Mount Elgon

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Mount Elgon
Wagagai (summit)
Mount elgon topo.jpg
Mount Elgon (left) and Great Rift Valley (right)
Highest point
Elevation 4,321 m (14,177 ft) [1]
Ranked 17th in Africa
Prominence 2,458 m (8,064 ft) [1]
Listing Ultra
Coordinates 01°07′06″N 34°31′30″E / 1.11833°N 34.52500°E / 1.11833; 34.52500Coordinates: 01°07′06″N 34°31′30″E / 1.11833°N 34.52500°E / 1.11833; 34.52500[1]
Mount Elgon is located in Uganda
Mount Elgon
Mount Elgon
Topo map Mount Elgon Map and Guide[2]
Age of rock Miocene origin
Mountain type Shield volcano
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,[3] north of Kisumu and west of Kitale. The mountain's highest point, named "Wagagai", is located entirely within the country of Uganda.[1][4] At 4,321 m (14,177 ft), Elgon is the seventeenth-highest mountain of Africa.[citation needed] Although there is no verifiable evidence of its earliest volcanic activity, geologists estimate that Mount Elgon is at least 24 million years old, making it the oldest extinct volcano in East Africa.[5] It covers an area around 3,500 square kilometres (1,400 sq mi).[citation needed]

Physical features[edit]

Mount Elgon is a massive solitary volcanic mountain on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Its vast form, 80 kilometres (50 mi) in diameter, rises 3,070 metres (10,070 ft) above the surrounding plains. Its cooler heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below, and its higher altitudes provide a refuge for flora and fauna.

Mt. Elgon consists of five major peaks:

  • Wagagai (4,321 metres (14,177 ft)), in Uganda
  • Sudek (4,302 metres (14,114 ft)) on the Kenya/Uganda border
  • Koitobos (4,222 metres (13,852 ft)), a flat-topped basalt column in Kenya
  • Mubiyi (4,211 metres (13,816 ft)) in Uganda
  • Masaba (4,161 metres (13,652 ft)) in Uganda

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 (2,563 metres (8,409 ft))
  • Ngwarisha, Makingeny, Chepnyalil, and Kitum caves: Kitum Cave is over 60 metres (200 ft) wide and penetrates 200 metres (660 ft). The cave contains salt deposits and it is frequented by wild elephants that lick the salt exposed by gouging the walls with their tusks.[6] 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.[7]

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 drains into Lake Turkana, and the Nzoia River and the Lwakhakha River, 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.


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


Some rare plants are found on the mountain, including Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis, and Romulea keniensis.[8]


In 1896, Charles William 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.

Local ethnicities[edit]

Mount Elgon and its tributaries are home to four tribes, the Bagisu, the Sapiiny, the Shana and the Ogiek, better known in the region under the derogatory umbrella term Ndorobo.[9] The Bagisu, Sapiiny and Shana are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every even year to initiate young men (and in the Sapiiny'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 sometimes call the mountain by this name. The Sapiiny also consider it the home of their forefather Musobo. All life and livelihood really depend on the mountain forest. Local people have long depended on forest produce but in recent years, the locals and park officials have been on running battles as they are completely prohibited from entering the park to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots (a local delicacy). The Ogiek used to be hunters and honey gatherers, but have become more sedentary in recent decades, and have partially been moved downward by the government as complete conservation takes root.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Africa Ultra-Prominences Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  2. ^ Mount Elgon Map and Guide (Map) (1st ed.). 1:50,000 with mountaineering information. EWP. 1989. ISBN 0-906227-46-1. 
  3. ^ "Uganda Wildlife Authority". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  4. ^ "Mount Elgon, Uganda" Retrieved 2012-01-11.
  5. ^ NASA (28 August 2005). "SRTM Africa Images". NASA. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Preston, Richard, The Hot Zone : The Terrifying True-Life Thriller, Bantam Books, 1994.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Scott, Penny (1998). From Conflict to Collaboration: People and Forests at Mount Elgon, Uganda. IUCN. ISBN 2-8317-0385-9. 

External links[edit]