Hiking hysteria was the unexpected health fad of 2015 as body conscious celebs and#strongisthenewskinny instagram girls posted nauseating selfies of their lean, lycra-clad bodies bounding through the LA Hills, seemingly without breaking a sweat or dishevelling an eyelash. Thankfully, they haven’t discovered Sri Lanka yet.
I’ve beon going on orienteering holidays since I was a child and have fond memories of week-long trips to the wind-whipped outer Hebrides and camping out in remote bothies in the shivering Shetland Isles. Like most Londoners though, my exercise regime back home is pretty much governed by gym opening hours and finding the time to go for a post work jog. But in Sri Lanka, I re-discovered my long-forgotten love of hiking. It began with the epic pilgramage to Adam’s Peak – the mountain of the Sacred Footprint.
The trip started in Nuwara Eliya, fRon King Fern’s Cottage Hostel where I woke to spectacular views over the lush golf course below. After breakfast on the terrace I got a tuk tuk to the local bus station. As luck would have it I was sat next to Chris, an easy going Canadian guy from Alberta who became my travel buddy for a few days. We were both heading to Dalhousie (pronounced ‘del-house’ apparently), the most popular starting point for pilgrims wanting to reach the summit of Adam’s Peak.
Two buses later, we’d arrived. It’s a town geared up towards the pilgrimage with stalls selling woolly hats, religious offerings and hiking gear lining the steep streets. We stocked up on water and bananas for our hike and spent the evening watching the sun set over the daunting mountain we’d vowed to climb in the morning. I say ‘the morning’ but in fact, you have to set off at 2.30am to reach the summit in time for sunrise so it’s more of a midnight meander up 2,243 metres to the conical, congested peak. Dusk from Delhoise is a awe-inspiring sight in itself and we drank beer whilst basking in its glorioious backdrop – contemplating whether it was REALLY necessary to put ourselves through the gruelling feat in order to appreciate it’s beauty. The geometric sunset was a marvel in itself…
At 2am and after a terrible night’s sleep, we hauled ourselves out of bed to begin the trek. In my zombie-like state I mechnically marched up steep winding steps, following my chatty travel companion like a lost, sleep-deprived dog. There are dozens of stalls all the way up flogging everything from steaming cups of black tea with condensed milk to spicy vegetable samosas and bunches of tiny bananas to fuel your sleepy body.
The trek is a magnet for thrill-seeking backpackers like us but there are an equal number of pilgrims making the steep ascent. It’s quite remarkable to watch 80 year old women being hauled up and down by their relatives or babies being carried by their fathers, clad only in flimsy flip flops. Whilst the tourists are sweating bucketloads beneath thin t-shirts and mountaineering shorts, the locals are shrouded in swathes of fleecey blankets – you’d really think the two groups were experiencing completely different climates. Regardless of what you wear though, everyone looked like they were struggling up to the top!
At the peak, it’s akin to a small and tidy refugee camp – locals huddled together, fast asleep under blankets, whilst sleep-deprived tourists shuffle and rearrange themselves for the best glimpse of the mysterious peak shadow. Each group has a different motivation for being there but there’s a shared sense of triump when you reach the summit, where a sea of bleary faces blink back at you beneath their hats and hoods.
Setting off at 2.15, we made the top in good time – stopping twice on route for a much-needed injection of caffeine. It’s a challenging walk (5200 steps in total), not in terms of the terrain but the repetitiveness puts strain on your knees and my calves were buckling by the way down. I ached for 3 days afterwards but it was one of the highlights of my trip to Sri Lanka – even if I did watch the sunset from the wrong side of the mountain! It’s definitely worth taking extra layers for the top as your sweat-drenched t-shirt will leave you shovering unless you have a dry one to change in to.
The next day, limbs still throbbing from the epic ascent, we made our way to the backpacking haven of Ella. Jam-packed with lovely homestays and every type of cuisine imaginable, this is a good place to put down your roots for a couple of days and recover from the gruelling trek up Adam’s Peak. We stumbled across Samadhi Guest Inn, housing possibly the cheapest rooms in pricey Ella and perfectly located just out of town on the way to Little Adam’s Peak.
Gluttons for punishment, we decided to walk Little Adam’s Peak the very next morning, reasoning that it would stretch out our weary muscles and help us recover quicker. It didn’t. But it was a much more leisurely hike – more of an uphill stroll in comparison. You’ll be rewarded by a panoramic view of the valley, it’s less dramatic vista than it’s big brother but well worth the trip if you’re in Ella.
BACKPACKING IN HEELS TIPS:
- After Little Adam’s Peak, take a right and follow the signs to the 98 Acres hotel. It’s the perfect spot to reward yourself with a banana smoothie or beer before heading back to town.
- Eat in your guesthouse as Delhouise restaurants aren’t great, they’re often capitalising on the fact you’re only their for one night – food it poor and portions stingy.
- For Adam’s Peak, take layers but pack light in terms of water and supplies, you can buy stuff on route. Don’t linger long after sunset at Adam’s Peak, the heat on the descent is brutal.
- For Little Adam’s Peak, you can hike it in flip flops – it’s really not a challenging walk but the view is incredible.
- In Ella, indulge your craving for Western food at Cafe Chill and work your way through their impressive cocktail list. For the best Sri Lankan food, grab one of the few tables at A Different Corner. It serves fantastic lampis, a traditional rice dish cooked in a parcel of banana leaves.