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Mount Elgon

Mount Elgon (left) and Great Rift Valley (right)
Elevation 4,321 m (14,177 ft)
Prominence 2,458 m (8,064 ft)
Location Uganda-Kenya
Coordinates 1°8′N 34°33′E / 1.133°N 34.55°E / 1.133; 34.55Coordinates: 1°8′N 34°33′E / 1.133°N 34.55°E / 1.133; 34.55
Topo map Mount Elgon Map and Guide[1]
Type Shield volcano
Age of rock Miocene origin
Last eruption Unknown
First ascent 1911 by Kmunke and Stigler
Easiest route scramble
Koitobos peak, Kenya
Mount Elgon (left center) is located on the Uganda-Kenya border, in Western Province, north of Kakamega, west of Kitale.
See also Mount Elgon District

Mount Elgon is an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya,[2] north of Kisumu and west of Kitale.


Physical features

It is the oldest and largest solitary volcano in East Africa, covering an area of around 3500 km².[citation needed]

Other features of note are:

  • The caldera — Elgon's is one of the largest intact calderas in the world
  • The warm springs by the Suam River
  • Endebess Bluff (2563m or 8408 ft)
  • Ngwarisha, Makingeny, Chepnyalil and Kitum caves. Kitum Cave is over 60 metres wide and penetrates 200 metres. It is frequented by wild elephants who lick the salt exposed by gouging the walls with their tusks. [3] It became notorious following the publication of Richard Preston's book The Hot Zone in 1994 for its association with the Marburg virus after two people who had visited the cave (one in 1980 and another in 1987) contracted the disease and died.

The mountain soils are red laterite. The mountain is the catchment area for the several rivers such as the Suam River which becomes the Turkwel downstream and which drains into Lake Turkana, the Nzoia River and the Lwakhakha which flow to Lake Victoria. The town of Kitale is in the foothills of the mountain. The area around the mountain is protected by two Mount Elgon National Parks one on each side of the international border.

Some rare plants are found on the mountain, including Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis, and Romulea keniensis. [4]

In 1896, C. W. Hobley became the first European to circumnavigate the mountain. Kmunke and Stigler made the first recorded ascent of Wagagai and Koitobos in 1911. F. Jackson, E. Gedge, and J. Martin made the first recorded ascent of Sudek in 1890. The main peak is an easy scramble and does not require any special mountaineering skills.


The mountain is named after the Elgeyo tribe, who once lived in huge caves on the south side of the mountain.[citation needed]

It was known as "Ol Doinyo Ilgoon" (Breast Mountain) by the Maasai and as "Masaba" on the Ugandan side.

Mt. Elgon consists of five major peaks:

  • Wagagai (4,321m), being in Uganda.
  • Sudek (4,302m or 14,140 ft) in Kenya
  • Koitobos (4,222m or 13,248 ft), a flat topped basalt column (Kenya)
  • Mubiyi (4,211m or 13,816 ft)
  • Masaba (4,161m or 13,650 ft)

Mount Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Its vast form, eighty kilometres in diameter, rises 3070m above the surrounding plains, providing welcome relief in more than one sense of the word. Its mountainous terrain introduces variety to an otherwise monotonous regional landscape. Its cool heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provide a refuge for flora and fauna.

Local ethnicities

Mount Elgon is home to three tribes, the Bagisu, the Sabiny and the Ndorobo. The Bagisu and Sabiny are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every other year to initiate young men (and in the Sabiny's case, girls) into adulthood. Traditionally, the Bagisu, also known as the BaMasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba, and you may hear the mountain called by this name. Local people have long depended on forest produce and have made agreements with the park to continue to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots (a local delicacy).

Climbing the mountain

Mount Elgon National Park is a roadless wilderness park and can only be explored on foot, from day walks to extended hikes over several days to reach the upper mountain. You can also have a trans boundary adventure, ascending the Ugandan slope and descending on the Kenyan side (or vice versa). This is done with prior arrangement to meet with Kenyan Wildlife Service rangers at a crossover point at the hot springs.

A trained ranger guide is required on all treks. Locals make your hike easier, each carrying up to 18 kg of supplies in addition to collecting water, cooking and preparing meals.

The best times to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry seasons of June-August and December-March. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main caldera and the peaks, while on the the way, a choice of trails pass interesting and unique flora and fauna, waterfalls, lakes, caves, gorges and hot springs

Rain gear and both cool and warm weather clothing are required as the area is subject to sudden weather changes. You should take a camera, binoculars, hat, torch, wildlife guidebook, and insect repellent.

See also


  • Scott, Penny (1998). From Conflict to Collaboration: People and Forests at Mount Elgon, Uganda. IUCN. ISBN 2-8317-0385-9. 


Preston, Richard, The Hot Zone : The Terrifying True-Life Thriller, Bantam Books, 1994.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ELGON, also known as MASAWA, an extinct volcano in British East Africa, cut by 1 0 N. and 341° E., forming a vast isolated mass over 40 m. in diameter. The outer slopes are in great measure precipitous on the north, west and south, but fall more gradually to the east. The southern cliffs are remarkable for extensive caves, which have the appearance of water-worn caves on a coast line and have for ages served as habitations for the natives. The higher parts slope gradually upwards to the rim of an old crater, lying somewhat north of the centre of the mass, and measuring some 8 m. in diameter. The highest point of the rim is about 14,100 ft. above the sea. Steep spurs separated by narrow ravines run out from the mountain, affording the most picturesque scenery. The ravines are traversed by a great number of streams, which flow north-west and west to the Nile (through Lake Choga), south and south-east to Victoria Nyanza, and north-east to Lake Rudolf by the Turkwell, the head-stream of which rises within the crater, breaking through a deep cleft in its rim. To the north-west of the mountain a grassy plain, swampy in the rains, falls towards the chain of lakes ending in Choga; towards the north-east the country becomes more arid, while towards the south it is well wooded. The outer slopes are clothed in their upper regions with dense forest formed in part of bamboos, especially towards the south and west, in which directions the rainfall is greater than elsewhere. The lower slopes are exceptionally fertile on the west, and produce bananas in abundance. On the north-west and north the region between 6000 and 7000 ft. possesses a delightful climate, and is well watered by streams of ice-cold water. The district of Save on the north is a halting-place for Arab and Swahili caravans going north. On the west the slopes are densely inhabited by small Bantu-Negro tribes, who style their country Masawa (whence the alternative name for the mountain); but on the south and north there are tribes which seem akin to the Gallas. Of these, the best known are the El-gonyi, from whom the name Elgon has been derived. They formerly lived almost entirely in the caves, but many of them have descended to villages at the foot of the mountain. Elgon was first visited in 1883 by Joseph Thomson, who brought to light the cave-dwellings on the southern face. It was crossed from north to south, and its crater reached, in 1890 by F. J. Jackson and Ernest Uedge, while the first journey round it was made by C. W. Hobley in 1896. (E. HE.)

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