I’m a few weeks late with this post, as I’m no longer with IVHQ and am now travelling around the country.
I have left myself plenty of time to do all the things I want to do, and I hope I’ll leave Sri Lanka in early March feeling like I’ve done more than just scratch the surface of what the country has to offer.
I could therefore have saved my trip to Adam’s Peak for when I’m actually in the region (i.e. about now!), but this is one thing I really wanted to do with friends. Famously difficult, the trek up Adam’s Peak is best completed at night so you can see the gorgeous views when the sun rises at 6am.
For our first weekend expedition, we eventually agreed that Adam’s Peak would be a great place to start. I slightly objected to my friends’ reluctance to both get the bus and stay in a hostel, but getting a taxi there and back was worth it in the end. For less than £10 each, we got a taxi to pick us up from our accommodation, drive us to the foot of the mountain and take us back home when we were done. Cheaper than a night in a hostel anyway!
After our tiring orientation week, we got ready to embark on our next adventure. We left the house at 10pm on Friday evening, sacrificing an entire night of sleep for hours of physical exercise. Hmm.
Kandy is about 3 hours from Dalhousie, the rather depressing little town at the base of Adam’s Peak, but the roads are extremely windy so I barely got a second’s shut eye on the journey.
Arriving at 1am, we forced down a few bananas before enthusiastically beginning the walk. This is easy, we thought, as we passed countless snack shops and temples.
After this, we began the difficult ascent.
Before I describe the physical and mental challenges of our climb, I ought to contextualise Adam’s Peak.
Adam’s Peak is the only mountain in the world which is considered sacred by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. A huge footprint was identified by Buddhists as that of Buddha, by Hindus as thay of Shiva, by Muslims as that of Adam and later by the Christian Portuguese as the footprint of St Thomas the Apostle. It therefore has an amazing energy and thousands of people do the difficult climb every evening to worship the footprint. On poya days and throughout the pilgrimage season in April, the Peak is even busier than usual.
There are 5500 steps to the top of Sri Pada. It sounds like a lot, I know, but none of us appreciated quite what this means until we were about of a fifth of the way up the hill. At first, the steps were interspersed with flat sections filled with shops, but the stairs gradually got closer and closer. However, they were by no means regular: some steps were small and close together, while others were remarkably steep. The shortest member of our group said she had difficulty climbing up at points – I have no idea how the many 6 year old kids we saw managed it!
The difficult hike wasn’t helped by the heavy rain and slippery paths, nor by the aggressive crowds of people constantly trying to push past you.
Even though I’m running a lot less than I used to and I’ve been eating much more rice, sugar and chocolate since I’ve been in Sri Lanka, I would still consider myself reasonably fit. But Adam’s Peak was by no means easy; in fact, it was undeniably challenging.
I had to stop every ten minutes or so and I could really feel my lungs and legs screaming. One of the members of our group is an RAF pilot and she confidently led the team throughout the hike, but even she had to take regular breaks and give her legs a rest. And she’s used to military training!
By the time we reached the 5500th step, morale couldn’t have been much lower. Arriving at 4.30 am, there was none of the joy you usually experience upon reaching a summit – all gorgeous views, happy smiles and satisfied bodies. Instead, there were only crowds of grumpy Sri Lankans, rain and at least ninety minutes to wait before sunrise. We needn’t have rushed to the top, we moaned; we could have set off even later. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to remove our shoes and walk barefoot through the cold, wet temple and the fact that two of our team somehow acquired stomach bugs as we reached the top. And there were no loos up there.
What followed was at least an hour of feeling utterly miserable and freezing in the rain. I ate a snickers at 5am and regretted rushing to do this climb when it would have been much more enjoyable in daylight and slightly dryer circumstances. The low point came around 5.30 when our new Sri Lankan acquaintance – who was climbing the peak for the fourth time ‘just for fun’ – told us we may not even see anything at dawn because there was so much mist.
However, when the sun finally did come up the views did not disappoint. The midt gradually rose and the beautiful landscape was revealed to us in all its glory. It may not have been the orange landscape we had been led to expect, but it was still blooming gorgeous and my mood swiftly turned 180 degrees.
We’d been warned that this would be even harder than the climb up, due to knee pains and aggressive crowds. However, the sunlight made a huge difference and we could finally appreciate not only how far we’d climbed but also how unimaginably stunning the landscape was. I was suddenly very happy. I remembered why I like hiking – for me, the views matter so much more than the physical achievement. I often like walking by myself so I can fully appreciate the scenery, but I was in such a good mood and wanted to share it. So we all walked down companionably, regularly stopping to take photos of one another or to replenish our snack supply.
Sure, I may have had a minor sense of humour failure when we were nearing the bottom of the hill and someone mentioned that they may have taken us the wrong way. A night with no sleep but rather 6 hours of hiking (it took us 3 hours to climb the peak and the same back down) will do that to a person, helped along by an inadequate diet of chocolate bars and the odd mini banana.
Nevertheless, we finally made it back to Delhousie and managed to find our lovely taxi driver who welcomed us into his car and offered us crackers and the chance to stop for besakfast.
No one was up for speaking much, so we travelled in silence and snores back to kandy, arriving at about 1pm and heading straight to bed. I couldn’t even shower; I needed sleep that badly.
Overall, it was an unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I did it. We’ve sort of blackened our experience of Adam’s Peak – so much so that the group of volunteers who went last weekend were surprised by how easy they found it after listening to our moans for a few weeks – but it was definitely worth the physical and emotional challenge. Beautiful views are always worth the difficult climb!