Climbing Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is one of the tallest peaks in Sri Lanka, and it holds lots of religious significance for locals. It’s most popular to hike to the top to watch the sun rise. When making the hike, locals and tourists alike stay in the nearby towns of Delhousie or Ratnapura and wake early in the morning (e.g. 2am) to make it to the top in time.

Getting to Adams Peak is quite the special trip. I took the train to Hatton, the closest train station, and then took a bus from there to Delhousie, the closest town (actually, if you search Delhousie, Sri Lanka in google maps, it doesn’t exist. The actual town is Nallathanniya, for booking purposes). There, I booked one night at a hotel just to have a place to store my bags and nap for a few hours before the climb.

The bus to Delhousie was quite the experience in and of itself. I got on early and secured a seat, but the front rows are reserved for the pregnant, disabled and members of the clergy. 6 monks got on right as we left, so I had to vacate my seat and stand for the 1.5 hour bus ride.

This would be fine, except this was one of the most exhausting bus rides I’ve been on, in terms of the effort required to remain upright. The bus barreled down multiple hairpin turns while other buses did the same from the other direction. As the German guy standing next to me said, “in Sri Lanka you don’t need to go to the gym, you can just ride the bus” and get a workout by holding on for dear life.

The view along those hairpin turns was extraordinary, though. I got some picks from the return bus trip, when I wizened up and sat in the back instead.

The view from the bus from Hatton to Delhousie

At Delhousie, I learned that because Friday was the full moon AND it was the weekend (Saturday night/Sunday morning), hundreds of thousands¬†of locals were going to swarm the mountain. The man at the restaurant that I ate at suggested leaving at an earlier time of 12:30 instead of 2, so that I could actually make it to the top by sunrise, at 6:30. This scared me a little. I had read in a blog post by a previous visitor that on a similar holiday weekend, there was a 5 hour line for the last 2% of the climb. But surely it couldn’t be that bad, could it?

To be sure, I went to bed at 7pm and woke up at 11:30pm to gather my stuff and start climbing. Now THIS is officially the earliest (or latest?) I’ve ever woken up for anything. I set off promptly on my way, relishing at all the people I was going to beat to the top of the mountain… and then got lost in the parking lot for 15 minutes. There is no CLEAR SIGNAGE, at least in English. I learned that almost the entire path is pave in concrete. And about 50% of it, at least the first hour and a half or so, is lined with shops selling roti, sweets, fried food, drinks, stuffed animals, trinkets, you name it.

If the path looks like this, you’re on the right track:

Shops along the path to the top of Adam's Peak

The way up to the Peak is well-lit, and you can see it from a distance.

The path up to Adam's Peak in the dark

Generally, the first two hours weren’t bad. It was basically a lot of stairs amongst a lot of festivities. Great, I thought, I’ll get to the top at 3, and then I can write or read for 3 hours while I wait for sunrise.

But around 2am, the procession ground to a halt. Well, we couldn’t be too far from the top, since I thought it looked fairly close when I last saw it. How very, very wrong I was. 2:30 came, then 3, then 4, then 5. And we trudged along like one giant moving tin of sardines, at a rate of about one step every 3-4 minutes.

Along the way, I picked up another friend. He was a tall local who spoke a bit of English, and from what I gathered, he worked at an Italian factory and was making the trek for the holiday. He took it upon himself to guide me up the mountain, pointing out gaps that opened in the crowd and leading me up the stairs on the other side (which are supposed o be reserved for people coming down, and surprisingly most people actually do leave clear, except for ones like us with no shame). I think he was concerned that if he didn’t push me up the mountain, I would forget to move forward or fall off of it entirely. Not that I could fall off if I wanted to, since there were 1,000 people immediately behind me to catch me. We got separated on the way down, but thank you, friend!

Finally, FINALLY, at close to 6am, we could see what looked like the top. The line led into what looked like a temple, and we were about 40 feet from the entrance. However, we came to a dead stop. The local officials shouted something I couldn’t understand, and my local friend translated that the temple was closed until 6:30.

At that point some color started appearing on the horizon, and I decided sunrise > reaching the peak. I went back down the stairs the that I had labored for so long to climb, and parked myself at a good vantage point.

We were up high above a sea of clouds!

Sunrise on top of Adam's Peak

Peering through the clouds during sunrise on top of Adam's Peak

Mission (somewhat) accomplished.

The sun rises over Adam's Peak

Now that the sun was up, I could take some pictures on the way back down. Look at this crazy line, which was just as long as it was on my way up:

The 5-hour line to climb Adam's Peak

And this is the place where the line first started, a corner where people prayed and left long lines of white thread. I have no clue what it was for, I was in such a hurry to rush up and down that I wasn’t able to stop and find out.

Where the line started on the climb up Adam's Peak

From this I’ve learned my lesson: pick your dates wisely! Especially with the greater freedom that comes with extended travel, I totally should have predicted and avoided this. At least it was a crowd of locals, and not tourists – how often can people say that they were part of an authentic local pilgrimage? However, once is more than enough. I’ll be checking dates a little more carefully from now on, thank you!

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