Tours & Travel

WEEKEND FEATURE: Conquering Mt Elgon through Bushiyi trail; the shortest trail to Wagagai Peak

Mr Kyotaite (R) at the Top of Mt Elgon Wagagai peak

Mr Kyotaite (R) at the Top of Mt Elgon’’ highest Wagagai peak

MBALE – “Where is it?” Mr Simon Kyotaite, a warden at Mt Elgon national park asked, squinting up through a veil of low cloud. We still hadn’t seen Wagagai peak, the highest peak on Mt Elgon.

We had set off from Bushiyi at about 10.00 o’clock that morning, through the jungle, dwarfed beneath sycamores and twisted juniper trees.

But that mountain, an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya, remained elusive, a mirage above the clouds.

The trees diminished the higher we got and yet, by late afternoon when we reached our first camp after almost four hours of walking uphill, we still had not seen the Wagagai peak, our target.

Then, as the light faded from blue to a flaming white, the clouds burned up and, suddenly, there it was: Wagagai peak, glistening with thick clouds.

It sent rushes from toe to head, with awe and something close to fear. We laughed it off with jokes but we had reached a cave at Ibaale viewpoint; a natural underground chamber in the hillside where we rested for a night.

And as it became so cold, each of us struggled to have his hands and legs over the fire as we cooked something to eat; Posho and fish in groundnut source.

Even when our tents had become so cold, we slept and silence ruled the place apart from the wonderfully diverse sounds of nature changing and evolving as usual.

Wagagai peak

Mr Alex Solimo explaining a point during the tour of Wagagai Peak. This was at Ibaale viewpoint

Bit by bit, bird by bird, species by species, gurgling brook by gushing river, the song of wild nature took over, in this wild place.

And later the sounds started diminishing, thinning out and in many cases, vanishing completely and falling deathly silent.. It was morning again.

That morning we woke up, lit fire again to make tea for ourselves before starting the journey again. We were determined to move further from Ibaale viewpoint; another seven hours of walking.

We were all afraid of failing off the cliffs [Lumya] as this particular route is very stiff but because when you set off to climb a mountain, you desperately want to reach the top, we kept encouraging each other.

Our tour guide Mr Alex Solimo while standing at Bikusi viewpoint said Mt Elgon is an amazing feature found in the East of Uganda and also shared with Kenya.

He explained that besides the glory of standing on the roof of the Bugisu sub-region, climbing Mt Elgon comes with a significant amount of beauty.

He revealed that using Bushiyi trail to Mt Elgon, it is easy for a traveler to be quickly swept away by the endless green steppes and the rolling landscapes that define the but the tough terrain through this trail makes the trek  as enjoyable and scenic as the climb itself.

He revealed further that Mt Elgon is the 4th highest in East Africa standing at 4,321m high and that it is an extinct volcano with the main activity of hiking.

“We are hiking to the top here but I want to tell you that it is slightly tricky to climb to Wagagai peak, the highest peak and as hiker you are expected to be fit enough,” said Mr Solimo.

Guides at the second resting point at the top of Mt Elgon. 

He explained that the mountain has a number of trails which hikers use to hike up the top but added that Bushiyi new trail is the shortest route to Mt Elgon but the toughest to go through adding that “The tourists will enjoy the new route to Wagagai peak,”

He said tourists who go to the Mt Elgon, have discovered that it is also home to the magnificent Sipi falls, gorges, hot springs, caves, also different animal species like the elephants, forest monkeys, small antelopes, buffaloes as well as around 300 bird species.

“Remember that a complete circuit of hiking/trekking takes around 4 to 5 days on other trails but on the new Bushiyi trail, it takes you two days,” said Mr Solimo.

Halfway through our second day through the thick forest at Shibakala view point, the clouds rolled in and quickly following behind us was the wet weather.

I didn’t want my camera to get soaked, so I snapped a few photos and packed it away. We kept moving forward and eventually made it above the thick forest line, but couldn’t see a thing around us at this point.

Towards the end of our mountain traversing, the clouds slightly lifted and we finally caught a glimpse of where we were, one could also see Wagagai, a stone throw away from us.

It was breathtaking. We truly were walking along the top of a mountain the whole time – nothing but steep hills to either side of the trail. Even though the clouds only cooperated for a minute, it’ll be a memory I’ll keep forever.

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