Everything you need to know about the Adam's Peak trek and prep!
It's 5:30 AM- well, just about. A total of fifty pilgrims, tourists and travelers are sitting on the steps at the entrance of the little temple atop Adam's Peak or Sri Pada as it is locally known, having just finished a 5800+ step climb. Excitement and anticipation rents the air, as they wait to witness what they've been promised is a most glorious, bucket-list sunrise. It's cold, and a soft breeze gently flutters the Buddhist prayer flags. Slowly but surely, the inky sky gives way, and a tiny orange orb emerges from the horizon, opening up breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding hills shrouded in clouds and mist; the sky turns a beautiful melange of reds, oranges and yellows! The sunrise at Adam's Peak doesn't disappoint.
About Adam's Peak
Adam's Peak, or Sri Pada as it also locally known, at 2,243 m, is the fifth highest mountain in Sri Lanka and is considered holy by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. It is also a great place to witness a sunrise, get breathtaking panoramic views of the scenery around, and to see the distinct triangular shadow the mountain casts on the hills and clouds below for a few minutes after sunrise.
It is situated in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, and can be accessed from the towns, Ratnapura and Hatton. There are a number of trails that can be used to reach Adam's Peak, but the most favored one is the Hatton trail, because while being the steepest one, it is the shortest and the path is well lit for night time trekking (during season). Most of the ascent is climbing the 5,800+ cement steps built in the mountainside.
As such, the most favored way of climbing the peak is to do a night-time trek, starting at typically around 2:30 AM, completing the ascent by 5:30 AM, in time for the sunrise.
History, Myth and Legend
Adam's Peak or Sri Pada, is mentioned in many ancient texts. It also finds mention in the travel chronicles of Fa Hien, Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo.
The mountain is considered sacred by Buddhists because they believe the 5-feet-long footprint on top of the peak to be Lord Buddha's. Hindus believe it to be Lord Shiva's during the period of the Ramayana. Christians and Muslims believe the footprint belongs to Adam when he was banished from the garden of Eden.
When to go
The season to climb Adam's Peak begins in December and continues until April-May, peaking in April. Other months aren't considered ideal for scaling the mountain as during the monsoon period, the climb can become treacherous and slippery, and the mist at the top obfuscates the views. As we've mentioned already, to make the climb easier during the season, the path to the top is really well lit throughout the night and is dotted with little tea and biscuit shops along the way, so you can take a quick pit-stop and rejuvenate with a piping cup of tea! On the other hand, season time brings with it crowds, and what that means for the hike is that it gets slower, especially in the parts where the steps are steep and narrow (allowing for only one person to climb at a time). The whole climb can take up to 5 hours. It can take away a bit from the experience too, when there are milling crowds at top on the viewing podiums/steps waiting for the sunrise.
If you want to avoid staggering crowds during season, we recommend doing the hike on weekdays rather than on weekends. We also recommend going just before the season starts in late November or just after the season ends in early June, because that way you can avoid the season crowd and be just in time to avoid rains. Do keep in mind, though, that lights along the path remain turned off off-season, so you'll have to pack a torch or a headlight (more on that in the prep section below).
To take the Hatton trail, the best way is to get to Dalhousie (local name- Nallathanniya) . First, take a train journey from Kandy to Hatton, which takes about 3-3.5 hours and is as scenic as it is convenient. To read more on the train network in Sri Lanka and how to book trains for your itinerary, please read this blog post. From Hatton, you can take a bus or a tuk-tuk to Dalhousie. We recommend taking a tuk-tuk because, the road to Dalhousie is breathtaking, with beautiful tea estates, little waterfalls here and there and a glorious view of Adam's Peak towering above everything else. And you can stop for a bit to take in the views and some photographs! The tuk-tuk ride takes about 1-2 hours, depending on the stops you make.
When to arrive and where to stay
There are quite a few guesthouses in Dalhousie that exist solely for pilgrims and tourists that come for the night trek to Adam's Peak, so there's plenty to choose from. We stayed at the White House Guest House and we recommend it. The food and lodging is great. Here's a link to check out and book it.
Since there isn't much to do in Dalhousie apart from the Adam's Peak trek, most tourists stay for just a night at Dalhousie, checking out the next morning after returning from the trek at about 10 AM. we did the same. But in case you're going off-season, it might be a good idea to keep a buffer day in the off-chance that you're unable to do the hike on one day because of rains. You could use the buffer day to relax after the exhausting but exhilarating climb.
Most tourists arrive at Dalhousie the evening before the climb, and we suggest the same. Turn in early, by about 9 PM, so that you can catch up on some much-necessary sleep before the climb. Wake up at about 2 AM and get ready to start by 2:30 AM.
Prep and gear
Before you call it an early night, keep your little knapsack ready for your nocturnal adventure. Packing the right things will make sure you're equipped for the hike and you'll end up having a much better time! Forget something important, and you're sure to sorely miss it during the hike. Over packing is also a problem you must avoid at all costs, because lugging around all that unnecessary weight is going to be a definite buzz-kill. So, packing all the necessary things is of paramount importance to have a good time during the hike.
So, here's a list of all the things you need in your backpack:
A bottle of water
A hand towel. (You will sweat after that hike, and it will come handy)
Your phone and/ or your camera
Your wallet, or at least some small cash if you don't want to carry your wallet for the trek. (Trust us, you will yearn a cup of hot tea when you see one there!)
A spare t-shirt, if you'd like to swap your wet-with-sweat one for a fresh one.
A torch or headlight. (Especially off-season, as there will be no lights on along the way. Oh, and make sure to check the batteries before your leave for the trek!)
A small packet of salt (Just in case of a leech attack; doesn't happen often but it's good to be prepared)
Sunglasses (You'll want a pair, on your way down!)
A protein bar or chocolate (will come in extremely handy when you want some extra strength during the hike)
Running shoes or trainers are ideal for the hike. It's always a good idea to wear full-length track suit bottoms or hiking trousers because the area has leeches and covering up your lower leg during the hike will help if you encounter any leeches.
It will be quite frosty when you leave for the hike and at the peak, so it's a good idea to wear a sweatshirt and a beanie/ earmuffs. While climbing, you might want to take it off and put it in your backpack or tie it around your waist.
Whatever you do, please DO NOT:
Wear healed shoes for the trek
Forget to carry at least a small bottle of water
Forget to carry some cash
We scaled the peak in late November, and were lucky there was no rain that night (there were sporadic showers throughout the day, but the steps had dried by the time we started the hike, thank god!). We started at about 2:30 AM and took a little less than 3 hours to reach the top. The guesthouses are almost at the base of the trail, and there is a well-charted way to the top- there are signposts at regular intervals. But, you won't really need them because there will be a steady stream of tourists that you can follow!
During off-season, there won't be lights along the way, so carrying a flashlight or wearing headlights will be really important. We stopped to rest for a couple of minutes every now and then, and it's really important to do that because the climb gets steeper as you go up, and you'd want to keep up the strength and spirit till the end!
Another important tip is to drink water and other liquids (tea etc.) strategically, because as far as we know there are no restrooms on the way or at the top. The hike can take up to 5 hours during season because of the slow moving crowds (especially along the steeper parts of the trail), so keep that in mind while planning when to start out, it may help to leave earlier to beat the crowd during season. The epic sunrise is the reward of the hike, so make sure you reach the top before the sun rises and therefore plan your start time accordingly. We scaled the peak in late November and sunrise happened at around 5:45 AM. We reached the top at about 5:30 AM, and that gave us buffer time to cool down and get a good vantage viewing point at the top.
After watching the spectacular sunrise, do not forget to check out and pay your respects inside the temple at the top. It is a quaint little temple, which also houses the above mentioned footprint (which are open for viewing during season time). But the most important thing to see when you go inside the temple, apart from the gorgeous panoramic views, is the shadow the mountain casts on the clouds and hills below. For this you need to go to the opposite end of the temple. After this, ring the giant bell once for successfully climbing the peak. We spent about an three quarters of an hour looking around and soaking in the views. This is a good idea also because you avoid the going-back rush right after the sunrise. We also recommend resting a bit before going down, as climb down is quite exhausting for the already jaded feet.
The climb down is very spectacular, because you view the surrounding beauty of the route for the first time while going down. We took quite a few stops to admire the pretty hills, little waterfalls and even the Peace Pagoda, on the way back, and we suggest you do the same!
Let's talk numbers
We absolutely loved the Adam's Peak trek, and the sunrise was spectacular, and beyond a doubt one of the best we've witnessed in our wanderings abroad. If you're going to Sri Lanka, we absolutely recommend you put this in your itinerary.
We'd love to help you plan your Adam's Peak hike and answer any questions you have! Happy adventure-planning!