Is Mount Stanley a bit high? A bit too far away? Do you still want a satisfying climb that doesn’t require expert skills or equipment and is closer to home? Look no further than Mount Elgon. It’s the 7th highest mountain in Africa at 4,321m and the summit is readily accessible for climbers with limited experience.
Mt. Elgon National Park can be reached quickly by car or bus. Drive to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) base outside Mbale town the day before you intend to climb, or take the Elgon Flyer bus service from Colville Street in Kampala. It is best to call the Elgon Flyer bus company to book before arrival (0772004321). Car parking at the base of the mountain is secure.
Payment has to be made before you climb so you’ll want to have thought through your route before you arrive. Entry into the national park is $90/person/day for foreign visitors and tourists (60,000 UGX for East Africans) payable the first day of the ascent. Camping is 15,000 UGX per night, and around 15,000 UGX per day per porter (carrying your own equipment is not recommended). Porters carry cooking equipment and cook for you, but they don’t provide the food so remember to bring this with you! You will also need to bring your own warm clothing, hiking boots, tent, and sleeping bag.
The simplest, and fastest, way up the mountain is the Sasa trail leaving from Budadiri. Get a boda to the matatu stages in Mbale or a matatu to Budadiri for a few thousand UGX. At Budadiri, you will be dropped off at Rose’s Last Chance which is worth the visit in itself. It is a cheap stay, but the cost is not included in your park fee.
The first morning’s climb is steep and quick. This involves the “wall of death” – so named for the frayed local ropes that, in previous years, was the only way to climb it. Fortunately, the UWA installed sturdy staircases up the cliff face several years ago, so porters can almost run up the mountain and you’ll feel the name is no longer deserved.
Above this, it is a straight, steep path through rainforest and the bamboo zone to the lunar landscape above. There is an option to stop at a campsite at about 3000m for your first night on the mountain, and then proceed to the summit base camp, Mude, the following day. However, alternatively you can trek straight up to Mude, rest the night and strike out for the summit, Wagagai, the following morning. Regardless, it is best to reach the summit in the morning, owing to cloud cover after midday. Descending you’ll have the choice to return by the Sasa Trail or head onwards across the caldera.
For those on a budget, a 3-day trip going up the Sasa Trail and down again is the best bet. This may even be doable in two days in the dry season, if you are very fit, and can cope with fast increases in altitude. This is not recommended and could result in an unpleasant trip. Paths in the wet season become slow and tedious. For more time in the caldera, the best option would be a four-to-five day trip; ascending on the Sasa Trail, traversing the highest points of the range, descending on the Sipi Trail, and finishing at the stunning Sipi Falls. This is at least a 50km walk over steeply undulating terrain, but at no point is any technical mountaineering involved.
After the descent it is easy to get a matatu from any of the trailheads back to Mbale to pick up your car, or bus back to Kampala.