MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK SAFARI

        

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MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK SAFARI

Mount Elgon National Park is in the Rift Valley on the western border with Uganda, covering 169 sq km on the Kenyan side. The peak of the extinct volcano, which reaches 4322 m, the second-highest mountain in Kenya with a radius of about 100 km, is estimated to be more than 15 million years old. The Kenya/Uganda border cuts through the caldera, giving half the mountain to Uganda, including the highest peak Wagagai (4320 m), with Lower Elgon Peak (also sometimes called Sudek Peak) (4307 m) in Kenya.

The brooding flat-topped Mount Elgon, which straddles the border with Uganda, is a distinctive feature of this region of Western Kenya. Located in the National Park, the mountain is home to a wide diversity of habitats created by the changing altitude at differing heights. From the base of the mountain to the top are a number of ecological zones going from mixed deciduous and evergreen forest, which include wonderful specimens of the Juniperus procera more commonly known as the East African cedar, as well as the Elgon teak and the great podos. With increasing altitude the vegetation changes to bamboo forest, and then to Afro-alpine moorlands. Several rivers rise in these peaks including the Malakis and the Nzoia that feed Lake Victoria, and the Suam and the Turkwell that feed Lake Turkana. The park also contains several beautiful waterfalls, dramatic cliffs and gorges, and hot springs. The name Elgon is said to be derived from the Masai ol doinyo ilgoon meaning 'the mountain with the contours of the human breast'. This area is known as Koitoboss meaning 'table rock' by virtue of its flat-topped basalt columns. There are a number of lava-tube caves formed by the action of water on volcanic ash, some are over 60 m wide and attract elephants and other herbivores in search of salt. Some of them can be explored. The El Gonyi people, a Masai tribe, lived in the caves for hundreds of years with their cattle, and the caves were used for many of their ceremonies. The mountain peak is considered to be a sacred place of worship, home to the gods.

Ins and outs

The park is about 26 km northwest of Kitale, and the roads are clearly signposted. Most roads in the park are in good condition but a 4WD is recommended and is essential in the wet season.

 

Sights

Four of the lava-tube caves can be explored. Kitum is the largest cave extending to over 180 m in depth with a width of 60 m, and overhanging crystalline walls. This is the cave most favoured by the elephants. Using their tusks the elephants scrape away at the rock face and pick up the shards with their trunks. At night it is possible to see elephant convoys entering the cave to supplement their diet on the rich salt deposits. Kitum is also home to a large population of fruit bats. Makingeni Cave is not far from Kitum, and is favoured by buffalo, and both Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha caves can also be explored. Endebess Bluff offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Animals likely to be here include colobus monkey, blue monkey, forest elephant (sometimes called cave elephant), leopard, giant forest hog, bushbuck, eland, buffalo, duiker and golden cat. It is possible to drive up to about 4000 m - the road passes through forest that is later supplanted by montane bamboo - and then hike over the moorlands with tree heathers up to 6 m tall, to Koitoboss peak. In the Afro-alpine zone are found giant lobelia and groundsels, believed to be survivors from the Ice Age. From there it is possible to climb over the crater rim and descend to the floor of the caldera.

Climbing Mount Elgon

It is possible to climb Mount Elgon at any time of year, but the crater gets very cold and snow and hail are common, so the best times are December to March. A KWS ranger is required to accompany you, which can be arranged at the gate, or in advance at the KWS HQ in Nairobi. You can reach the summit and back in a day in dry weather when you are able to drive to within a few hours' hike of the highest point. Ensure you are suitably equipped with warm and waterproof clothing and appropriate footwear. There is not such a severe problem with altitude sickness as on Mount Kenya, but a night spent en route will lessen any problems. If you do not have a 4WD, the ascent can be hiked in a fairly leisurely manner, three days up and two down. The usual entry to the park is through the main Chorlim Gate and then driving through the park to the end of the road track at Koroborte (3580 m), where there is a campsite and water. From here it is then about three hours to the Koitoboss summit. The following two routes may be closed; enquire with KWS.

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