Sleepless in Sri Lanka: Climbing Adam’s Peak

Our journey took place on January 9th/10th 2013

About Adam’s Peak

Located in the hilly Central Province, this conical shaped mount is the 5th highest peak in Sri Lanka at 2243m above sea level (tallest is Pidurutalagala near the city of Nuwara Eliya). The mountain is surrounded by hills, tea plantations, lakes and the Peak Wilderness wildlife sanctuary (with elephants & leopards).


This natural landmark is of great significance for the spiritual Sri Lankans: At the summit is a footprint-shaped indentation, claimed by the different religious devotees: it is the footprint of Lord Buddha to the Buddhists, Lord Shiva for the Hindus and Adam’s (of Adam & Eve fame) for Muslims and Christians. Locally, the peak is commonly known as Sri Pada – sacred foot – and traversed by thousands of pilgrims (and tourists) each year.

Different routes exist for the climb. We took the popular 7km, 5500 step trek  from the basecamp in the small town of Dalhousie near Nallatanni. Another option, favoured by hard core pilgrims, is the more rigorous, 15km alternative from Palabaddala (near Ratnapura City).

Why climb Adam’s Peak?

It’s an exciting challenge: climbing through the night, combatting 6000 steps that got steeper and steeper and the race to reach the summit by sunrise kept us totally motivated.

It’s great fun: although surroundings are not visible at night, the journey was sprightly, with many fellow travellers, illuminated steps (reminding us how much further there was yet to go!) and lots of lively rest areas and tea shops along the way.

The views are amazing: from the summit and on the daytime descent. The colourful Buddhist flags against the green growth and wide open views of surrounding hills, mist covered peaks and valleys were beautiful. Seeing and photographing the great mountain we had just ascended was so much more rewarding after we’d paid our physical dues!

It’s something ‘different’: Sri Lanka is synonymous with sunshine and beaches. Experiencing a totally diverse part of the country at well above sea level and with lower temperatures just helps to provide a more rounded view of the variation across this nation.

Subsequent beach or pool-side retreats will be well-deserved after this!

Our route to the peak


Tight for time, we decided on 1 overnight in Delhousie for this excursion, hiring a car and driver from Colombo to take us to ‘base camp’ and onwards the following morning to our next destination of Weligama on the South West Coast.



This is a small village at the base for climbing Adam’s Peak. There’s a large selection of lodgings, ranging from the equivalent of 3* down. We had pre-selected the Slightly Chilled Guesthouse. Although amenities were quite basic, it was welcoming, clean, had spacious bedrooms, clean bathrooms with lots of hot water, close to the climbing start point, great views of the valley below and Adam’s Peak ahead AND Wi-Fi. Perfectly suited our needs, a lovely place, can thoroughly recommend it.



A five minute walk from the hotel was the mini-town, entrance to our climb and more viewpoints. We explored the neighbourhood at dusk, which was rather beautiful. There were lots of cosy, dimly lit stalls selling sustenance and equipment that might be required by climbers, including rain wear and woollen clothes.

We feasted on a sumptuous western-local buffet for dinner, before getting an early night in lieu of our 2am start.

On our return the next morning, we were treated to an equally fabulous breakfast, including the best omelette I had ever tasted. Hotel staff do ask into your plans for climbing when checking in, so as to make sure you are forewarned about the weather & sunrise time, have what you need and also to check that you do in fact return! They also ensure that a meal is available when you do come back….. it was rather reassuring.

If you don’t intend to climb: there are plenty of shorter walks and trips by vehicle to tea plantations in the vicinity. You can also consider following the climbing trail as far as you feel comfortable – if you do it in daytime, there are often people who will help you up and/or down (you should ask them how much you should pay in advance; they may quote a figure us US $ so check their currency quote and ask for advice at a hotel if you are uncertain about how much to pay – there are no regulated prices!). You can also just relax at the hotel, on your balcony-with-a-view or well-aspected dining area.

Our Climb

Our aim was to reach the summit for the sunrise view. At 2am we left the hotel, laden with mini backup-attire filled back packs. There were a few other travellers beginning the same journey although the village stalls were closed, with just a few table-sellers with water and few snacks near the entrance.

The way up

It was hard! The first few km were not too gruelling, with several flat planes and wide steps. Closer to the top, steps were narrow, steep and seemed never-ending. I had previous problems with my knee, so this hike was a major struggle eventually – I was  pulling myself up by the handrails for the last 200 steps! There was a light rain during the early stages, though cleared up as we reached a higher elevation. We wore raincoats during the showers and Dennis changed his sweaty top at some stage, to avoid getting damp and cold later. We made 3-4 mini pit stops, keeping focused on the passing time – it eventually took us 4 hours as we made it just in time to see the first rays at 6am. We encountered a few Sri Lankans, though the majority were foreign tourists.

Well lit route, yet complete darkness on either side. The entire path was illuminated, with intermittent statues being worshipped throughout, several tea shops and other stalls peddling their wares. The human activity was charming and reassuring – who knows what wildlife was lurking in the dark mountainside! Although impossible to see the surroundings, at certain corners, we observed the lights indicating the climbing route up ahead and heard the sound of flowing water.

At the Top

A crack of light appeared in the sky as we made it just in time and within 20 minutes, there was complete daylight! There were several visitors at the top, though not the volumes experienced at weekends or religious holidays. It was a bit cold and windy – some had waited almost an hour for dawn – their teeth were visibly chattering; shoes needed to be removed at the top: bare feet on cold tiles was uncomfortable (but less painful than the last climbing stretch).

Sky obscured by some rain clouds, we did not witness the fabled sun-cast mountain shadow, but saw instead a stunning rainbow, the magical, colourful change in the sky and eventual view of the planes and hills below and around us. The relief and sense of achievement in itself was gratifying!

We rang the bell at the top, participated in the morning worship ceremony conducted by Buddhist monks, making offerings and reciting prayers in the small shrine protecting the footprint, ate a small handful of xxx (a sweet rice) being shared by a welcoming group and thoroughly enjoyed having suffered the ascent.

The way down

We were finally able to see the beauty that darkness had hidden from us…..

We made it down in 2 hours. Physically, the descent was more torturous on the weak knee, so I went down as fast as I could to the less gruelling part, just to get the pain over and done with. I was put to shame by the men and women carrying their heavy loads of shop replenishments or construction matter!

Useful Tips

  • Don’t be fooled – this is not just a little walk! 5500 steep steps up and the same number back down is not for everyone.
  • From Delhousie, the upward journey will take a minimum of 2.5 hours (for a really fit, fast walker). If you want to make it for sunrise, plan to be up there well in time (by 5.45am). Sunset is at approximately 6pm, after which darkness hits very quickly. If you want to conduct your journey in daylight, time the activity accordingly
  • If walking this in daytime, take plenty of sun protection – hat, long sleeved clothing and suncream. Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated!
  • There are several rest areas and kiosks in the flatter parts of the mountain along the way
  • Optimal period for climbing is between December and May, since rain, wind and heavy mist at other times makes it a tricky ascent. April is the main pilgrimage period, so expect crowds, especially at the summit, which covers only a few square metres….get there early to avoid disappointment. The paths are very narrow, so if congested, you will get stuck in human traffic.
  • Temperatures: at the base it could be 30° C during daytime, though only 15° C at the summit. During northern hemisphere winter months, high temperatures are about 20° C with lows down to 10° C or sometimes less.
  • At the summit, you will need to take off your shoes and walk on the very cold (if early morning) or hot (if afternoon) tiled area. Take a pair of socks to protect your feet if needed, although the pleasure of walking barefoot was quite delightful at that stage
  • Take a small back-pack with clothing layers! If you are used to a very cold climate, take the following: hat (for sun/rain), rain coat, jacket (spring/autumn suited for chill when waiting for sunrise at summit), long trousers (protects against sun, night coolness AND leeches if rainy or wet), a good pair of trainers or walking shoes. You will sweat, even during a night climb, so bring a change of top, since it is cold at the top and your damp clothing will leave you catching a cold
  • Be respectful in what you wear – your companions are predominantly religious pilgrims, who do not wish to view you in beach wear
  • Solo-travellers: hook up with others from your lodgings – crime is perhaps not a big issue, but a buddy in case you get injured could be useful
  • Tea, coffee, water, food can be bought at small stalls en route during the peak months. Some cooked food is available and also packaged product such as biscuits. Tiger balm and leech medicine can be purchased too. Remember to take some cash
  • At night, the route is quite well lit, although a small torch for off-track toilet visits could come in handy (toilet facilities available are far from 5* standards and a small fee for tourists maybe required)
  • Off-season trekking: the route is apparently not lit and there are no tea-stalls, so you will need a bright torch, food & drink and possibly even a guide (ask at any hotel/lodging in Dalhousie). Off season is rainy season is rainy season – very slippery, sometimes dangerous mudslides and definitely leeches. Ask at hotels for warning news and advice.

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