Hiking Tororo Rock
Hiking Tororo Rock : Climbing Tororo Rock takes you to one of the oldest towns in Uganda. Tororo town is located in the Eastern part of Uganda at the border between Uganda and Kenya. The town is quiet, almost boring but is relatively well organized and with a beautiful countryside. Tororo District is known for producing cassava, cotton, millet, sorghum, onions, beans, sunflowers and potatoes. Tororo is blessed with vast mineral deposits including like limestone. It has one of the largest deposits of phosphorous in the world at the Osukuru Hills. Tororo is a leading producer of cement in Uganda. The District is home to Busitema university which is one of the largest public learning institutions in Uganda. Though the Jopadhola are the main ethnic group in Tororo, the district also has Itesots, Basamia, Banyole and Bagwere. The main language spoken is Dhopadhola but English, Swahili and Luganda is spoken by many town dwellers to thrill by tourists while on Uganda safaris Tours.
Tororo Rock is arguably the most prominent and defining feature of Tororo district. The people of Tororo talk about the rock with pride and at an altitude of 1,483 meters, the towering feature is visible from every part of town. The rock is about 3 kilometres from the main District offices and about 230 kilometers from Kampala (Uganda’s capital). Tororo rock was formed by volcanic activity in the earth’s crust over 250 million years ago. The rock has several ancient caves with interesting paintings from thousands of years go. Before Christianity reached every corner of the district, the people would go these caves to sacrifice and seek answers from the gods.
Climbing Tororo rock is challenging but almost anyone can do it if they are mentally prepared. Seasoned mountain hikers might find hiking Tororo rock a walkover. Climbing to the top takes anywhere between 30 to 45 minutes. The first part of the hike is generally easy for anyone in good shape but the final third requires more endurance, stamina and determination. Many climbers quit at this point. Four ladders have been built to help climbers pass through the steepest section before reaching the very top of the rock.
To begin the hike, one needs to report at the starting point. The starting point is found at the side facing the senior quarters, just next to the only golf course in town. The guides at the foot of the rock do not appear to be the most professional but are quiet adept at climbing the rock. The last time we climbed, our guide seemed bored and more interested in finishing the hike as soon as possible instead of ensuring we had a great experience. He never gave us a proper briefing or prepare us for what to expect along the way.
I mean information about the difficulty of the hike, history of the caves and the various the plant/vegetation types. He picked up later on after we had reached the top of the rock and bonded. I believe his knowledge and experience would have been more useful during the more difficult part of the hike. No hiking sticks were provided that would have helped in climbing and or going down the slopes. Our guide claimed that they grew tired of providing them because most hikers throw them off along the way.
I have a little fear of heights and deliberately refrained from looking down throughout our hike unless forced too. However, after reaching the top, I had enough time and space to marvel at the beauty below and far beyond. Tororo is a beautiful and well organized town! You can see that the town was planned very well by past administrators. We were rewarded with great sights of Lake Victoria, Mount Elgon, Kenya, the golf course, the old railway station, the Morikatipe prison and the Osukuru rocks. It is at this point that I remembered that I had left my binoculars in the car at the head trail. Since it was the wet season, we were able to spot the rains approaching the town from afar.
Unfortunately, the viewing space at the top has been overcrowded with several telecommunication masts from almost all the big name players in Uganda. Our Guide told us that in the past, the entire stretch on the top was open to hikers for parties/picnics, photography and exploration. Now hikers have to squeeze through fences of huge masts to get the best viewing point. From one of the viewing points looking towards the St. Anthony’s Hospital, one can see the iron ropes used by the old cable car leading an artificial forest. More about the cable car later.
With the rains first approaching, we decided to descend. By this time, we had our breathing rate back to normal, bonded with the Guide and ready to ask real questions. Our questions covered topics on the vegetation, types, the idle cable car, Tororo district, management of the town, the caves at the head trail, any deaths while climbing the rock, ownership of the hiking company etc. We even asked about the best hangouts and were to get the best roasted pork in town. By this time our guide was in his best element and shared with us things we didn’t even ask.
According to our guide, the vegetation on the rock slopes consists of mainly bamboo, grass and a few alpine kinds. Nothing very spectacular – at least along the established trail. After climbing down and reaching the starting point of the hike, I asked the guide about the history of the huge cave nearby. According to the guide, the cave (a volcanic plug) at the starting point was created when hot/liquid magma solidified and hardened inside a vent. The Jopadhola and Iteso have for centuries used the cave to perform rituals to their gods. It became a target for a group of radical born again Christians who occupied it for a while to help cleanse it and stop satanic worship. Their occupation of the cave was only for a while. One day, as they were praying, snakes appeared from above and chased them away. Everyone ran for dear life never to come back again.
How to reach the top using a cable car?
As already mentioned earlier, one of the most noticeable things on top of the rock apart from the telecommunication masts are the former cable car system. The cable car was installed by one of the Telecommunication giants (Airtel) to quicken the transportation of fuel for generators that power the telecommunication mast. After a while of use, the cable car was opened to the general public at a fee. An accident occurred involving students from a prominent school in town as they attempted to record a video while rolling down the cable car iron ropes. They couldn’t afford the fee for using the cable car itself and instead used tool belts designed for electricians to roll throw the iron ropes used by the cable car. As they slid down, the synthetic fiber belts gave way because of friction with the iron ropes supporting the cable cars. The result was tragic.
The students fell down over 4,000 feet below and died. Their bodies were damaged beyond recognition. The bad publicity after the incident forced Airtel to suspend the use of the cables. However, a Chinese company has come into an agreement with a local company to reintroduce a new cable car. This new cable car will make it possible for those who do not have the time to climb the rock reach the top in a few minutes.
Tororo Rock climbing is generally not organized to high professional standards. The District has contracted a company owned by Phoebe Otaala to run the activity at a fee of 20,000 shillings per person. For that amount, you get a tour guide who will help climb with you up to the top. No hiking gear or stick are provided or available for sell at the head trail. No standard hiking gear is required for the hike but coming with them will make the activity more comfortable for you. There is a safe parking space at the starting point.
The trail can be slightly slippery and with overgrown bush particularly during the rainy season but there are a lot of rocky outcrops to hold on to even in the most difficult sections. Some of the small rocky outcrops on the trial are sharp and can prove dangerous if one stepped on them wrongly or fell unexpectedly. Exercise caution!!
It is more adventurous to climb Tororo rock in a group. Hiking in a group will encourage even the slowest and less determined members to reach the top. Faster climbers can help give a hand to the slower ones.
The best time to hike Tororo rock is early in the morning. Hiking Tororo rock in the morning enables one finish in time and with less heat from the sun. Morning hikes also allow hikers enjoy the amazing scenery without having to worry about getting down before dark.
How to get to Tororr Rock from Kampala
The best way to reach Tororo is by taking a bus or taxi (mini-bus) from Kampala. Tororo has an airstrip but is generally neglected because of the few flights to the district. Driving to Tororo takes about three hours if there is there is no traffic jam on the road. The journey involves passing through Jinja, Iganga and Bugiru towns. Most of the taxis going to Tororo town currently wait for passengers in Banda trading Centre outside the city. Transport between Kampala and Tororo costs about 20,000 Uganda Shillings. International travellers should use the services of a tour operator or hire a private vehicle to take them to and from Kampala or Entebbe Airport. Though more expensive, using a private vehicle or the services of a good Tour operator allows for more flexibility and the opportunity to stop at several amazing sites including Mabira forest, Ssezibwe falls, the source of the Nile river and many more.