Travelers and devotees greet the dawn from atop Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka

Adam’s Peak — 5,200 Steps to Get to Eden

Sunrise prayers atop Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
Sunrise prayers atop Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

Depending on which legend you believe, Adam’s Peak is either the original location of where Adam was exiled from Eden, the spot where Buddha left his footprint en-route to paradise or where butterflies go to die.

In any case, pilgrims from around the world have flocked there for more than 1,000 years to to climb the 5,200 stairs reaching more than a mile into the sky. Well, put us on the Mayflower and send us to Boston because we wanted to climb up as well.

According to our guidebook, a 2:30am start would get us to the top with plenty of time to spare to catch the sunrise. What it didn’t mention was that the start was around 30 minutes from our hotel and that we would get lost multiple times en-route.

So, after a few false starts we finally begun our ascent. The beginning was easy enough; the stairs were short and had long flat areas every dozen or so. Not that we took advantage, but every few minutes there were also lines of vendors and shops where we could rest, get a drink or even take a nap. This would have been nice to know before we packed nearly four liters of water for the hike thinking we need it all.

The steps up to Adam's Peak at 3:00am
The steps up to Adam’s Peak at 3:00am

Up we went: climbing and climbing, sweating and sweating some more. Every few minutes we would see pilgrims on the way down. Some had shaking knees and others were being helped by friends and family. Ages ranged from babies asleep on their parent’s shoulder to elderly men and women who probably know every step by heart. Not once did we hear an encouraging, “you’re almost there.”

After what seemed like an eternity of climbing and increasingly steep stairs we saw a railing and assumed that we were almost at the top. “Only 1,500 more stairs,” a local told us. Uuuugh. We refused to believe him but, as we hiked for another 30 minutes, at times physically pulling our bodies up using the rail, we realized he was telling us the truth. It seems that in addition to the 5,200 advertised steps there were thousands of little rocks, hilly areas and other things to climb that didn’t get counted.

The sunrise view from atop Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
The sunrise view from atop Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

Our final time to the top was a little over two hours and the view was well worth the effort. However, we were not prepared for the bitter cold winds that cut through the thin shirts we had on. We finally saw why all the locals were climbing up with hats, jackets and other warm clothes. So we stood there, shivering, waiting for the sun to rise. I snapped some photos, we saw the sacred footprint and then we hunkered down in a less windy area.

The top itself had a small shrine area, corridors for sleeping and staying warm (that were completely filled with head to toe sleepers), more shrines and rows of toilets. The actual footprint was covered by a gold plated footprint that was then covered by a piece of cloth covered with donations from pilgrims and tourists alike. Carrie and I both sounded a bell to let the world know that we were up there and watched as night became day over foggy and cloudy mountains that went on for miles.

Walking down from Adam's Peak ... along with hundreds of monks
Walking down from Adam’s Peak … along with hundreds of monks

As the sun was now up, it was time to begin our descent before the same sun that felt so good on our cold bodies began beating down on us. We were very worried about our knees and how we would handle going down, as it is often harder than the climb. However, we wound up chatting with a British couple for most of the walk and before we knew it, we were back at the base. Every time we stopped to snap a photo, get blessed by a monk or just take in take in the view we got all wobbly, so there was not much time to pause.

All in all I would say it is the second hardest hike I’ve ever done behind climbing a volcano on Isla Omatepe in Nicaragua. But well worth ever one of the 10,000 (by my completely non-scientific or accurate estimate) steps.