In March I escaped the crowded city of Colombo and set out with three friends to climb the most famous religious mountain in Sri Lanka. Called by many different names, Adam’s Peak, “the place where butterflies die,” and Sri Pada (“sacred footprint”), the mountain is the second highest in Sri Lanka and is a center of religious pilgrimage for Buddhist, Hindus, and to a lesser extent Christians and Muslims.

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Adam’s Peak

The conical peak looms 2,243 metres (7,359 ft) above the surrounding mountains and is one of Sri Lanka’s most celebrated backdrops. Near the summit a 1.8 meter rock formation in the shape of a footprint is celebrated by Buddists as Buddha’s footprint, by Muslims as Adam’s (of garden of eden fame), and by Hindu’s as the Godess Shiva’s footprint. We decided to join the crowds and make the long climb up in the dead of night in order to catch the sunrise from the top. However, to get to Adam’s Peak we first had to travel 3 hours by windy narrow roads up into Sri Lanka’s stunning hill country.

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The road winds its way up into the mountains as a rest stop clings to the side of the mountian

Along the way we pass countless tea plantations, beautifully terraced mountains surrounding aging tea factories

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The road narrows the farther we climb, but the driving etiquette stays the same…me first!

Just one of the many views from the car

Of course Sri Lankan bus drivers can always find a way to spoil the peace and quiet

Curving road through a highland tea plantation

A view of Adam’s Peak from below the tea plantations
After driving through the small town of Dalhousie at the base of the trail head leading to Adam’s Peak, we reached our guest house, the Green House. For only 600 rupees (about $6) a night we had a place to leave our bags, get half a nights sleep, eat delicious food and take freezing cold showers when we returned from the mountain the next morning.

Kay, Hannah and Naoko relax on the porch after our long drive. We arrived in the late afternoon and decided to explore the town a bit before dinner.

The town is crowded with pilgrims either preparing to climb or having just descended.

The narrow streets sold every nick-nack you could imagine, from fake Nike windbreakers (see my climbing attire!) to pictures of Elvis and babies….somehow pictures/posters of airbrushed babies are a huge seller here.

Ceramic dogs and lions line a street stall

After a delicious vegetarian dinner (no meat or alcohol is allowed within the vicinity of Adam’s peak) we tried to get some sleep before waking up at 12 am to start our climb. The day before was a full moon day (a Buddhist holy day called “poya”) and we were worried the climb would take us 6 hours with all of the people mulling about. We had met a group of climbers at our guest house who had climbed the day before and it had taken them 8 hours to reach the top!

Trying to figure out why they are awake

In the dead of night we woke up and went about packing our bags and putting on layers. The evening was quite and crisp, the pungent smells of wild flowers and burning wood eased our groggy senses as we set off down the path.

The path was beginning to get crowded already as we reach the main gate which marks the beginning of the holy mountain.

The climb up was slow and painful. Not so much for the 5,000+ steps we had to climb, but for the hundreds of mountain huts that lined the path and blared loud Sri Lankan music into the surrounding stillness. It was a like a Bollywood movie, in the dead of night, with hundreds of weary climbers, no dancing, and without the ability to switch channels…

The path ended up not being as crowded as we feared and we made it to the top in just under 4 hours. It was misty and wet at the top so we camped out at the last mountain hut before the summit. Kay and Naoko are enjoying the hot tea as we sat and waited for dawn to arrive.
An hour before down we decided to leave the mountain hut and try to get a good place at the top to watch the sunrise.

At the top of the mountain the temple was packed with worshipers waiting for the sunrise
The fog was so thick that the sun never appeared. A bit disappointed we waited around for 2 hours before deciding to head back down the mountain. Regardless, it was very nice to feel the calm of early morning as so many pilgrims waited patiently for the morning to arrive.

On our way down the clouds broke for 15 seconds just as the sun began to rise. Movement down the mountain came to a screeching halt as hundreds of hikers dug into their bags for cameras in a frantic race against the moving clouds.

Further down the mountain we broke through the cloud cover and began to glimpse the beautiful scenes surrounding us. You can just make out a large waterfall in the distance.

A pagoda competes with nearby peaks

This little guy belongs to the Green House and followed us all the way up to the top and back down again. The temple attendants where not very happy to have him walking around and we constantly had to find him in the throng of people at the top. Unfortunately he got into a fight with another dog on the way down and was bitten pretty badly. Luckily he was ok and the owner of the guest house told us he makes the climb once a week these days, but used to do it everyday when he was younger.

Some of the steps we climbed

Our legs shaking by the end, we arrived back at the main gate happy to be finished and with much less clothing as the sun warmed the morning air.

After taking showers and relaxing a bit we headed away from Adam’s Peak to the town of Dickoya and the Castlereigh Reservoir were we found a great little cabin by the reservoir to stay called the Castlereigh Family Cottages. Located on a small tea plantation the service was great and the views spectacular. Relaxing on the porch with a cool breeze and beer was exactly what we needed (and deserved) after our long hike.
Our cabin.

The view from our porch.

The water was so calm it was difficult to tell the difference between reflection and reality.

The reservoir cuts into the tea plantation.

The beautiful Warleigh stone church was built in 1862 and overlooks the reservoir. We just happened to be lucky enough to come across this church on Easter Sunday.

A view from the back of the church

Tired but feeling very relaxed we headed back to Colombo Sunday afternoon wondering why we didn’t come up into the mountains more often. They say that you are a fool if you don’t climb Adam’s Peak once, but you are an even bigger fool if you climb it twice. I guess I must just be a fool as I hope I get the chance to climb the mountain again, and maybe even catch a proper sunrise in the process.

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