Aside from it being a spiritual place, I knew nothing of Adam’s Peak when I added it to my list of places to see. My itinerary came back from DS Tours with and early morning hike scheduled prior to departing for the airport on the last day. I assumed that meant a quick jaunt to some scenic overlook before getting on the road.
On the long drive south to Adam’s Peak, our wild elephant sightings give way to rolling hillsides of tea plantations. As our journey progresses and Charith and I chat, more details emerge of what I have signed up for. I learn it isn’t exactly a quick jaunt but a 7 km hike. Then I discover I will need to start at 2:30 am as the goal is to be at the temple at the top of the mountain in time for sunrise. Which means I will be hiking in the dark. And then I realize he meant 7 km each way. And that despite the one hundred degree weather we had each day on this trip so far, it will be quite cold on the peak so I’ll need a lot of clothes (that I don’t really have). And, of course, it is off season so I will likely be hiking alone.
Upon discovery of each of these details, I remark briefly about my nervousness and with each detail Charith gives an encouraging response reminding me of the many elderly who make this trek annually and that my marathon training is likely more than enough preparation. My first glimpse of the peak I am to climb leaves me speechless. In truth, I am utterly unprepared for this hike.
The night before the hike, Charith’s appearance at dinner surprises me as I usually eat alone. He has come to tell me the plans he has made for my hike the following morning. Evidently he has been downplaying his concerns in an effort to encourage me, all the while making a plan to ensure my safety. Behind the scenes he has been working diligently to get me a flashlight, find a place I can buy snacks for the trail, and found the only other hikers any of the locals knew of that would be making the trek the following day: a Latvian family, who was currently eating dinner at the only restaurant open (it was off season after all). We interrupt their dinner to inquire if I can hike with them and they graciously agree to allow me to join them at 2am.
Surrounded by complete darkness, we leave the hotel and make for the trail head; the five Latvians are fully prepared with head lamps and walking sticks and hiking attire. I brought every layer I could muster, with 7 thin shirts, only 2 of them long sleeved, and my casual shoes. At the start of the trail are two monks whose orange robes are illuminated by the flickers of light we provide. One says a prayer for each of us as he ties a piece of white string around our right wrists. There are a couple of other people there too – all of whom, of course, look far better prepared than I as they set out on this adventure.
I hang back a little, walking behind the family a good bit, intending to allow them the space to have their experience as a family and also to allow me to have mine. We don’t talk much. The father, a tall and strong looking man, turns around every so often – presumably to make sure I am still there – but never says anything.
Nearly an hour into the hike a stray dog appears and begins to walk alongside me. Strays are a common fixture of the Sri Lankan landscape; I assume he wants food. He stays close to me, slowing when I slow. Stopping to rest when I stopped to rest. It isn’t until several hours later that I notice the wound that spans the length of his body, partially healed, but still quite gnarly.
A steady incline the whole way, I enjoy hearing the sounds of rushing water and wonder the source – a river? perhaps waterfalls? It isn’t until the return trip, with the sun illuminating my surroundings, that I see the source of the soothing sounds that had peppered my ascent – many beautiful waterfalls.
As I get closer to the top, my pace slows considerably. Partially fatigue, partially altitude, I am ready for the hike to be over. The dog, forever my companion for this hike, continues to keep pace as if we haven’t climbed thousands of steps. Just when I don’t think I can walk anymore and each step is a chore, we reach the top of the mountain.
The temple marking the Sacred Footprint isn’t open yet so we wait outside the gate. Sacred to three religions, this mountain top temple marks the place where Adam (for Muslims), Shiva (for Hindus), and the Buddha (for Buddhists) are believed to have appeared and stepped down to earth, leaving a sacred footprint.
Without the physical exertion of the stairs, I begin to notice the cold seeping in. My clothing, wet with sweat, betrays my body’s warmth. A monk appears with small cups of tea for sale. I hold the hot beverage in both hands, willing it to warm my core. I take a few small sips, hoping the beverage will warm me from the inside.
As the sun takes its place in the sky, orange robed monks emerge from their hut to open the temple and conduct morning prayers. I remove my shoes and walk in my socks towards the altar, puddles are unavoidable from the damp, foggy air of the early morning. I wonder briefly if hours from now, mid-descent, I will regret getting my only pair of socks wet. The monks chanting their morning prayers draw me into the temple.
With the sun fully in the sky, we begin our 5,500 stair descent home. By now, after hours of hiking, the Latvians and I are talking like old friends. The son, a university student, begins to ask me questions of life in the States – things that he has been exposed to in classes or on TV/the internet, some of which make me giggle a little such as: Why do people make fun of New Jersey? We share the daily details of life in our home countries until we reach the point when he has no more questions for me; from then on we walk in silence, enjoying the morning.
My Adam’s Peak hike is the perfect way to end a deeply moving trip to Sri Lanka. I leave the island feeling more grounded and connected to spirit. Estuti, Sri Lanka. Thank you.