When we first decided to go to Sri Lanka it was for two reasons. First to try to dive with blue whales, second to climb Adam’s Peak. The latter is a really crazy thing since J and I are NOT in anyway shape or form climbers or hikers. The lure to do this pilgrimage was really strong though and we absolutely love a challenge.
After a crazy trip to get to Colombo, Sri Lanka (10:50 pm flight cancelled, rushing around to try to book on another airline last minute so we wouldn’t miss our driver etc.) we landed late at night, went to bed and tried to rest for our big hike the next day up Adam’s Peak.
The four hour trip from Colombo to Dalhousie, where we stayed to be close to the start of Adam’s Peak was one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken in my life. We were all very sleep deprived, but couldn’t close our eyes for a second or else we might miss something. Everywhere our heads would turn and our eyes would wander there were gorgeous tree covered mountains, breathtaking waterfalls, and perfectly landscaped tea plantations. We were all completely gob smacked. Nothing could have prepared us for the incredible beauty of this island.
Unlike Thailand there was no garbage anywhere. The streets, yards, and stores were immaculate. You could feel the pride as you drove through each town, passed each river, stream or temple. What a relief!
We booked a room at the Wathsala Inn in Dalhousie. We weren’t sure what to expect as this really is a backpackers town. The food was amazing! They served authentic Sri Lankan cuisine with the most incredible views of the mountain we were about to climb. Our room was nice with a huge balcony overlooking a stream and the path of Adam’s Peak. We sat and contemplated our future activity, quite intimidated but really pumped for the challenge.
At 1:40 a.m. our alarms went off and we were on our way by 2:00 a.m. The darkness masked the distance and intensity of what lay before us. As we made our way up the hill from our hotel we were thinking about the 5,800 stairs that awaited us, and all the steps in between. There were some stores open selling rain coats, fleeces, etc. and a few pastries-budding entrepreneurs at every corner.
There is only one path up and down so it is easy to find your way without a guide. After you walk through the little shopping area there is a large Buddha statue and an arch welcoming you to the climb. We walked in darkness, with small lights along the path to light your steps. It wasn’t until we descended that we would understand the beauty of the mountain we were to conquer.
The steps vary along the way, some flat, some sloped, some steep, some long and thin, some dirt, some concrete and some stone. This makes the climb interesting and probably better so you aren’t just working the same muscles. As we climbed we met some people and talked to them along the way. We would rest, they would pass us and vice versa. A bond would start to form, and the feeling of humanity became stronger the higher we went. We became each others cheerleaders, advisors and friends.
We stopped at one area to say a little prayer and light some incense, it was at this moment that I believe sheer will kicked in. We had been climbing for 3 hours and were feeling the muscle tearing, and exhaustion. There are bathrooms along the way but I was careful to not drink too much so I wouldn’t have to stop on the way up.
As the climb went on we were greeted with the most gorgeous stars, and trees that would be quietly lit from the path lights. The majesty of this mountain was starting to reveal itself. I believe these are little rewards from nature to keep you going when all you have left is pure will. I am not trying to be dramatic here, I realize I wasn’t climbing Mt. Everest or anything but the climb is hard, especially for those of us who are over 40 and don’t climb anything regularly. I felt pretty good at certain points when I would pass younger people along the way, or when I would hear them just as out of breath as me (I know it is petty but hey, I am over 40 I have to hang on to everything I can…).
I believe the last hour of the climb is nothing but the will to conquer one step at a time. There are so many moments when you feel you have reached the top and are not close. The lovely locals will cheer you on telling you only a little ways left and for a few steps that is great but then the overwhelming journey closes in again. I learned not to look up, only to look at where I was and how far I had come. This is really a lesson in life isn’t it!?!
I reached the top, in about 4 hours, the sun starting to rise. As I pulled myself up the incredibly steep stairs at the end I couldn’t believe the gift laying before me. Every step, every ache, every movement was for the moment when I could see the sun rise over the mountains and welcome in a new day of possibility. I am not sure what happened to me, whether it was the locals carrying their family members to the top when I could barely get myself there, or the men carrying huge bags of rice on their shoulders in front of me or the Sri Lankans walking up barefoot to their sacred temple, or just the reminder that we are all the same, we climb, we trek, we love, we challenge, we yearn and we journey and when we do it together it is so much sweeter, whatever it was I was completely overcome with emotion. As J rounded the corner about 20 minutes behind me I broke. I flooded with tears and joy and couldn’t hold it in. The orange glow of the sun, the mist of the clouds, and shimmer of the lakes below were in their own way the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed. Never in my life have I felt so strongly the blessing of being alive to start a new day. I have never physically seen the feeling I have in the morning of being lucky to wake up in this beautiful world full of possibility.
There is a point where I was close to the top and a banner across said “Not Adam’s Peak” I found this a little deflating, my thought was maybe they could have written something like, “Almost there” or “Just A Little Farther” you know a little encouragement but hey, I went on anyway despite the sign and maybe even a little more determined because of it (I would find out later what the sign meant, which was not to be discouraging at all.).
I will not lie to you, the way down was not fun. It was grueling and almost impossible. I tried to distract myself with the beautiful landscape below, with cheer leading about how awesome it was I made it, with a stop to eat some peanuts, and pee in a gross hole with no bathroom door, to walk zig-zag, backwards, sideways and straight on down the steps, but in the end my legs were collapsing beneath me, quivering as I tried to take each step and stair. I thought I wouldn’t make it , and felt pretty bad as the elderly Sri Lankan women slowly walked past me with smiles on their faces. I too was smiling but it didn’t seem the same. They seemed to have a grace I was severely lacking. I have no idea how I made it down that mountain, but I did and as we entered the little town of Dalhousie I considered crawling the rest of the way back to the hotel.
In the end we made the trek up and back in 7 hours. We climbed over 5,800 stairs and took over 24,000 steps. I believe in the end it changed who I am and I will be forever grateful. Even though walking the next few days was excruciating I would do it all over again in a second.
As I said before the sign about “Not Adam’s Peak” has a meaning for the Sri Lankan Buddhist people. The mountain to them is and has always been “Sri Padaya”. It translates to “Big Buddha Foot”. The way they told me the story is that the footprint at the top of mountain is the footprint of Buddha, it has always been that way for them until recently. The name Adam’s Peak they say comes from the Muslim people who have moved into Sri Lanka and have claimed that the footprint is in fact not Buddha’s but Adam’s. They are not happy about this, but they are Buddhist so they don’t fight it either.
Here are my tips for climbing Big Buddha Foot:
- Start no later than 2 a.m.
- Do not go on the weekend or a holiday. We went on Thursday and the temple was jam packed with people by 6 a.m.
- Don’t carry anything up with you but a little water, money and a camera.
- In March it was not cold on top of the mountain. We prepared for cool weather and really regretted all the extra clothing (I get cold in 80 degree weather so believe me when I say it isn’t cold.)
- Buy water and fruit along the way.
- Bring toilet paper and hand wipes and be prepared for bad bathroom conditions.
- Focus on the journey and not the steps.
- Stop to admire the natural beauty on the way down, it is worth it!
- Please don’t stand forever in the temple, remember other people climbed who want to see it as well. I took amazing photos coming back down as the sun rose, you can too.
- Stay in Dalhousie to be as close to the beginning as possible.
- Don’t plan any big events for the next day or two, you will be sore.
- If you stay at the Wathsala Inn, which I would highly recommend, and you need a driver ask for DeLanka. He was not only a great driver but an AMAZING tour guide as well!!!
- I climbed the mountain with 60+ year olds who were amazing. So the climb is possible for every age.
- Once you enter the arch it is a sacred and holy place remember that and follow their customs.