Monday, July 28, 2014

Express expedition Up Adam's Peak - The Off-peak edition

Adam's peak - located in central Sri Lanka, and is a pilgrimage site for a lot of locals.  It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.  The peak period for climbing is Dec - May where the weather is perfect, and April is the busiest month.  Other times, climbing is still allowed, but due to weather, might not be the best periods.  Also, during those off peak months, the shops along the way are closed and there are no lights along the way.  Same goes for the temple right at the top of the peak - Closed (though I heard from my guide that they open the temple after 12 noon).
The hike up from base can be done within 3 hours, subject to individual ability.  It is 2,200 steps up, about 7km distance.  And yes they are steps, especially the last 3km, where the steps just go up, up and up all the way.  So in a way, it is not a tough hike, just treat it as a super intense steps class! But of course, going down would not be as easy with steps as it would be with just soil and slopes...
You could easier do this in 1 day if you plan well, like what I did, although it was really really tiring and I would probably not recommend it if you could avoid it.  Getting to the starting point, you can choose to take train or bus to Hatton and then tuk tuk or van to Dalhousie.  Train will take longer than the bus though.
The journey from Colombo to Hatton is about 4.5hours with the bus, and from Hatton to Dalhousie, where you start the hike, is about 1-1.5hours depending on the mode of transport.  I decided to do it express style so I spend minimal time and get maximum effort and reward.  You can check out the various bus timetables at and these buses leave from Peeta bus station in Colombo.  Buses don't leave on time (Hey it's Sri Lanka!) but they pretty much leave within 30minutes of scheduled times.  The private options are the little vans with air conditioning while the others (even though they call it semi-luxury) are within AC.  AC vans cost 320 LKR to get to Hatton.
Prior to my journey, I had contacted Hotel White Elephant at Dalhousie to help me arrange for a guide for the hike as I was gonna do it immediately upon arrival and leave immediately without staying.  The manager of the hotel, Nilantha, was very helpful and confirmed everything in order before I set off from Colombo.  I would recommend him as a point of contact should you need help for the hike.  A guide is not necessary even during off-peak if you are doing it in a group.  However, as I would be alone, it is of course better with a guide to lead you to the right path, and when you are hiking in the absolute dark, it feels better with someone beside you.  The guide costs about 2,500LKR.  I did not stay at the hotel, but it looked like a pretty nice place to bunk in.  Also as I was gonna be getting in real late, I arranged with him to get me a ride from Hatton to Dalhousie.  You could of course get a tuk tuk for about 1,700 to 2,000 LKR to travel, I got a van for 5,500LKR return. 
It was nice of him to offer me a couch to rest while I wait for the hike.  Most people do the sunrise hike up to see the sunrise, which means you leave at around 2pm and wait at the top.  Of course, you can do the hike up anytime!  My guide, Roshan, is a 22 young boy who has done the hike like 170 times!  The guides here all hike up without any gear, nope not even water, just a super big torchlight and a fleece jacket.  Thumbs up!  The hike up, as I mentioned, is 7km.  It took me 2.5H to get to the top, and that meant waiting 'forever' for the sunrise.  And it was super cold up there! Believe me, I had my down jacket and it was not enough.  You can buy tea for 100LKR from the people who lives up there.  During my climb, I was alone with my guide, but up there, there were about 3-4 groups of people waiting. 
The first 3km was easy peasy

The steep steps up the last 3km

Misty and windy

Shops closed along the way during off season

The weather was not kind to me on the day of the hike.  It was windy, and cloudy.  By that I meant huge gusts of wind along the way up, especially near the top where you literally feel like you are about to be blown off.  Yes, I was swaying almost! And the clouds didn't help.  We had no sunrise, only daylight.  And the peak is not really a mountain peak.  The steps lead you to the top where the temple sits and along the sides are buildings meant for shops.  So when you reach the top, you kinda get the feeling "This is it? Where's the peak?"  A little disappointing though, but I guess Adam's Peak is not really a mountain peak to conquer for a view or on top of the mountain feel.  It is afterall a pilgrimage most Buddhist make!  So without the sunrise, pretty much nothing else to see.  So at 6am, we made our way down.
Let's just say going down on steps is not my favourite things.  Jelly legs!  But going down feels alot better than going up!  Along the way down, with the light, it was much better with the view, although still clouded with mists. 
With the daylight, you could definitely enjoy the walk down better, with the waterfalls in sight and the temples along the way.
River along the way from Delhousie to Hatton
By the time I got down, it was 8am.  All in all, had not really slept for the past 17H and the tiredness was getting to me.  Off to the bus stop at Hatton for the onward bus journey back to Colombo for much needed rest.  Don't worry about buses as they run pretty often, although if you want private AC bus, they run only at specific times.  Again check the schedule.  Mine broke down 2H from Colombo and we were stuck in the van with no AC and had to be transferred 10mins from Colombo bus station to the semi-luxry bus. 
It was a nice experience, although it could have been better if weather was kinder to me.  But hell, I think I'm too old to do this kinda 24H whirlwind shit with no sleep.  At least I could say I conquered Adam's Peak.  Having said that, it feels different having conquered Adam's Peak compared to other mountains.  This feels a little more generic? Like "yeah i done it", not like "YEAH! Did it!" kinda of feeling with other mountains, maybe because this is more of a pilgrimage hike, where everything is well paved, just follow the steps up and shops and temples along the way, a little organized, and not really a peak at the top.  A little disappointed, but I guess that is what it really is, a journey of cleansing and paying homage etc.  But hey, I still liked it, would have been better with great weather and sunrise.  Now for the next adventure!