Mount Elgon. 4321m.

Mount Elgon. 4321m.

Planning resource to hike Mt. Elgon:

Are you planning a trip up Mt. Elgon? We’re not running trips right now, but we wanted to make all our years of experience of hiking and biking on this incredible mountain available for everyone.

If you want to organise your own trip then read on to find all the information about routes, weather, equipment you’ll need. Prices, contacts, where to stay and how to make it happen.

An initial request:

Regardless of what the UWA staff tell you please insist you take all your trash off the mountain with you and pick litter if you see it as you go. Please report any instances of meeting community members inside the park boundaries especially if you witness animal grazing or farming / bamboo or wood clearing / hunting / poaching or fire lighting, as it must be our collective responsibility to document and hold accountable those who violate the rules of the national park in order to preserve this wonderful space for future generations.

Overview:

Mount Elgon is a 4321m high extinct volcano that straddles the border between Uganda and Kenya (See maps below). It is the second highest mountain in Uganda and the eighth highest in Africa. Mount Elgon is a relatively easy hike with good quality well established trails and no technical climbing or steep slopes. With porter support Elgon is achievable by anyone with an ok level of fitness. The biggest consideration is altitude and it is recommended to be acclimatised to 1500m – 2000m for a few days before undertaking either the 3 or 4 day trip. The 5 day trip adds an extra day to ascend and can be recommended to anyone wanting the extra time for acclimatisation. Mount Elgon is a National Park and as such you will be guided by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers. The standard hiking options to choose from are 3, 4 or 5 day trips using the Sasa and Sipi trails, however the Piswa trail offers a less well trodden route and an incredible experience of another part of the mountain. With prior planning of visas and rangers it is also possible to ascend in Uganda and descend into Kenya (Or vice versa). The map shown below is the Uganda Maps Mount Elgon Map by Andrew Roberts, available in Aristoc bookshops in Kampala.

Highlights include:

Hiking from Mude Cave camp up through the Simu valley during sunrise, crossing the caldera and exploring rock formations and wildflowers. Being alone on a vast mountain looking out across the whole of Uganda. Reaching Wagagai summit at 4321m. Climbing the loose boulders to ascend Jackson’s summit. Spotting a wild duiker sprinting through the caldera.

Stoke is high descending on the Sipi trail.

Number of days.

3 – 5 days for standard trips and standard routes.

Difficulty.
5/10
Our difficulty rating takes into account both technical difficulty and fitness required. Mount Elgon trips do require a good basic level of fitness however the trip can be tailored to take into account lower fitness levels (by adding days) and therefore the mountain remains accessible to most people. (Be realistic about your fitness when planning your trip!!) On all trips expect to hike between 5 – 10 hours per day in all weather conditions, consider the need to acclimatise to altitude especially if you consider yourself a little unfit. (A day or two with small hikes around Sipi Falls at 1800m – 2100m is a good option.)

Looking through the cloud into the Caldera near Wagagai.

Sample itinerary:

The below itineraries are the most popular 3 options however you can tailor the trip to suit you and your groups needs. Give the guys at UWA a call if you have questions or propose a different itinerary.

All the itineraries below start and finish at the National Park gates in Budadiri or Kapkwai. Depending whether you choose to stay in Sipi, Mbale or Budadiri before or after your trip you may need a taxi to either take you to the start or bring you back after your trip. Phone numbers at the end of the page. All your payments for permits and porters etc can be done either the evening before or most often on the morning of your departure. This paperwork usually takes about an hour so if you want a very early start it’s best to do it the day before.

An unusual view of Jackson’s pool. Major dry season.

3-day Sasa trail:

Day 1. Bumosola to Mude Camp (1770m – 3500m). 6 – 10 hrs.

After meeting at UWA headquarters in Budadiri (1220m) we take a short boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) ride to the trailhead at Bumosola (1770m). From here it’s a strenuous few hours up to the ‘ladders’, a set of metal staircases that bring us up and into the national park and the rainforest. These first few hours are some of the toughest of the whole trip with a steep incline, rough terrain and often hot mid-morning temperatures. After a rest and snack at the top of the ladders and a refill of our water bottles we hike on wide dirt trails through the forest and to Sasa River Camp. Here we take a rest for tea and coffee and either lunch or snacks depending how we feel / our timing. This is our halfway point for the day. As we continue up from here we move from rainforest to bamboo forest and eventually break through the forest entirely into alpine heather, shrub and giant lobelia. We take a short rest to sign the visitor’s book as we pass the ranger’s outpost before a couple more km to our stop for the night at Mude Camp.

Day 2. Mude Camp to Wagagai summit, Jacksons Peak (Optional) and back to Mude. (3500m – 4321m – 3500m) 5 – 10hrs.
Summit day! Depending on prevailing weather conditions this is often an early start to get the best opportunity for a clear summit. We leave our gear and porters behind and head for the top. A strenuous day as we cross the 4000m mark and start to feel the effects of altitude slowing us down. Highlights on the way up are sunrise over the mountain, views of the Simu valley and Jacksons pool, everlasting flowers, alpine lichen and all the various Lobelia. After reaching the summit we have the option on the descent to ascend a side summit on Jackson’s peak – this is the summit Jackson’s team in 1890 thought was the highest point due to its more striking profile but is in fact just 4160m. It is well worth the effort! We get back to camp mid to late afternoon ready for an early dinner and an early night.

Day 3. Mude Camp to Bumosola. 4 – 10 hrs.

Down down down the way we came. This is a long and unrelenting descent. The key is to take it real steady. After the ladders the trail becomes even steeper than it was and this can be a sting in the tail and real make your legs hurt. So a slow start and a steady descent are the name of the game. Though hard on the legs it’s a lot easier coming down than it was going up so after just 3 – 4 hours we will be down and ready to boda back down to Budadiri. We can celebrate with a drink here at the wonderful Roses’ Last Chance guesthouse before onward travel to your next destination.

Hut at Mude cave camp. There’s not that much space in these so if there are other groups who get there first you might not be able to use them.

4 day Sasa / Sipi trail.

This is recommended as the most popular route that sees the most of the mountain in the best use of time, it also sees the most beautiful parts of the mountain as you hike up the Simu valley and cross the Caldera.

Day 1. Bumosola to Mude Camp (1770m – 3500m). 6 – 10 hrs.

After meeting at UWA headquarters in Budadiri (1220m) we take a short boda-boda ride to the trailhead at Bumosola (1770m). From here it’s a strenuous few hours up to the ‘ladders’, a set of metal staircases that bring us up and into the national park and the rainforest. These first few hours are some of the toughest of the whole trip with a steep incline, rough terrain and often hot mid-morning temperatures. After a rest and snack at the top of the ladders and a refill of our water bottles we hike on wide dirt trails through the forest and to Sasa River Camp. Here we take a rest for tea and coffee and either lunch or snacks depending how we feel / our timing. This is our half way point for the day. As we continue up from here we move from rainforest to bamboo forest and eventually break through the forest entirely into alpine heather, shrub and giant lobelia. We take a short rest to sign the visitor’s book as we pass the ranger’s outpost before a couple more km to our stop for the night at Mude Camp.

Day 2. Mude Camp to Wagagai summit, Jacksons Peak (Optional) and back to Mude. (3500m – 4321m – 3500m) 5 – 10hrs.
Summit day! Depending on prevailing weather conditions this is often an early start to get the best opportunity for a clear summit. We leave our gear and porters behind and head for the top. A strenuous day as we cross the 4000m mark and start to feel the effects of altitude slowing us down. Highlights on the way up are sunrise over the mountain, views of the Simu valley and Jacksons pool, everlasting flowers, alpine lichen and all the various Lobelia. After reaching the summit we have the option on the descent to ascend a side summit on Jackson’s peak – this is the summit Jackson’s team in 1890 thought was the highest point due to its more striking profile but is in fact just 4160m. It is well worth the effort! We get back to camp mid to late afternoon ready for an early dinner and an early night.

Day 3. Mude Camp to Kajere or Tutum Cave Camp. 6 – 12hrs

Today is the day of beauty and wonder!! This is the most picturesque day of the trip. The first hour starts the same as day 2 before we take the left hand trail into the Simu Valley and follow the rocky trail and pass old smugglers caves as we ascend into the Caldera. If the weather is being kind we get an incredible sunrise here, a truly stunning part of the natural world! As you climb up the far side of the caldera we pass stunning rock formations and huge vistas that warm the soul!! Depending on the fitness of the group, the weather and how we are all feeling we can either finish today at Kajere Camp or Tutum Cave Camp – Tutum cave being further by around a further 3 hours of hiking, but makes for a shorter last day.

Day 4. Kajere / Tutum to Kapkwai / Sipi Falls. 4 – 8 hrs.

We traverse the mountain dropping down into, crossing and climbing back out of numerous streams and small rivers, passing waterfalls and seeing an abundance of wildflowers, fungi and a variety of monkeys. As we pass back into the rainforest we descend back towards civilization, and eventually to the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. The hike to Sipi Falls is a further hour from the Park gate at Kapkwai but is very enjoyable and driving doesn’t save much time. If you have arranged to spend the night in Sipi Falls then you can walk to your lodge and enjoy all the things you’ve missed for the last 4 days!

Lot’s of Insta potential on Elgon. #mountelgon #visituganda

5 day. Sasa / Sipi trail.

This is the same route as the 4 day Intrepid Explorer package however the first day is split into two to allow a more gradual ascent – great if you are worried about your fitness and acclimatisation to altitude.

Day 1. Budadiri to Sasa River Camp. 4 – 8 hrs.

We can decide not to use boda-boda’s to reach the trail head at Bumasola and instead enjoy a great warm up hike trough the villages and slowly ascend and get used to the altitude, from Bumosola we hit the same steep trail up to the ladders and after an hour or two on the other side we reach Sasa River Camp, our home for the night. There is still an option to still drive to the trail head with boda boda’s and just have a much shorter day.

Day 2. Sasa River Camp to Mude Camp. 4 – 6hrs.

A 4 – 5 hour hike today, allowing us to have a leisurely start and plenty of time to relax. This gives us time to slowly build our days as we ascend the mountain. If you still have energy as you arrive in Mude camp then there is an optional side hike to Dirigana Falls.

Day 3 – 5 are the same as days 2 – 4 on the Intrepid explorer package.

Some RAD Czech MTB dudes shredding near the very top of Elgon in 2015.

The Camps.

You’ll find different amenities at the different camps. Here’s a quick run down of what to expect:

Sasa River Camp.

The first Camp on the way up the Sasa trail. For slower hikers or those wanting to acclimatise this can be the first stop on the way up, it can also be a good option for the second night on the way down on a 3 day Sasa trail route. Sasa river camp has one client hut that you can sleep in that’s on but a little crowded with bunk beds. In these huts the bunk beds are essentially just wooden shelves to put your mat onto, often they’re not quite level and slightly broken! There are two ranger huts, at all the camps you’ll see that these are where the rangers and porters sleep (Or perhaps don’t really sleep), they will light a fire and it will be warm but they don’t have a chimney so the hut fills with smoke, they also don’t carry blankets!. I’ve discussed with them for years to build chimneys for the sake of their staffs health but they haven’t done it yet! Toilets are just long-drops. When you arrive at camp a good idea is to sus out the best one, grab a leafy tree branch and give it a quick sweep and clean up for your future visits. Water at Sasa comes from the Sasa River just a few metres away, it’s pretty clean but has some sediment especially in wet season.

Ranger hut at Sasa River Camp, your usual lunch spot on the ascent to Mude Cave camp.

Mude Cave Camp.

The most used camp as on most trips you’ll spend two nights here. Home to Gigantor the crow. More on him in a bit. Mude camp is great. It has two ranger huts as you enter. A client hut and long drop toilets. One of the long drops has a proper seat, no one ever seems to clean it. First thing I do when I get to camp is do a litter pick and clean the toilet. Why do I do a litter pick and why does Gigantor the obscenely large crow exist? Because they have an open rubbish pit in the camp! In a national park, on a hiking trail! WTF – There’s no reason for this, everything is carried in, we eat most of the food by the time we leave so we can easily carry out our trash. So please be an advocate for TRASH FREE TRAILS, carry out your trash and as much of everyone else’s as you can. Tell the porters and the rangers to do the same on every trip. Anyway back to Gigantor, he’s a mutant crow and as big as a small eagle. I’ve seen him go into my friends bag find a whole cheese about the size of an adult man’s fist and fly off with it. So don’t leave any food out. But do say hi. I miss him! The hut here is level and relatively open, if you have the place to yourselves then a suggestion for added warmth is to pitch a tent inside the hut. I usually just sleep on the floor. They have running water at the camp. It comes from the stream further up the hill, it’s cold and fresh and clean, I don’t treat it, it tastes delicious. If you walk a way in front of the hut there’s a nice spot for a bush shower (Others seem to think it’s an appropriate place for a toilet so you might need to clean up here too.) Worth noting that as you’re at 3500m it’s cold at night up here. I personally sleep badly every time on the first night here – just because of the fast ascent, a bit of whisky and a sleeping tablet might not be recommended by a doctor but definitely help to get some solid zzzz’s.

Kajere Camp.

Kajere camp is on the Sipi trail. There’s only one small hut here, it’s a beautiful spot, kind of a nook in the hill with a river running below the camp. Usually you get here by lunchtime so mostly it’s a lunch stop and continue to Tutum Cave camp for the night.

Tutum Cave Camp.

Most often by the time everyone gets here they’re exhausted as you’re on day 3 already and you’ve had a 26km day! There is one ranger hut (super basic with no beds) one client hut which they built wonky – the whole thing is on a pretty big angle leaning forward. There are a number of bunks in it though and it’s still worth sleeping in them. It’s also a lot warmer here than at Mude as you’re a lot lower altitude. Water here – you need to walk back to the cave and fill up from the waterfall / river.

Tutum Cave. The camp is 200m beyond the cave to the right.

Piswa trail. Hunters camp.

There’s no camp. You’ll see it marked on the maps though, and then where it’s marked on the maps is also incorrect – you actually keep going for another 3 or 4 km and then there are a collection of big rocks that create some shelter and a river below. It’s still not an actual camp. So you’re bush camping here. It’s a beautiful spot. Soul warming. Sunrise here is magical. Don’t leave any trash!

Luxury camp set up in Mude Cave Camp client hut.

What to bring.

Essentially you’re just going for a long walk – there is no technical climbing on Elgon. But you’re reaching pretty high altitude and will experience diverse weather and temperatures.

Consider whether you’re hiking in dry season or rainy season. The ideal time to hike would be near the start of a dry season, where the mountain is still green and lush but the trails are pretty dry.

Ok so basic kit list suggestion here:

  • Walking boots / shoes, sturdy trail shoes with a good tread are fine.
  • Walking poles especially if it’s wet, for the descent!
  • Dry socks for every day. Nice to start each day with clean feet in fresh socks!
  • Lightweight clothes, shorts, t-shirt, sunhat, sunglasses. sunscreen.
  • Base layer, mid layer, rain jacket, gloves, beanie (minimum) also rain trousers and gaiters if in rainy season.
  • Small daypack for all of the above.
  • Small first aid kit with: Compeed blister patches. Plasters. Antiseptic cream. Ibuprofen tabs. Sleeping tablets. small and medium wound dressing. crepe bandage. Vasaline (good for your toes).
  • 1 litre water bottle plus iodine or chlorine tabs. You’ll find water all the way up, it’s clean and I don’t treat it but you may wish to.
  • Powerbank, headphones, book, playing cards.
  • Dry set of clothes for the evening including, down jacket, wool socks, trousers, shirt.
  • Head torch
  • Sleeping bag, sleep mat, extra blanket. Tent
  • Tolietries.
  • Misc. Toilet roll. Hand sanitiser. pocket knife. Hip flask of whisky. lollipops. Camera.
  • Trash bags, please take all your an other peoples trash off the mountain.
If it’s rainy season you could be wet for hours and hours, so be prepared!

Where to stay. How to get there…

You need to consider where you want to stay before and after your trip. You need to consider transport arrangements to and from where ever you choose. There are a few main considerations, depending on your budget and timeframe and also on your preferred route up and down the mountain.

Most people choose to ascend the mountain up the Sasa trail from Budadiri – this makes the most sense as it’s the steepest route and it’s always preferable to ascend rather descend the steepest trails. Budadiri lies roughly halfway between Mbale town and Sipi Falls, but is slightly closer to Mbale.

Mbale has good transport links to Jinja and Kampala with Matatu and Bus, and you can also take Matatu and Boda to Budadiri. If you plan to use public transport you should plan for your journey to take the whole day and so leave early from Kampala, the Bus to Mbale is scheduled or Matatu’s leave once they’re full. Local transport to Budadiri is an adventure – often overpacked, consider a taxi to make it more enjoyable or just embrace the chaos. There are good tarmac roads to Mbale form Kampala, then dirt roads most of the way (About 17km dirt) to Budadiri, so if you go in rainy season expect to have to get out and push your vehicle. Mbale has good supermarkets and you can buy everything you need in terms of food and snacks for your trip here. I recommend BAM Supermarket on the road parallel to Republic Street. Mbale has a number of hotels from the rather fancy Mbale Resort Hotel to the more backpacker style Casa Del Tourista. EATING – go get a curry at Nurali’s restaurant! I highly recommend a Palak Paneer and Jeera Rice! All the food is excellent and they’re nice people there! But a small WARNING!! Be careful walking home after dark. Mbale is very busy and crowded and I’ve caught a pick pocket with his hand on my phone in my pocket before, so be very aware and mindful of this.

If you have Budadiri as your starting point you can meet here in the morning either driving from your hotel / lodge in either Mbale or Sipi or you could choose to stay in Budadiri the night before for a relaxed or early start. If you need a taxi call Mr Bush – he’s best if you’re in Sipi as he lives just up the road from Sipi River Lodge. +256 754 479 125 Expect to pay 70,000 to 80,000 from Sipi to Budadiri and between 50,000 to 70,000 from Mbale to Budadiri. Call a few days before you want him as he will be busy doing the local taxi run otherwise.

Budadiri is a cool little place, you’ll find plenty of places to get a rolex breakfast, a few fresh supplies but nothing fancy. The best thing about Budadiri is Rose’s Last Chance guesthouse – run by the lovely Rose who will soon become your adopted mother. I highly recommend a stay here before your start your hike especially if you plan an early start. Alternatively if you’re driving and need to leave your car somewhere then park it here and book in for a meal when you come down off the mountain. Rose’s last chance is basic and cheap, but clean, comfortable and filled with some of the world’s best hospitality. Rose will make you the best breakfast, get you a cold beer when you arrive back and just look after you very very well. Usually if you’re coming down the Sasa trail you’ll be off the mountain by lunch time, so lunch and a beer at Rose’s is a great way to finish a trip!

Rose’s Last Chance – ‭+256 772 623 206‬ (Rose)

After your trip especially if you’re hiking out on the Sipi route then stay in Sipi Falls. It’s a truly stunning place, and after exiting the park at the Kapkwai gate it’s just another 45min hike to Sipi and nice to end your trip on foot.

The best place to stay in Sipi Falls is Sipi River Lodge +256 751796109 / info@sipiriverlodge.com I am biased as I built this place – but for great food, cold beer, fine whisky and hot showers then look no further! Check the website on the button below.

The cheaper place to stay in Sipi is over the road – Noah’s Ark – It did have a great lady called Dorothy running the place but I think she’s left now and it could be Isaac in charge right now. It’s cheap local fare. Does the job, has an epic view of the sunset – they have rooms inside the house a couple of bandas and plenty of space for camping. Isaac +256 702 513 173

Whatever you choose to do book in advance and make a plan! Use Mr Bush if you need a taxi, or there are a couple of drivers in the area I often use to drive my car – so if you want to drive your own car but have it dropped either to Sipi or to Budadiri, then use either Ronnie or Michael. Both are good drivers – Ronnie usually drives Matatu’s so can be busy so for both call ahead a day or two to book them in. Guide price is 40,000 ugx for a day of driving – adjust accordingly to what you’re asking them to do and be clear what you want etc. (Ronnie +256 703 816 074) (Micheal +256 700 244 492).

The boys in Bumasola at the trailhead ready to keep ascending!!

Booking your trip.

Ok ready to go?

You need to book your trip with UWA. The information you need to give them is:

  • When you want to climb. What dates, what duration, what route.
  • Who is climbing. How many in your group plus nationality and resident status. Ugandan citizen / Foreign resident, foreign non-resident (tourist) etc.
  • How many porters do you want in total. Porters cost 17,500 per porter per day and will carry up to 18kg.
  • Whether you want a cook at 20,000 per day. Personally I always cook my own food then I get what I planned to eat!
  • How you plan to pay and check the exchange rate (Good way to offload small denomination USD bills btw)
  • Your planned start time. How many boda-boda’s you want to take you from Budadiri office to the trailhead in Bumasola.

Things you should ask:

  • How has the weather been lately and how wet are the trails?
  • Are there any other groups booked in for the dates I want? (This will give you an indication of how busy the camp will be and whether you might be able to sleep in the huts at camp)

Then call Catherine – she’s the UWA warden usually based in Budadiri – I find it better to talk direct with her as she’s who you’re going to meet and pay etc – when you call her first check she’s actually there though, if not she can give you the number for whoever is there instead. If her phone is off call the Mbale office and book through them.

+256 775 115 011 Cathrine Budadiri Office

+256 4544 33170   Mbale Office

The gardens at Sipi River Lodge. The perfect place to either acclimatise pre-trip or relax post trip.

Costs:

Confirm all the prices when you make the booking as they do change. At the time of writing in July 2020 new tariffs from UWA should be in place and the fees have been reduced to the pre 2011 prices.

Entry including ranger / guiding fee is $50 per person per day.

Camping fees are 17,500 UGX per night

Porter fees are 17,500 per porter per day

Cook is 20,000 per day

Boda boda’s to the trailhead from Budadiri to Bumasola are 9,000 ugx per boda

Tip. It’s nice to give you guides upwards of 50,000 and the porters upwards of 20,000 at the end of the trip and it’s also nice to buy everyone a beer or soda!

Will testing a Sat phone from the summit.

Recommendations for a safe trip.

I highly recommend you bring at least a basic first aid kit, your UWA guides won’t have one. Bring a cellphone with an MTN simcard – you will get network coverage on most of the mountain these days. Save a few numbers in case you have an emergency on the hill.

  1. A friend who knows your plan.
  2. Your embassy in Kampala.
  3. Local taxi drivers if you need a hasty evac.
  4. All group members insurance company’s 24hr emergency phone line and policy numbers.

I also recommend anyone living or traveling for extended period of time in East Africa to get AMREF (Flying Doctors) cover – the Gold cover includes Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and they will come and get you and get you to a hospital if you are in trouble. They are not medical insurance, just evacuation cover. https://flydoc.org/ If you have cover then their emergency number is +254 20 699 22 99 The nearest airfield for them to land a fixed wing is Tororo.

For minor non life threatening medical issues consider IMC clinic in Mbale behind / above Absa or Stanbic bank (I don’t remember which) on Republic Street +256 392 000 054

For major issues consider calling The Surgery in Kampala for advice on +256 752 756 003 / _256 414 256 003

Be smart on the hill. Take your time and be aware of altitude sickness. Stay hydrated take it steady and always consider that you are in a wilderness environment many hours away from professional medical assistance before you do anything stupid! Plan for bad weather and don’t worry if you don’t make it to the top. The mountain will still be there!


Last of all…

enjoy.

Will Clark and Theo Vos look out over the caldera.

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