Is it really a bad choice if you’re still blogging?

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Sri Lanka 2023
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We had a couple great days of workshop activities, including lots of opportunities to just make connections with new friends around the world. I especially loved getting a chance to talk politics with Indians.

Today and tomorrow are my free days before I start making my way back home. I decided to use today to do some hiking in the mountains. Initially I was eyeing a trail on AllTrails, but the Lonely Planet guidebook mentioned an off-the-beaten-track path up Alagalla Mountain, which caught my eye with a mention of some rope-supported scrambles. As I sit here, 8 hours later, nursing many, many cuts and leech bites, I do wonder if this was the best decision, but I’m still here so it can’t have been that bad.

I grabbed a tuktuk out to the start of the hike. The guidebook instructions were suitably vague, but mentioned starting at the Alagalla Tea Factory and heading up from there. This is a totally unmarked trail from start to finish, so I just picked the road going up and started walking.

The initial part of the hike is a gentle slope through tea plantations. At every house, giddy children burst out laughing in response to a friendly wave and a hello – honestly, this place is absurdly friendly. After a bit, the trail went into the forest and got a lot steeper. My friends the leeches were back – not as aggressively as at the forest preserve, but the steps-per-leech count was still in the low single digits.

It’s an aggressively vertical climb, and I was properly winded by the time I got to the first big granite outcropping. That seemed like a great opportunity to fully de-leech and have a snack, enjoying the awesome views and a nice breeze. From the outcrop, I could also see the summit, which made things seem manageable.

More climbing brought me to the steep rock pinnacle that comprises the summit. Getting up involved some scrambling, including using a definitely-not-sketchy bit of rope to haul myself up the last bit. The reward was an epic view of the valleys below, as well as all the mountains in the distance. There was low cloud cover, which impeded the view a bit but also meant it wasn’t scorching hot.

I lingered at the summit for a bit, before starting the descent. Getting off the top meant going down a very steep 20 meter rock face. Thankfully, there’s a rope. Less thankfully, the rope wasn’t actually attached and was in no condition to support a person. Instead I did some very sketchy sliding down the face.

Off the summit, there’s a 20 minute walk across the ridge line to a Buddhist temple built on another outcrop. This section of trail was the most leech-y, taking place mostly under tree cover with damp ground. Emerging to the outcrop with the temple is quite a sight. It’s worth noting, after leaving the tea farms, I never saw another human – I had the mountain to myself.

The descent is where things all went a bit pear shaped. The guidebook mentioned another trail going down, ending up at a train station. The book warned that it was very steep, but it seemed worth doing, since I wasn’t sure I could get back up to the summit and I wasn’t sure I could traverse around it.

Finding the trail was a bit of a kerfuffle. Actually, it was whatever the next step up from kerfuffle is. The book was vague and implied it was a less frequently used path, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even the trail I took up was pretty tough to spot at times – “is this grass trampled or just a little bent?” – so I had some false starts. First I started making my way down the rock face, but it went from “sketchy” to “oh I’m definitely going to die” pretty quickly, so I scrambled back up.

Next, I took what looked like a more promising trail, but it turned steep and damp, and a few slips meant I was mostly being supported by very thick, very stabby vines and brush. Oh, and some of those trees with the 2 inch spikes all along their trunk.

It took me a good 20 minutes to fight my way back up to the temple, bleeding all over and exhausted. I took off my shoes and removed a bunch of leeches from inside my socks – charming. I was beginning to think that maybe going back the I came was the best option, but I did one more scouting run and found a more promising trail.

This trail, once discovered, mostly followed the guidebook description – very steep, but mostly manageable. At a few points, it disappeared entirely, but I was able to pick it up again. I had some pretty good falls but mostly stayed upright. About an hour and a half later, a few small farms started appearing, each with friendly if somewhat confused residents. A ways further down the hill brought me a small village and the train station!

The train wasn’t due for about 90 minutes, so I decided to hike further down the hill to a junction in the hopes I might be able to just get an Uber back to Kandy. Sadly, it was not to be – after 10 minutes of “just finalizing the details” messages, I gave up and made my way back up the hill to the station. Along the way, some young boys from the village got excited to show me the shortcut back to the station – by the time we got there, there were 8 or 10 of them following along and practicing their “hellos”. I gave them all fist bumps and waved goodbye, then found a Pepsi at a small house/store near the station and waited for the train.

The ride back was super pleasant – the train hugs the mountains with some long tunnels, and great views. I splurged on a tuktuk from the station back up to the hotel, showered, removed more leeches, and then splurged on another ride down to Hideout for some food and to write this blog.

All in all, it was a great day out – gorgeous views, a mountain all to myself, plenty of adventure. A few rounds of “oh gosh I might die” can’t spoil that.

2 thoughts on “Is it really a bad choice if you’re still blogging?

  • Susan July 9, 2023 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Hmmm… this reminds me of your Dolomite adventures. Perhaps you might have second thoughts about hiking alone, gently suggests your mother. Glad you’re OK. Hope leeches don’t carry deadly diseases!

  • Barbara Luedtke July 10, 2023 at 8:13 pm Reply

    I read this one right after your tips on insurance! Yikes! I hope you are insured to the max for that type of extreme adventure! However, it sounds like you enjoyed lovely views, friendly folks and expanded knowledge/experience that we hope for in our travels. Great stories, great memories!

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