crater lake (on the lip of the crater).

Many tourists will tell you Mount Elgon is a home for over 300 birds including the endangered Lammergeyer, elephants, calabash monkeys, Small antelopes and forest monkeys. But maybe there is something they have not seen.

At 4321m Mt Elgon Wagagai peak is one of the largest volcanic base in Africa, located on the Uganda-Kenya border and it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic feature in East Africa.

Its vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains and the mountain’s cool heights offer respite from the hot plains below, with the higher altitudes providing a refuge for flora and fauna.

The UWA conservation area manager Mr Fred KIzza says tourists should make it their ultimate goal to reach the top of Mt. Elgon in order to ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, [the highest peak on Mt Elgon] and that they will be able to see the vast 40km² caldera, the largest in Africa and second in the world.

He explains that besides Wagagai, Mt. Elgon consists of other major peaks that include: Sudek (4,302 metres (14,114 ft)) on the Kenya/Uganda border, Koitobos (4,222 metres (13,852 ft)), a flat-topped basalt column in Kenya, Mubiyi (4,211 metres (13,816 ft)) in Uganda and Masaba (4,161 metres (13,652 ft)) in Uganda.

He adds that Wagagai one of the stunning physical features at the mountain stands in Mt Elgon national park, the fourth largest Ugandan National park which encompasses 1154sq.km and stretches between 0052′-1025′ N and 340 14′ -340 44’E.

“And do you know that the majority of the park is situated above 2000m and extends up to its highest peak (Wagagai at 4321m),” adds Mr Kizza.

He revealed that Mt. Elgon is a solitary volcano, one of the oldest in East Africa and that it was built up from lava debris blown out from a greatly enlarged volcanic vent during the Pliocene epoch and rises to a height of about 4320m above sea level.

“And the geology of the area is dominated by basaltic parent materials and strongly weathered granites of the Basement Complex,” added Mr Kizza.

He said at the top of Mt Elgon close Wagagai top has also the longest Crater Lake in the world and added: “This is also is a tourist destination for most visitors,”.

Mr Swalley Naminya, the executive director at Casa Uganda Safaris, a tourist travel company and local tourist says although these days, opportunities for adventure and conquest are rare, masculine men naturally crave exploration.

“The call of the wild is undeniable. But, there is need to be realistic. You have missed a point if you visited Mt Elgon and never reached Wagagai peak where a modern man can still test himself against nature,” said Mr Naminya.

Mr Gerald Gibogi, a local leader says the Bagisu; [those living around Mt Elgon] believe that their Imbalu gods stay at Wagagai Peak; a cultural belief here said to be able to inspire boys into circumcision.

A young man faces the ‘knife’ in an Imbalu procession in Eastern Uganda (FILE PHOTO)

Imbalu [circumcision] is a very old custom with a mysterious origin and involves the removing the foreskin of the penis and that the desire to be circumcised is believed to be spiritually inspired by the gods that have their seat at Mt Elgon and particularly at Wagagai peak.

“And if you are a religious man, the intensity of your climb may cause spiritual revelations, perhaps even epiphanies. If you’re not a Mugisu faithful, you’ll still revel in nature’s glory,” said Mr Gibogi.

He adds “Climbing the mountain is an experience not soon forgotten and climbing Wagagai Peak at Mt Elgon makes you humble,”

“Here’s our honest experience on what to expect as well as some useful tips when climbing Mt Elgon’s highest peak. It is really challenging as everything is compressed into three short days. This climb of Mt Elgon’s highest peak brings you in touch with the deserted moorlands and unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness, it is certainly a test of our endurance, both physically and mentally.” said Mr Naminya.

He adds that although they felt really accomplished, they were also extremely tired and their legs felt like they were going to break any moment!

“We didn’t take many photos of our descending as we were too focused on getting down as fast as we could to get over and done with this climb. We finally reached the bottom of the peak and sighed with relief,|” added Mr Naminya.

The captivating weather is definitely worth the thrill (FILE PHOTO)

Mr Patrick Musooli, a local tour guide at Mt Elgon said the accent will push you to the absolute limit close to the clouds and at the border with Kenya.

“Mountaineering isn’t fun. It is the opposite. You will suffer as you face exhaustion, cold, heavy mist, altitude sickness, low oxygen, avalanche, falls, and countless other dangers. But your climb will harden you, physically and mentally. It’s a true test of your ability to absorb and endure punishment,” said Mr Musooli.

“Accept that you’re not a special person, believe that those who have made it don’t have horns and you will make it,” added Mr Musooli.

Mr Peter Mbwebwe, the warden in charge of tourism at Mt Elgon national park says the climb of the Wagagai peak will bring you in touch with a plethora of waterfalls and, hot springs.

Mr Mbwebwe says Mt Elgon came into existence as a result of a volcanic eruption and that for hundreds of years, the mountain has never erupted since its formation.

“Besides Wagagai, the highest peak here, Elgon’s major features are: a plethora of waterfalls, hot springs and do you know that this sometimes experiences temperatures below freezing point,” said Mr Mbwebwe.

Mr Mbwebwe adds that If you’re looking for a more challenging mountain to climb in Uganda, try Mt Elgon’s Wagagai peak, this will give you the challenge you desire in terms of its terrain, but very fun.

Geography and Climate

Mr Mbwebwe says the climate is moist to moderate dry with an annual rainfall of over 1,270mm. The dry season runs from June to August, and December to March, although it can rain at any time of the year on the mountain.

“The area receives a bimodal pattern of rainfall, generally, with the wettest period occurring from April to October. The mean annual rainfall ranges from 1500 mm on the eastern and northern slopes, to 2000 mm in the southern and the western slopes,” said Mbwebwe.

“And the mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 23° and 15 °C respectively, mid-slopes oriented towards the east and north, at elevations between 2000 and 3000m tend to be wetter than either the lower slopes or the summit,” he added.

He said climbing is best done in the dry months of June to August, and December to February, but other months are also manageable.

Location

Mr Mbwebwe says Wagagai is positioned approximately 100 km northeast of Lake Victoria and stands at the border of Uganda and Kenya and that the International boundary is marked by the Suam and Lwakhaka Rivers, and the beacon on Sudek Peak.

He adds that administratively, the Mountain falls in Mbale, Sironko, Manafwa, Bududa, Bulambuli, Namisindwa, Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo districts (in Uganda), from north to south and 50km east to West, more than half of Mt. Elgon (including the majority of its Caldera) lies in Uganda.

He adds that Mt Elgon Wagagai is a favorite peak in Africa. One could have a much greater chance of spotting wildlife and that there are several waterfalls on the slopes, and there are even hot springs to soak in inside the crater.

Requirements to Climb Wagagai Peak at Mt Elgon

Get to Mbale municipality by Bus, proceed to Mbale Park Headquarters then head for UWA Mbale office in senior quarters of Mbale municipality and finalize trekking arrangements for the following day.

Use the opportunity to get informed about Mt. Elgon National Park, look at the map for all trails, and buy souvenirs or postcards. You could proceed to Sipi Falls Rest Camp, relax in the full comfort huts, with rustic dining room, bar, the garden with a view of Sipi Falls and country side around.

Mr Kizza says you must arrange everything for the climb (permits, porters, and a guide) in the national park service station in Budadiri.

M r Kizza adds that one could carry a tent as there are places provided for camping but remember to carry heavy clothing, enough food for your-self and drinks.

Accommodation

Mt Elgon national park boasts of hand-made architecture by local craftsmen for accommodation and these consists of self-contained bandas at Piswa Patrol Camp (2850m), Hunters Cave (3870m), Mude Cave Camp (3500m), Sasa River Camp (2900m) and Budadiri Ranger Station (1250m).

How to get there from Kampala

To get to the trailhead, make your way by bus to Mbale then get to Mt Elgon Uganda Wildlife Authority offices. From Mbale catch a “Matatu” (omni-bus) to Budadiri. This is the trailhead.

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