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april - may 2019 travel news kenya I 31
Today however, the cloudless sky was a Delft blue, completely different from the
day before and we could see for miles. Looking into the mountain’s immense
caldera was like looking at a crumpled, ruffled blanket, every congregation of
hills, plateau, basalt column, and cliff clearly defined. Our eyes were pulled from
the near to the far, below us to the right several Celadon-coloured tarns reflected
the sky and opposite us on the far side of the caldera’s weathered ramparts a
dark fringe of trees cloaked a gorge where there are hot springs. White lichens
and diminutive red flowers clung fast to slabs of rock at our feet.
Caldera floor studded with tarns, Koitobos Peak, the highest peak in Kenya is to the left
A wide saddle leading to the summit separated the caldera from the outer slopes.
We reached Wagagai Peak and after taking the obligatory photos, sat around in
the thin mountain air on sun-warmed rocks and snacked on chocolate and biltong.
On our return to camp a wall of clouds billowed up the Sironko valley, seemed
to hover there restrained from invading our blue space by invisible downdrafts.
Day 5: Our descent to Bumasola Village and Sipi River Lodge 13.5kms
We left the gnarled Ericaceous scrub and heather moorland behind as we began
walking down the Sasa Route; soon back in the forest belt.
We heard Great Blue turaco and saw Ross’s. Sadly, in places the deforestation
both old and more recent is taking its toll. Stepping over aerial roots of mighty
trees, some jaggedly severed, by logging activities brought us back to “humanity”
with a jolt—entire families carried away trees as we walked down. There has been
extensive forest clearance between 2,200-2,500m, and replaced by cultivation,
the bamboo forest has also been depleted. 6,000 hectares were opened up for
settlement in the 1950s and additional areas have been settled illegally; although
the government recognising the importance of its forests has intervened and
1,500 hectares are officially re-gazetted.
The paths were demanding in places. After climbing down the “Wall of Death”
nephelinite cliffs, which aren’t nearly as scary as they sound as the descent is via
a series of well-placed steel ladders, we slowed down for the more treacherous
village tracks. The red murram has been washed away by rain and the higgledy-
piggeldy boulders, lose. Friendly greetings met ours as we walked through coffee,
banana and cabbage shambas, with the odd Friesian cow munching grass, who
also stopped to stare. We reached Budadiri mid-afternoon and the pre-arranged
meeting point for a driver to pick us up.
There is ample time for reflection and contemplation while hiking the less-trodden
tracks of Mt Elgon. I confess that summiting is no longer the main aim for being
on a mountain, more important to me was getting to know the mountain, its
nooks and crannies, its vistas, fauna and flora, the purity of the air, the night skies
illuminating the vastness of the universe—that combined makes you feel like you
are connected to the planet and not just a cog as one sometimes feels in a big
city. Mt Elgon has a soul-quenching wilderness once above the forest zones,
and we didn’t meet another person.
In addition to an EastAfrican mountain guidebook recommendations for equipment,
I also packed: Extra phone mobile charger/storage, it goes surprisingly quickly
when you are taking photos, trying to check your GPS position and keeping an
eye out for the odd email. Lip-salve factor 30 and compeed blister plasters.
Porridge oats, best to start the day with warm fuel for the climb.
Organising your climb
Unlike other East African mountains, there is only the barest equipment for hire
for either yourself or porters. This means you are prescribed one of the three
routes: Piswa-Sasa, Sasa-Kapkwata or a variation of those for the benefit of
the porters. However, if you are able to bring not only your own equipment, but
also tents and sleeping bags for the porters too, you can design your own hiking
route, including traversing the crater floor from Uganda to Kenya.
Arrange all hikes directly through UWA. There is a regional HQ at Mbale, and
the staff are efficient and well informed. Kapkwai one of the hiking trailheads is
also a ticketing office.
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