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A girl called Kevin: climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda

May 18 • 10348 views • 18 Comments on A girl called Kevin: climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda Adventure, Africa, East Africa, Kampala, Mount Elgon National Park, tourism experience, Travel, Uganda, Volunteering

Climbing Mount Elgon in Uganda – Diary of a Muzungu |  Uganda travel blog

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Mount Elgon straddles the Uganda / Kenya border. Here we looked north through the Giant Lobelia into Kenya and northern Uganda

  • Four days hiking
  • 48 km covered
  • A 3000 metre climb
  • Summit of Wagagai 4321 m (14,177 ft) the 17th highest mountain in Africa
  • First recorded ascent: 1911
  • First recorded ascenders: Robert Stigler, Rudolf Kmunke
  • – and a damaged knee ligament on Day One!

Today I’m exhausted but elated after climbing Mount Elgon: one of the highest peaks in Uganda, with views – above the clouds – across to Kenya and northern Uganda. It really was breathtaking.

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda. Mount Elgon climb

On day three, fresh water lakes peppered the terrain amongst Giant Lobelia

According to Wikipedia, Mount Elgon is an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya, north of Kisumu and west of Kitale. The mountain’s highest point, named “Wagagai”, is located entirely within the country of Uganda.

climbing Mount Elgon, rock, hiking, Uganda

Definitely a wilderness experience. We only met two other groups on our five day hike of Mount Elgon

During our five day trek, we passed through numerous contrasting habitats: forest, bamboo, savannah, moorland, strange and eerie ‘moonscapes’ – Mount Elgon was once higher than Kilimanjaro – then back down a steep 1000 metre drop looking out onto valleys that reminded me of the foothills of the Alps …

This evening I received a lovely text from my special VSO volunteer friend Isla that sums it all up:

“Hope all went well at hospital. Will forever be impressed by your resilience. You are hard core. So glad we did it. I loved it.”

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Sleepy trekkers…. Isla and Patrick catch forty winks at the summit of Wagagai. Climbing Mount Elgon Uganda


Hospital, yes.

Ultrasound treatment for the torn knee ligament (I can’t Hash or do aerobics for six weeks) and antibiotics for two small toes that look like they want to explode.

Actually I feel fine (I’m sitting down!) although I will have to go easy on the bananas and Waragi (local gin) for next six weeks.

What a bore.

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

We stayed overnight in this very basic structure and woke to find ice outside. Frankly, camping might have been warmer! Three of the seven porters who nimbly scaled Mount Elgon

Yet, it’s amazing how quickly you can forget the truly awful times isn’t it?!

I can even find myself saying I’d climb Mount Elgon all over again, despite the terrible, miserable cold and lack of sleep for two of the nights (we were camping);  the 6 am wake-up call every day; the times (hours!) when you just have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and the sheer yucky squelchiness of it all!

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Think twice before hiking during the rainy season – Nicola and Isla drying off!

Perhaps we shouldn’t have climbed during the rainy season?! Hmmm!

cave, climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

First stop on our hike of Wagagai: the porters made us tea as we sheltered from the rain in a cave

My first afternoon and evening were hell.

Climbing Mount Elgon was easy enough but going downhill – the terrain undulates all the way – was agony and I finished day one with tears streaming down my face, so far behind everyone else that Patrick (the UWA ranger) and I limped to camp, just the two of us walking in total darkness on the mountain for the last hour.

Cutting bamboo walking sticks. climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Patrick cutting bamboo walking sticks. climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Patrick led me down the hillside a step at a time, moving forward three steps then stopping to turn around and shine the torch at the ground in front of me, so I could ease myself downhill.

“Step here – then here – then here,” he guided me. “Mpola mpola,” he said. Slowly by slowly… what a lovely gentle man he was.

If you’re offered bamboo walking sticks – TAKE THEM!

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda

Sometimes it is easier going UP! climbing Mount Elgon – Tail End Charlie follows at the back of our group…

Steep muddy descent after climbing Mount Elgon. I chose to slide down on my kabina! PHOTO Nicola Swann

Steep muddy descent after climbing Mount Elgon. I chose to slide down on my kabina! PHOTO Nicola Swann

It was another UWA ranger – Bernard’s – turn to accompany me hobbling down from the summit. Walking was easier thanks to two bamboo sticks cut down for us on the ascent; regular leg massages from one of my male friends (every cloud has a silver lining …) and walking with my left leg stuck out at an awkward straight angle, as if I was wearing a plaster cast.

Hiking through the Giant Lobelia, climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda. Mount Elgon climb

Hiking through the Giant Lobelia, climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda. PHOTO Nicola Swann

I developed altitude sickness (nausea and a headache) on the way back down from the summit of Wagagai, and got sunburned. We all did. I think we were all so relieved to dry off after all that soggy weather that we stupid Bazungu forgot to protect ourselves from the high altitude sunshine.

Bernard fashioned some protection for my sunburned hands from big green plant fronds so I walked (limped!) into camp on the last day looking like an extra from Dr. Who!

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda, UWA ranger

A girl called Kevin: climbing Mount Elgon, led by the beautiful UWA ranger Kevin

Kevin held her own effortlessly amongst 9 men (7 of them porters) for four days (they all huddled close and slept round an open fire every night). What a great role model she is. Kevin works for UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority), and is the youngest of 24 children! (Did her parents run out of girl’s names perhaps?)

climbing Mount Elgon, hiking, Uganda, children

Bududa and the area around Mount Elgon has the highest population density in Uganda – and big families! This puts a huge pressure on Mount Elgon National Park, as recent mudslides – result of deforestation – demonstrate

Back home in Kampala, I just had time to unload the car before the power went off. After five days waiting for a hot shower, it was a cold shower by candlelight for me!

Climbing Mount Elgon is a terrific experience.

You will bump into few other hikers; I loved the challenge and I loved being away from it all (the knee injury on day one was just bad luck!) As we passed through the Forest, we watched Hornbills and Dusky Blue Flycatchers; in fact some visitors visit Elgon’s foothills just for the birdlife. In 2013, the birders from Mt. Elgon National Park won the annual Big Birding Day 24-hour competition.

Feel free to contact the Muzungu for more information about climbing Mount Elgon. Who knows? – maybe I will even come with you! A return climb is definitely overdue.

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18 Responses to A girl called Kevin: climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda

  1. lizziema says:

    It sounds like hell to me! But well done Cha you adventurer. Sorry to hear about the knee though, and the toes, and the electricity……sending email are our incredibly tame trip which knackered us. Hope your not wanting to repeat this trip as a special treat for us when we are with you….?

  2. Emma says:

    How intrepid! Absolutely fantastic. Also sorry to hear of the aggro your poor limbs and tarsals are going through. I’m kind of relieved to hear you’re human too as super-fit me (or so I like to think) is suffering bad back ache and tinnitus at present so hardly getting any exercise as not motivated.. don’t feel as guilty, knowing you’re not hare-ing around!
    Glad to hear your folks are coming out to visit you (any room for a small one? – only sort-of-kidding). Can’t wait for Flickr update.Loads of love Exxxooo

  3. Charlie says:

    Ma, no am not planning to repeat this whole trip with you! tho you would absolutely love lots of it, and there are day trails along the lower slopes – which are actually the best in terms of seeing birds and visting the fascinating villages.

    Em – you’re more than welcome to come and stay 🙂

  4. Sarah says:

    Wow you adverturous sis, I’m proud of you! Sorry to hear about your torn ligament and your toes. Well you have to take it easy sis. Missing ya! xxxx

  5. sjwaller says:

    Hi Charlie You make me feel very old!! Welldone on your great achievement. I am finding it hard to walk round the garden at the moment!! Keep up the blogs. You make my week.
    Love Sally

  6. Charlie says:

    Tx for your comments Sally, so glad you’re enjoying my blog. I was oldest on the trip, and felt it, lagging at the back with my dodgy knee. Even heard rangers refer to ‘walking with the older ones ..’ at some point! HUMPH. (My 28 yr old friend Isla should be even more concerned tho!)
    Finding it hard to get into work mode now after all the recent excitement. ’working from home’ with very nice but not proactive team doesn’t help! Love Cha x x x

  7. […] Mount Elgon. An unexpected wilderness experience, we climbed through seven habitats in four days and passed […]

  8. […] If you’re planning to climb Margherita, or just interested in hiking or mountain climbing in Uganda, look no further. Below Jane’s story, you’ll find a Rwenzori trekking packing list and some travel advice on how to plan your Rwenzori hike, as well as links to other East African mountain climbing stories (notably How to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro – tales of a novice climber and A girl called Kevin: Climbing Mount Elgon, Uganda). […]

  9. […] Beyond that, Uganda has some of the world’s best hiking: Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori Mountains is a challenging seven to ten day hike. The huge caldera of Mount Elgon, that straddles the Kenya border, is another wonderful climb of four…. […]

  10. Very nice narration mzungu.. We are up next this May from Kenya.. We have however summited Mt.Kenya and Mt Kilimanjaro the highest in Africa besides many others in Kenya.. We shall attempt Elgon from Kenya side and finish in Uganda.. Come join us experience is much appreciated.. But come with knee good luck this time..
    We will be climbing with our Ugandan franchise group too..

  11. the muzungu says:

    For a local take on climbing Mount Elgon read Titus Kakembo’s Mt. Elgon: An attractive but challenging ascent I love his insight into the local Kagodi dance and his search for the elusive malerwa! (Bagisu bean shoot delicacy). He writes:

    “We were joined by spindly-limbed, but energetic porters. They know the mountain so well, they could climb it with their eyes closed.

    For a wage of sh50,000 a trip, porters trek up and down at a fast pace, like a cursor criss-crosses a computer screen as it is controlled by the mouse. Unlike their sophisticated clients, the porters need no mountain boots, insect repellents or climbing gear.

    Excitement is written all over their faces as they shuffle about to share the luggage. I overheard careless whispers about “weak urban dwellers” who take several days to do what they are capable of accomplishing in five hours.”

  12. Rob says:

    Its nice to see photos of the mountain from the Uganda side. I have climbed from the kenya side, but i have not made it to the peak. Maybe by end of this year , i will reach Koitobos and cross to the Uganda side.

    • the muzungu says:

      Thanks Rob. I’d love to experience the Kenya side of Elgon. Geography must be pretty much the same? I understand that Kenya side is more developed for tourism, although we didn’t meet any Kenyan hikers when we got to the summit of Wagagai.

      I’d not thought of there being a Kenyan peak, a Ugandan peak etc, before but here they are:

      Mount Elgon consists of five major peaks:

      Wagagai (4,321 meters); Uganda
      Sudek (4,302 meters); Kenya/Uganda border
      Koitobos (4,222 meters); Kenya
      Mubiyi (4,211 meters); Uganda
      Masaba (4,161 meters); Uganda

      I think we should meet at Sudek! 🙂

  13. […] fittest, I know I’m susceptible to altitude sickness. I felt pretty rotten on my last day of climbing Mount Elgon, and that particular summit is ‘only’ 4,321 metres. I’d love to reach one of the […]

  14. Norbert says:

    I look forward to doing this. Have you climbed Mt. Muhavura? How is Elgon compared to Muhavura?

    • the muzungu says:

      Not climbed any of the Virunga volcanoes but would love to.
      Mt Elgon was a five day camping trip. Muhavura is a one day trip.
      On my blog about Mgahinga, I write about three of the volcanoes:
      “Mt. Muhavura (4,127m). Climbing the distinct cone shape of ‘the Guide’ is the most demanding. Although not technically demanding, it can nevertheless be tough, sometimes cold and muddy. The round hike takes between eight and 10 hours but the ascent is well worth it, for the dramatic changes in vegetation, a chance to swim in a crater lake and breathtaking views as far north as the Rwenzori Mountains.”

  15. […] year – work safari field trips to Queen Elizabeth with the Uganda Conservation Foundation, climbing Mount Elgon with volunteer friends, a rainy bank holiday weekend in Lake Bunyonyi – that I was worried I […]

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