Mountain Biking Mount Elgon
By Cam McLeay, Adrift Adventure Co.
My bike had now disappeared from sight. Word had spread swiftly through the village, there had been a scramble amongst the porters as to who would carry it and now Wycliff could barely see what he was doing as a crowd had quickly engulfed he and my mountain bike. A few moments before I had been a little concerned at how Wycliff the porter, smiling like he had just won the lottery, was strapping his belongings to my bike. Tight to the cross-bar and a little forward of the seat, the woven plastic sack we had given him half and hour ago was now a third full. For a moment, I envisaged him riding my bike but made it clear that he was to carry it. He smiled again, hoisted my bike over his head upside down and sat his bag on the crown of his head so the wheels were high in the air. I could see him for miles, like a Bugisu pied piper, he walked off up the trail with dozens of kids running behind him.
Growing up in New Zealand, I had done most of my mountain biking in the Southern Alps and yearned for some more challenging trails. The Mudangi cliffs, however, are a bit too much. The Sasa route on Mt. Elgon begins with a walk through community land. In one of the country’s most densely populated areas, arabica coffee and onions give way soon enough to the National Park and the Mudangi cliffs. The trail zig zags up them in a series of ramps and rock climbs that are too steep to ride, and soon we were rewarded with magnificent views across the foothills of Mt. Elgon and the plains of Soroti. A few metres on from here, I dumped the bottled water from my camel back and refilled it from a small stream. There is nothing quite like the taste of mountain water.
I hadn’t really been prepared for riding the first day and buried my biking shoes and helmet deep in one of the porter loads. I did ride awkwardly in my heavy hiking boots, stopping to listen to the Ross’ turaco or catch a glimpse of the elusive black and white colobus. However, it was on the second day between Sasa River Camp (2800m) and Mude Cave Camp (3500m) that the mountain biking really became world class. The day began in the forest and despite the relatively dry conditions, there were a couple of steep muddy sections, a few hefty tree roots and several places I had to walk; I don’t like getting off my bike. I was very pleased with myself on a number of occasions, however, cranking on my pedals courageously and jumping the bike over large roots; something possible only when clipped into your pedals.
Near Sasa Patrol Hut (3300m), the vegetation opens to moor land and the view of the peaks become inspiring and the track is almost entirely rideable. You can expect to be very short of breath (due to altitude) and I took many occasions to soak in the view. One can ride, through surreal landscape, most of the way to Wagagi summit (3421m). Heather forest gives way to giant senecias (groundsels), peaks of the immense crater peep from the swirling clouds, flocks of swifts ride the air currents and you can fall off your bike into soft moss and lichen as much as you like. Chances are the embarrassment is only yours and anyone who happens to be looking from above. Best of all is the downhill. From Mude Cave Camp (3500m) to Wagagi Summit (3421m) takes anywhere between 1.1/2 and 4 hours to climb on foot and only 45 minutes of sheer exhilaration to descend on a mountain bike!
Ed’s Notes: If you fancy the idea of mountain biking in Mount Elgon then log onto (www.adrift.ug) and read more about the Adrift Adventure Race which is happening in December 2010 and be amongst the first to mountain bike in this remarkable wilderness area