12 things on your check-list when climbing ‘Sri Pada’

Saturday, 3 January 2015 04:55 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

We were ignorantly determined to conquer this sacred mountain a few years back and learnt some valuable lessons for it. Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, is one of Sri Lanka’s many wonders and climbing it to see the Sacred Footprint located at its apex is an experience every Sri Lankan should have had or at least have in their bucket-list. All the more reason for tourists to definitely try it! Thought it’s not the highest mountain in the island, this striking 7,360 ft pyramid is certainly the most remarkable. At its peak is a depression that resembles a huge footprint that has been venerated as a sacred sign for centuries. While Buddhists think it to be Buddha’s footprint, Hindus believe it to be that of Shiva, and Muslims that of Adam’s and later on the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle.                 Over the years, Sri Pada has become a site for religious pilgrimage, a journey people of different faiths in the country embark on, on a yearly basis. While for most Sri Lankans, the climb is a sacred one, there are those who do it for other reasons such as exercise, adventure and excitement. Whatever your reason, there are some things you need to do and think about before you attempt this feat. Here’s a list of 12 things to consider before you climb Sri Pada.   1. Gather together a physically strong group of friends/family When I say physically strong, I mean people who are up for the challenge. And a challenge it is, on both your physical and mental endurance – assuming you are like most and want to make it right to the top and not stop halfway! The climb is hard, and at times very mentally demanding. The higher you go, the more you’ll feel like giving up, especially if you aren’t a fit person. So make sure you’ve got a good, encouraging and strong group with you. The last thing you’d want is to have extra load on your way back – carrying your fellow climbers!   2. Make note of peak traffic The pilgrimage season starts on Unduwap Poya in December and continues till Vesak Poya in May and reaches its peak mid-season (Medin Poya in March). During this season, you’d find a constant stream of pilgrims and the climb can get very crowded. On long weekend holidays during the season, the crowds can get bigger. If you want to experience the climb with hundreds of devotees, you’d have to be prepared to wait in queues for long hours to reach the summit. Off-season climbing is also a possibility but the path is not lit and you’d have to take torches with you. There is also the possibility of rain in the afternoons. Between May and October the peak is obscured by cloud for most of the time as well.   3. Pick your route There are essentially four routes that can be taken to reach the top – the Ratnapura route, Kuruwita route, Hatton route and Deraniyagala route, the first three being the most common and the latter being the most difficult. The Ratnapura route is the classical one via Gilimale and Carney Estates. The climb is strenuous. The entire trail is about 8.5 km and takes about eight to 12 hours. The trail starts off with a long, steep ascent where you’d be climbing cement steps first and then uneven rock steps thereafter. After about four km, you’ll find a natural trail with steps and other forms of support only available at most difficult to pass points. At 6.5 km you’ll find a section of uneven stone steps. Thereafter (at 7.7 km), you are  elevated from 1,960m to 2,250m at Adam’s Peak over a mere 800m length.                             The Kuruwita route is 12 km long and takes approximately eight to 12 hours to complete. The first three odd km of the trail is mostly an intense and continuous climb. Although you’d find brief flat or less intense sections, they rarely last for more than 100m at a stretch. This stretch goes mostly through the disturbed forest and abandoned tea fields; therefore it’s quite broad and open. The rest of the trail is a rough track over boulders and rocks for the most part. The Hatton route is the shortest and most popular one covering five km and taking only five to seven hours. This is also the trail that starts off from the highest elevation, making it the trail with the lowest elevation gain. It’s well-paved for the most part and the facilities along the trail – rest-stops, water-stops, etc., are also better when compared to the other trails. The Deraniyagala route is the toughest of the four trails, covering 12 km and taking approximately eight to 12 hours. It is one of the least travelled trails leading to the peak, mainly because for most of the trail, you’d have to walk through the dense forest of peak wilderness sanctuary on a narrow footpath with rough underfoot conditions. The trail also involves crossing several waterways posing a risk of flash floods. It’s unwise to attempt this trail off season, unless you really know what you’re going to be up against. It is always best to start very early, when attempting this trail.   4. Pack plenty of warm clothes In addition to the sweaters and mufflers you start the climb with, make sure you take sufficient warm clothes with you in a carry-on. Even if you don’t feel the cold when you start off and while climbing, once you reach the top, you’ll be searching for cover from the biting freeze. You don’t want to catch a cold or experience wind-chill, which will only make the descent that much harder!   5. Have a good night’s sleep before you start Attempting Sri Pada on little or no sleep the previous night is a bad idea. Accidents from exhaustion and missteps are not uncommon and some have been fatal as well. Make sure you’re well rested and alert – body and mind – before you start the climb.   6. Eat a good meal The climb to the top is mostly about physical endurance and your body will need all the fuel it can get. Make sure you’ve had a good meal before you start. But be careful not to eat anything too heavy as well. Although you can find rest-stops in some sections along the way, it’s also good to take some snacks and water with you, in case of sudden hunger pangs and thirst. Plastic bags are banned from the trek.   7. Take a first aid kit with you Although there is a Siddhalepa station about a quarter of the way up, it’s always a good idea to take your own first aid kit with you for emergencies. Unsteady knees, muscle aches, headaches, gastritis, dehydration and cuts and bruises from falls are all part and parcel of the climb. You don’t want to have to deal with unbearable aches and pains while attempting a giant feat such as this, so take the necessary reinforcements and remedies.   8. Pace your climb Pacing the ascent is a good way of managing physical stress to avoid exhaustion. Don’t climb up too fast and burn up all your energy. Even if you can rest at the apex, this depends mainly on the time of day when you get to the top. If it’s early morning or late night, the peak would be so cold you’d want to immediately turn back (after seeing the Sacred Footprint of course!). If you are able to make yourself amply warm, then make sure to rest well before you start climbing back down. You can also rest along the way at the rest-stops or even sit on the sides of the steps (being careful not to obstruct other climbers/descenders). For most people, the climb back down is harder than the climb up because of worn out muscles. One way you can make the descent (or ascent for that matter) easier is to walk across the steps in a diagonal pattern. Of course, you can only attempt that when the path gets wider which is towards the latter part of the descent. 9. Stretch, stretch and stretch some more! Stretch your leg muscles before and after the climb. Have someone massage some Ayurvedic oil or even Siddhalepa on them before you start the climb and after. If you don’t, you’d most likely be limping for the next few days! 10. Watch your step While the first part of the climb (through most trails) is quite straightforward with well-lit broad steps, once you near the peak, the steps get narrower and much steeper. Be extra vigilant of the last bit of the climb as you are most likely to be physically and mentally exhausted and so relieved to have the peak in view that you forget all about climbing carefully! It’s very easy to fall backwards due to unsteadiness in the knees. In times of slight drizzle, be extra cautious of slippery steps. 11. Don’t forget to stop and admire the scenery! Amidst the exhaustion of putting one foot in front of the other, it’s easy to miss the breath-taking scenery you’re sure to be passing. Don’t forget to take your camera with you and take some shots of this spell-binding scenery along the way. You’d pass beautiful waterfalls, lush green tea plantations and in some routes even forests, which would make good memories. 12. Try and catch the ‘Shadow of the Peak’ For most people, the goal is to experience the ‘Shadow of the Peak’ which is to be on top of the mountain at sunrise, a view so breath-taking, you’d momentarily forget the cold. This would require you to climb by moonlight and time your start and end schedule. Believe me, it’s worth the effort! (Trekurious together with DailyFT explores Sri Lanka for the curious traveller. Trekurious works with talented individuals and great brands to create amazing experiential tours, activities, and events in Sri Lanka. You can find out more at www.Trekurious.com.) Pix by Vinita Sivaramakrishan