The 2,243-m Adam’s Peak is also known as Sri Pada, which means Sacred Footprint- referring to the rock formation at the summit. While Buddhists believe it to be an imprint of Buddha’s foot, Hindus associate it with Shiva, Muslims with Adam and Christians with St Thomas. The Peak is, however, primarily a Buddhist site. Saman, one of the island’s most important gods, is believed to be the guardian deity of the peak.
The easiest and shortest route up the mountain is from Dalhousie, where the majority of visitors base themselves, but many pilgrims also climb from the Ratnapura side. The 7 km ascent consists of around 5,500 steps. The climb is traditionally made at night- most people set off at 2am and take about 4 hours to reach the peak to watch the break of dawn. It is possible to climb during the day, but the peak is often shrouded in cloud then and the views are obscured.
The summit itself is covered in a jumble of buildings. The footprint lies sheltered under a pavilion, where people can be seen praying or ringing the two bells nearby to mark their ascent. As dawn breaks, the sun casts a unique triangular shadow of the peak that seems to hang in mid-air in front of the mountain.
The pilgrimage season begins in December and continues until May. During this period, the steps leading to the peak are illuminated, and there are little stalls along the road route offering tea and snacks to pilgrims and tourists. However, it may be a good idea to bring a torch, as some sports near the starting point can be dark if the lights are not working. On poya days, long weekends and during the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year in April, the mountains paths can get very busy. Be sure to set aside enough time to reach the summit- it is common to get stuck in slow-moving queue.
Although a guide is not needed in season, as there will be many others making the ascent, it is advisable to hire one during the off season when the way up can be lonely and dark. Solo travelers can organize a guide or team up with others; dinner at the Slightly Chilled Guest House is a good opportunity to strike up conversation and find walking partners. Bringing warm clothing is recommended, since it can be cold at the summit. It is also advisable to wear sturdy shoes and carry water, a hat and sunscreen- once the sun is up, it can be scorching.
When making the descent, be sure to walk the right way and down and not follow the path heading to Ratnapura- if there are few people on the path, it is probably not the right one.