First, let me tell you that this title is a little white lie … I actually only did climb Adam’s Peak 1.5 times! The first time was in 2011 and it was a physical challenge, a cultural experience and one of my travel highlight of all time. The second time was just a few months ago in April 2019, and it was nothing short of a disaster. Sorry mum, if you read this … I really wish it had gone differently.
Before getting starting, if you are looking for more travel recommendations on Sri Lanka, here are a few articles you might like:
- 1 week Sri Lanka itinerary
- 24 hours in Kandy, the complete guide
- 8 tips to enjoy the Kandy to Ella train ride
- 5 tips to prepare for your hike in Horton Plains
Now, let’s get to it. Here are 10 lessons I am happy to share with you to make sure you make the most of your own Adams’s Peak climb.
IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO START CLIMBING ADAM’S PEAK
Adam’s Peak is accessible at any time of the day, however, I do recommend to climb Adam’s Peak at night, to enjoy a stunning sunset from the top. Most tourists leave the “base town” of Dalhousie around 2 am, aiming to get to the top at 5 am and catch the sunrise. If you are not that fit, prefer to take your time, or if you anticipate a lot of crowds, leave around midnight. That will give you lots of time to reach the top of Adam’s Peak without the stress of missing the sunrise.
LAYERING IS KEY
As you leave Dalhousie in the middle of the night, the temperature is quite chilly, so you should layer on some warm clothes before leaving the hotel. Climbing the 5,000 steps of Adam’s Peak will definitely make you hot, but once you reach the top, at 2,243 m of altitude, hopefully before sunrise, you will be chilled to the bone again. And as you walk down with the rising sun, it will be hot again. You get my point: Layers! For more info on how to dress while hiking, check out this comprehensive Hiking Outfit for Women guide.
YOU DON’T NEED TO BRING WARM CLOTHES TO ADAM’S PEAK
No, this is not a total contradiction to my previous tip! What I mean is that since you are holidaying in a tropical country, maybe you didn’t bring any warm clothes with you, and that is okay. Dalhousie is packed with little shops selling everything you need for your climb, dirt cheap. I bought a sweater for 5 USD, and a raincoat for less than that. It was a 1-time use though … not quite my style, but it does the job for the night.
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
If like me you are not very sporty, climbing all 5,000 steps of Adam’s Peak is no joke. When I did the hike back in 2011, I was with 2 fit girlfriends (Coucou les chatons sportives!) and they were going quite fast, while I suffered a little at the back. This year, as I was doing the hike with my mum, we took it a lot slower and stopped regularly. It was a lot more comfortable and I felt completely fine and I was confident I will reach the summit without too much struggle! Which made me realize there is no need to rush, the most important is to go at your own pace and all the way through the finish line.
The first 30 min to 1hour of the hike is almost flat, so you might think it is a going to be a walk in the park… it won’t be, so don’t start too strongly. There is plenty of resting area along the path, so you can easily break your hike into smaller portions.
So again, slow and steady and you will definitely manage to reach the top.
IT IS EASY TO REFUEL ALONG THE WAY
If you climb Adam’s Peak during the pilgrimage period (December to May), there will be many shacks where you can buy food, drinks and sit for a rest. So there is really no need to pack a heavy bag of supplies unless you want some healthy options. Most of the food available is roti, chips, cookies, etc …
GOING TO THE LOO IS NOT A DESIRABLE OPTION
If you stop to drink along the way, keep in mind that although there are toilets regularly along the climb, it might not be up to your standards. So a good idea would probably be to pack some toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just in case you really need to visit the loo. Or to not drink!
THE WAY DOWN ADAM’S PEAK IS NEARLY AS DIFFICULT AS THE WAY UP
For anyone familiar with hiking that might be obvious, but it wasn’t for me when I first climbed Adam’s Peak: Going down is almost as tough as climbing up. Walking down 5,000 steps put enormous pressure and generate a lot of impacts on your knees. If you have sensitive knees, consider bringing a hiking pole.
STRETCHING IS CARING
Congratulations, you hiked Adams’ Peak summit and came back down, it is early morning and you want to grab breakfast and go to bed. I get it, I am the same. But the first thing you should do is stretch your poor legs to avoid very heavy muscles aches.
Good thing though, there is a very strategically located leg massage station right at the start and finish of Adam’s Peak! It is sponsored by a brand of Tiger Balm equivalent, and although I can’t remember the price, I bet it was dirt cheap. A long stretch and a strong massage and you will feel like new.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DAY TO CLIMB ADAM’S PEAK IS ESSENTIAL
This is really the most important piece of advice I have about climbing Adam’s Peak, because choosing the wrong date will absolutely ruin your experience. It is important to understand that Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage place, much more popular with locals than with tourists. By very far.
Logically the crowd gets more intense during weekends and local holidays. It is also busier during full moon nights, as the path is well lit by the moon throughout the night. The heavy crowd will mean you waiting in line for hours to hopefully reach the summit.
So by all mean, if you are planning to hike Adams’s Peak avoid these times: Weekends, Full moon, National holidays (exp. in April).
Just to explain you further what could happen if you pick a very busy day, here is my personal experience of hiking Adam’s Peak on the worst possible night: On a full moon, during a local holiday.
“Our driver heard that the way up to Adam’s Peak was very crowded, and he recommended to leave the hotel at 12 am, which we did. The endless flow of buses in Dalhousie even at that time of the night worried me immediately. We started climbing and it was a lot busier than during my first time there, but still very manageable. We climbed for a few hours, at a relatively slow pace, because my mum needed some regular breaks, but also because at time, there were too many people around, stopping, sitting on stairs and it was difficult to make our way through. After 3 hours I think we were only about halfway up, so I was glad we had left very early. However, all of a sudden, we came to a complete stop … There was absolutely no way to move forward and all I could see in front of me was a sea of human beings. What worried me even more, was looking back down and seeing the massive crowd that kept on coming our way, while only a handful of people were walking down. I remembered reading somewhere that it could take up to 9 or 10 hours to reach the top in this kind of circumstances. I don’t have that kind of patience, but most importantly I am too agoraphobe to stand in that crowd. As a couple of tourists walked down past us, they told us there was no way to get to the top, and we quickly decided to walk back down. I felt sad and disappointed, especially because my mum was so excited and happy to be here, and I really wanted her to have the same beautiful experience I had years ago. Yet I had a sense of relieve as I just felt it was becoming unsafe. Just imagine what would happen if anyone trips and falls down those stairs, bringing people down on its way …
It took us 2 hours to make our way back to the hotel, and by 5 am we were back to bed, the sun had not risen yet … I woke up a couple of hours later wondering is all that night even happened! “
FAITH WILL MAKE PEOPLE DO EXTRAORDINARY THINGS
This is really something that hit me during these 2 hikes … the extraordinary length to which people would go because they have faith, and a sense of duty towards that faith.
Sri Lankan don’t climb Adam’s Peak for the physical challenge, the cultural experience or the gorgeous views. They hike, and they pray and they hike some more because the temple at the top of Adam’s Peak is home to a precious footprint of Buddha. And although the walk up is challenging and irregular, the ground is muddy, slippery, rocky, the weather gets cold at night and extra hot during the day, people of all ages and all physical conditions, in all kind of outfits, just keep climbing up, no matter what.
I have seen grannies wearing flipflops holding on to their handbags, young women carrying and breast-feeding their newborn, grandparents holding hands with their grandchildren, kids running barefoot, youngster actually carrying some elderlies, I helped an old lady go through a tough path of very high stairs because she looked so unsteady, and saw an old man face plant into the ground as he lost balance walking down the stairs … you name it.
The first time I hiked Adam’s Peak I felt very joyful and humbled … the second time I felt more sadness and empathy for the people. Both times my heart was full.
Frankly, if you are not after the physical challenge or the view … the cultural experience is a good enough reason to climb Adam’s Peak.
I hoped some of these lessons learned will be helpful for you in planning your climb of Adam’s Peak. If you have any question feel free to leave a little comment below! Thanks.
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