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The Mount Elgon Trek Blog

On 26 January 2018, 13 trekkers left the UK to undertake a gruelling seven-day hike up and across Mount Elgon, an extinct volcano that straddles the Uganda-Kenya border.  

The group trekked through rugged terrain to conquer Mount Elgon’s four peaks to raise money for Africa’s farmers.

See for yourself the efforts and achievement of the #MountElgonTrek team by checking out Farm Africa's photo gallery!

Make all of the sore feet and early mornings worthwhile by making a donation.

Day 1 (26 January): Mike Saxton, Farm Africa

Mike Saxton at Heathrow Airport"I am just about to set off to the airport to take part in Farm Africa’s Mount Elgon Challenge. When my eldest boy started secondary school in September, I asked him how he was feeling, “excited and a bit nervous” he told me. This perfectly sums up how I feel now!

I’m excited to be embarking on an amazing adventure, climbing Mount Elgon’s 4,200m peak, excited to be part of a great team and excited to be able to see more of Farm Africa’s work first-hand; the team will be visiting Farm Africa’s Sweet potatoes for prosperity project in Uganda and the Growing Futures project in Kenya.

Nervous, as the questions and worries flit across my mind: “Have I forgotten anything?”, “How will my body hold up at altitude?”, “Have I done enough training?". But, my fate is sealed and it’s too late now to act on any of these musings!

The most important aim of the trek is to raise as much money for Farm Africa as possible. The last time I checked, the group has raised an amazing £89,000 for Farm Africa’s incredible work helping farmers in eastern Africa lift themselves out of poverty! As I’ve been asking for sponsorship, someone reflected back to me that they’ll happily sponsor me but only after completing the trek not before! So please remember that you have the option of giving after – or even during! – the trek itself.

Different members of the team will be sharing their thoughts on this blog each day, mobile reception permitting, so please do keep up to date with our progress and wish us all the best.

You can help the team reach our £100,000 target by making a donation here.

Onwards and upwards! Mike

Day 2 (27 January): Mike Saxton, Farm Africa

The Mount Elgon trek team on arrivalWe have all safely arrived in Entebbe via Nairobi having flown most of the night (with only a little sleep).

It's warm and humid here in Uganda, and has rained in the past couple of days.

Later on today, we complete the last leg of our journey with a short flight up to Soroti. Then, this afternoon we go from Soroti to visit the Farm Africa project working with orange-fleshed sweet potato farmers.

Finally, our first night in the tent before heading to the base of Mount Elgon tomorrow morning.

Day 2 (27 January): Charles Reed, William Reed Business Media

The Mount Elgon trek team visiting the sweet potato project

A long and tiring day and we haven't walked anywhere yet!

Landed in Nairobi in the middle of the night UK time before taking a second flight to Entebbe and a third charter flight in two small planes to a town an hour's drive from the Farm Africa project we were visiting.

But it was worth it, we were met by a whole village that turned out to welcome us with music and dancing!

Then we went to see what all the money you have helped raise can achieve at a real and local level. This was a project to help sweet potato farmers maximise the value of their crops.

We saw how choosing the right varieties can improve yields and how that can be put into practice in the field. However, what was the most impressive was to see how after harvesting their crops Farm Africa have provided a storage and processing warehouse where they can turn a crop with a very short shelf life into dried chips and even flour, so a complete end-to-end solution, which all the people we met agreed had changed their lives.

Tomorrow we will be up early to head up to the Elgon Mountains to start the trek but with the knowledge that the money we have all raised is being put to good use.

It's now about 7.30pm local time and we are all set up in our camp for the first night and I need to go and join the literally hundreds of locals that have started singing and dancing again to acknowledge what the Farm Africa team have done in this special part of the world. Glad I brought malaria tablets, as I am surrounded by thousands of hungry mosquitoes drawn to the light of the iPad that I am typing this into. Bye for now! Charles

Day 3 (28 January): Andrew Thompson, Booker

What a location for a Saturday night! The campsite sits between a maze of villages and a lake for their water supply. Despite our exhaustion, we get another wonderful welcome from the local villagers.

Different local groups have a singing and dancing competition as the sun finally goes down on the longest day. A hearty dinner of soup and then fish with a delicious if rather spicy chilli sauce and off for an early night and energy recover.

Up before dawn on Sunday morning and we get into the new routine of packing the kit. One bag to go round the mountain one for the posters and one for us. It’s amazing how much the water weighs!

A cracking breakfast of porridge, bacon and eggs ( how do they do this out in the open?), then the camp comes down. Ake [the trek leader] runs through the main briefing and a silent audience realise it is going to be quite a challenge! Apparently we will have around 45 porters and support crew, so 60 of us in total. Wow! So, off for our adventure.

The Mount Elgon Trek team's campsite

Day 3 (28 January): Keith Irvine, Moy Park

After a great day yesterday visiting Farm Africa projects, we left camp this morning hugely motivated to start our trek. With assurance from our guide that it was only a two-hour journey to our start point it ended up taking five hours, as we stopped at an amazing 5,000-year-old cave. 

When we finally made it to our starting point, we got away almost immediately except for what felt like an hour of adjusting boots, packing and repacking rucksacks, checking water and adjusting boots again. We were expecting a relatively gentle start, but straight away we found ourselves on a near vertical climb where conversation came to a swift end. The sound of fourteen middle-aged men pretending not to be out of breath echoed around the mountainside.

After a challenging four-hour climb through a stunning rainforest, we made it into camp just before dark.  While the first leg of the trek was tough, the natural beauty of the mountain made it very much worthwhile. Harder days lie ahead but everyone remains in great spirits.

Day 4 (29 January): Mark Given, Sainsbury's

We got woken by our alarm at 6 am, after a quick wash and a hearty breakfast of porridge we hit the trail! Along route we took in Kitum cave, a Ugandan landmark, home to thousands of bats, it was spectacular to see them milling around. We walked for just over seven hours, slowly gaining height as we passed through dense forest before breaking out into open heathland and then descending down into Kajyri camp. The camp stands at 10,000 feet, which is about twice the height of Ben Nevis!

Once in camp, we had our first outdoor wash of the week, which was in a freezing mountain pool! From camp we can see the peak we are aiming for over the next three days, the climb will be steeper and the altitude more impactful. Everyone is doing really well and enjoying taking in all the elements.

Day 5 (30 January): Tim Smith, Tesco and Danny Everett, Farm Africa

Amazingly, the previous evening’s great spirits weren’t dampened by the 5.45 wakeup call, nor by the fact that the day’s journey began with a punishing incline that got our lungs and hearts pumping. Things did not get any easier! Walking at this height and intensity requires consumption of three plus litres of freshly filtered water a day.

Over the course of our gruelling seven hour and 45 minute trek, we logged over 1,000 litres of water and got to a high point of 4,000 metres, which is where the effects of the altitude really come into play.

The (figurative) high point of today was undoubtedly the sound of 14 beautifully in tune voices giving a fine rendition of Happy Birthday to Alan G’s daughter Aoife, who turns nine today! Happy Birthday Aoife!!!

In other news, what we learnt about the world of poo today:

  • Bears eat their own poo; making the most of the process of hindgut fermentation.
  • Leopards don’t digest bones, which was explained to us when the slightly startling announcement was made that they are known to roam the local area.

Camp tonight is overlooked by the peaks that stand between us and the completion of our challenge. The thought of ascending over two and a half kilometres it is a truly daunting prospect, but the team are ready for the challenge and are all in great form.

Keeping us going is the knowledge that the money we raise will enable Farm Africa to dramatically improve the lives of farmers across eastern Africa, thanks so much to everyone back home who has already donated! Click here to make a donation.

Day 6 (31 January): Richard Macdonald, Farm Africa and Toby Brinsmead, Vitacress

Hello from the edge of Mount Elgon’s crater, 12,500 feet above sea level! Bar a few headaches from the altitude, everyone is well and in great form. Last night we faced our first logistical challenge, our next proposed campsite had no water. After a quick reassessment, we decided to stay at Camp Muembe for an additional night.

This morning we woke at 5.45 to sub-zero temperatures. After chiselling our way out of our tents to a heavy frost, we were treated to an amazing breakfast by our cook Jackie, who is doing an incredible job. It’s hard to convey quite how remote our camp is, we have to carry everything and the food is prepared over a gas fire in a tiny tent.

At seven we set off on our revised route to tackle Wagagi; the highest peak in the Mount Elgon range, the highest peak in Uganda and Africa’s seventh highest peak. The climb is punishingly steep and you have to shuffle up tiny steps to reach the top. After four and a half hours of relentless and gruelling trekking, we reached the peak.

It was a fabulous feeling to reach the top of Uganda! It’s a shame we can’t send photos as the view from the top is truly spectacular.  In front of us was this huge crater surrounded by broken rocks and an astonishing array of flora, oh and by the way lots of leopard poo too. To give you an idea of scale, the caldera (the volcanic crater which is formed when the mouth of a volcano collapses) is about seven times the size of Kilimanjaro’s largest caldera.

After a tiring three-hour descent, we are back in camp drinking hot tea and awaiting supper. Tomorrow is another day of walking! Although we are knackered the camaraderie remains great. Lots of love to everyone at home, and happy birthday to Mark Given’s Mum Elizabeth.

P.S.

We have established that some of us are older than the parents of some of the group’s youngsters!

Day 7 (1 February): Alan Wotton, Oscar Mayer and Andrew Thompson, Booker

Hi to everyone from a tired but very united team,

After another night of sub-zero temperatures and 5.45 wake up calls, we were greeted by an even more aggressive frost. Everyone is now well versed in the routine of camp life and we have all become somewhat used to early morning and late evening faffing to organise our tents and minimal belongings. We all feel incredibly privileged to have such an amazing support crew who have performed miracles in such challenging circumstances and remote locations, it's been great hearing them around the campfire laughing and having fun.

Today, we headed off up the mountain, scrambling our way up sheer rock faces and even dodging poachers’ animal traps! We reached Muembe peak, where the views were simply breath-taking. Exhausted yet proud of our achievements, our head guard Paul then announced that we were the largest group ever to reach this summit, and that he would erect a sign supporting Farm Africa and Ake's company — what a lovely gesture.

Negotiating our way around rocky roads and steep declines we left the rim behind us to enter the caldera. We felt like we’d walked onto the set of the next Jurassic Park movie! After a three hour hike across rough and varied terrain, we reached our final camp, which is literally on the Kenya-Uganda border.

After months of careful diplomatic negotiations, Ake has managed to agree with the Ugandan Government that we can actually camp on the Caldera hole. As far as we know this has not been mooted before and we feel honoured to have the opportunity to be travel blazers for Farm Africa! No time to rest as we now focus on the 4 am start that awaits us for our final 500-metre ascent. We have seen this final peak from four different angles, it’s like a Ugandan version of Table Mountain, although this evening it looks incredibly daunting.

Love to all,

Onwards and upwards!

Alan and Andrew

Day 8 (2 February): Adam Braithwaite, Dairy Crest and Julian Marks, Barfoots of Botley

We finished last night with a humbling opportunity to thank our fantastic support crew of porters, rangers, camp crew and chefs — all of whom have been amazing and undoubtedly helped us complete this remarkable challenge. Speeches, handshakes and enthusiastic clapping were the order of the day!

As we settled down for our last night on the mountain and the joy of a 4.45 alarm call, none of us anticipated waking up like frozen sausages in our sleeping bags, thanks to the minus five-degree temperature outside. After warming up, we headed off in complete darkness with only our head torches to light the way. We were immediately confronted with a fast flowing stream crossing, with only treacherous ice covered boulders to aid our way.

After carefully navigating the water, we knuckled down for a two hour ascent, crossing a variety of terrains and following narrow buffalo trails until we reached the base of our final climb, the mighty Koitoboss peak, where our porters gave us a rousing guard of honour before saying their final farewells and handing us over to the Kenyan support team. They jogged off home across the caldera in their welly boots as if they had done nothing all morning.

We offloaded all of our unnecessary kits, not that this finely tuned team carried anything unnecessary, and taking in some big gulps of courage we set off, led gallantly by our Mzee (Elder in Swahili) Richard, up the final 600ft of near vertical rock face, with many technical sections and narrow ledges to keep us focused. Nearly three and a half hours after setting off from camp, we finally reached the summit and were rewarded with the most amazing views of both the entire Mount Elgon caldera, as well as far reaching views of Kenya and Uganda

Once rested and rehydrated, we set off on our final descent of the trek, a surprisingly challenging 5 km in sweltering heat, finally arriving to an unexpected formal welcome from the regional Minister of Tourism, accompanied by his film crew and team, who were keen to understand the work of Farm Africa. A cool box appeared containing cold cans of Tusker beer, which the team fell on with no lack of enthusiasm.

After a short picnic lunch with the Minister, we then embarked on a bone-shaking five hour Jeep convoy to our hotel for the night, stopping along the way to get processed by both the Ugandan and Kenyan immigration & border control at the Suam River crossing.

Before we head off to the Growing Futures project tomorrow, it feels the right time to say a massive thank you to Ake Lindstrom and his team for getting us both up, and down, Mount Elgon. It is no easy feat looking after the health and well-being of a bunch of (probably) undertrained men fresh out of their offices. Ake’s confidence skill experience and natural ability to create a sense of calm in what can and often is a difficult and challenging environment is remarkable. We couldn’t have done it without him. 

It’s been an amazing & exhausting experience, but more importantly, it has helped to raise an enormous amount of money to support the great work of Farm Africa!

Love to all and see you in a few days, 

The (successful) Mt Elgon trekkers!

Adam and Julian

The team have, quite literally, worked their socks off! Make all of the early mornings and sore feet worthwhile by making a donation!

Day 9 (3 February): Jonathan Neale, Aldi UK

Hello to all (six?) of you have followed the team's exploits over the last week or so. Tonight marks the last night of our adventure as we all prepare to head home, exhausted, but with memories of an experience that will live long in our minds.

After the surreal experience at the Suam border crossing where the arrival of 15 us at the same time nearly crashed the Ugandan/Kenyan border control system, the team travelled to the elaborately named Kitale Country Club. Hopes were high of a luxury retreat to assist with mending our broken bodies. However, as we gathered for dinner, stories emerged of the Russian Roulette of whether our showers or even power actually worked. The hotel was more of a museum, paying tribute to its colonial history, than a hotel, but at least we had beds, even if some were equipped with mosquito nets with more holes in than the average Emmental cheese factory!

Dinner was a celebratory affair, with a rousing speech from our Chairman thanking those who had contributed so much to the success of the expedition and reminding us all of the reason for being here; the fantastic work of Farm Africa in the region.

The breakfast room was a sight to behold as it was crowded with the team all kitted out to a man in our Farm Africa t-shirts - the other guests were not quite sure what to make of it. Soon it was time to say our goodbyes to Ake’s incredible team who had to make the long drive back to Tanzania. Thanks so much to them for making the wilderness of the Elgon caldera almost homely.

Then it was on to the first farm of the day. We were met by farmers from the Matendo, Greenlight and Sosiot groups - all part of Farm Africa's Growing Futures project. Funded by ALDI, the project brings young farmers together to help them build sustainable farming businesses by giving them the skills and training they need to grow high quality produce - such as French beans, cabbage and kale - to sell to both local and international markets. The entrepreneurial spirit and agricultural expertise on show was truly brilliant to behold.

After tours by farmers of fields brimming with crops; a water catchment system that irrigated fields using solar power; and the store where the produce is graded ready for sale, the team left for the second site of the day where we met tomato growers from the Chemoset group.

Having been impressed once more by not only the incredible work being done, but also the musical accompaniment from the local choir to lunch, it was time for us to say our farewells to the majority of the team who were high-tailing it to Nairobi via Eldoret, leaving me with Farm Africa Events Manager Danny Everett to meet more members of the Growing Futures project in the afternoon.

Persevering like the true alpine heroes we are, onwards we marched on to our third farming project of the day, where we met the Kikazi group of young farmers. Hearing the impact that being part of Growing Futures has had on their lives left us hugely inspired and grateful to witness first hand the difference that your sponsorship of the team will make.

After the majority of the team were unleashed on Nairobi, and as we sit here in the Kitale Country Club, we can only imagine the vigour with which the local wine list in Nairobi is being devoured as we consider whether to brave the local “sweet red”.

As we all travel home to our loved ones tomorrow, we will all reflect on the highs and lows (literally) of the previous week. The personal challenges, the extreme terrain and climatic conditions, the unbelievable flora and fauna (although we should admit that we might have got “bear” mixed up with “hare” earlier in the week) - not to mention our newfound friends and colleagues. As we end this adventure, we can all be proud of the funds we have raised for an amazing cause who are truly changing the lives of local people throughout the region - and for that we are hugely grateful to all of you, our supporters. Thank you so much.