Crazy Stuff I Make My Husband Do: Climbing Adam’s Peak

By Kattina Rabdau-Fox
Sri Pada, Sri Lanka

[This column is the second installment in a new, occasional series on Globejotting. Read last Thursday’s introduction here.]


Come on, Dave. Drink the delicious Kool-Aid. I mean, coconut milk.

When I want to get Dave to do something I know he isn’t going to like, I have to be calculated in how I broach the subject.  Luckily, I have a keen interest in holiday planning and have usually thought out three or more proposed itineraries before he has even cracked the spine of a guidebook.  So when we chose Sri Lanka over Borneo for our honeymoon (Borneo sounded too rainy in December, and Dave was reticent to go on the via ferrata, a cabled climbing route up Mount Kinabalu, Borneo’s tallest peak, like I had planned), I surreptitiously began researching mountains that would take Kinabalu’s place.

I found a photo of a mountain so high that at sunrise, it cast a perfectly triangular shadow onto the land below.  This was a no-brainer for me.  I had to climb it.  And not only did I have to climb it, Dave would have to go too.

Dave is not one to disavow cultural rites of passage in other countries. If he can participate in a cross-cultural connection, he’s in. He’s eaten chicken penis with a family in rural Vietnam; he’s the only person I know who has done that.  The only way I would get him to climb a giant mountain was to appeal to his “culturalist” ideals.

Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s most important mountain. A geologic anomaly, it rises thousands of feet above any other peak in the area.  It’s a holy site for Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim pilgrims.  Buddha and Shiva are said to have set foot there.  According to Christians and Muslims, it is where Adam first set foot on Earth after being cast from the Garden of Eden. The climbing season stretches from December to April, when pilgrims come by the thousands.  Some climb in bare feet with prayer in their hearts and on their lips.

For hikers and sightseers, Adam’s Peak offers a chance to climb a bona-fide mountain, with its trail winding seven kilometers up precarious cliffs, and a staircase of some 5,500 steps. The best way is to do it all before sunrise.  Did I mention that?  Oh I didn’t.  Huh, that’s funny.

A month before our trip, I began suggesting how amazing it would be to be part of a pilgrimage, that there was a holy site important to all four of Sri Lanka’s main religions, and that people of all persuasions would be going there.

Dave was interested.

“The only problem is it’s a bit of a climb.”

“How much are we talking about?”

“I’m not sure, but look at this picture.” (I showed Dave pictures of beautifully adorned Buddhist pilgrims.)

“I’ll think about it.”

That is Dave’s polite way of saying, “Not likely, but if you give me some time and some beer, I might say ‘yes.’”

Two weeks later, I was making inroads.

“So, you see, it does involve some getting to, and while I am most likely going to do it regardless of whether you want to, it would make most sense for you to come to this area. It’s off the beaten path.”

“But I can decide if I want to climb it?”

“Of course.  Just for the record, we have to wake up early for the hike.”

“How early?”

“I’m not sure, but let me show you this picture.” (I showed him another breathtaking picture of a Buddhist stupa.)

Arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, Dave and I had an epiphany.  We were thankful to finally be back in a non-Western part of Asia.  Singapore, where we moved to from Seattle last July, is great, but we were  seeking the cultural differences of somewhere more foreign.  Colombo had what we were missing in Singapore: tuktuks, big linguistic challenges, and cheap beer, to name a few things.  But in all of our planning, we hadn’t booked any accommodations.  We had thought we wouldn’t need advanced reservations over Christmas and New Year, and then we found out we were probably the most stupid tourists coming to Sri Lanka ever.   We had to book hotels! Now!  A grievous afternoon at a travel agent ensued.

I mentioned a few things we wanted to do—Sigiriya, Kandy, the tea estates, Adam’s Peak, Yala National Park.

The agent responded with a head waggle.  His eyes darted up from the map. “You want to climb Adam’s peak? That means you are going to have to start up the mountain at midnight. It is very difficult.”

Dave turned to me with what I remember as hate-filled dagger eyes.  The travel agent, sensing hostility,  left the room.

“Kattina,” Dave asked, “what are you getting me into?”

“For the record, I didn’t think you had to start climbing at midnight.”

“Kattina, he says it’s difficult. He’s a young, fit guy.”

“Truly.  I can’t help that it’s a mountain with a lot of stairs.”

“How many stairs?”

“I’m not sure, but let me show you this picture.”

A few days later, there was a moment that illuminated just how patient Dave is, and how far he will go to see me happy.  When our driver seemed dubious of our plan, and lobbied hard that we do something else instead of going out to Adam’s Peak, Dave pushed back.

“This is the single most important experience Kattina wants on this trip,” Dave said, “and you are going to get us there.  End of argument.”

We shopped for fuzzy hats and wind resistant clothing in the mountain town of Nuwara Eliya. (Thank God Columbia Sportswear has its factory there.) Dave agreed to hike Adam’s Peak, even though he was worried about the climb up and terrified of the climb down.

When it was time to go, the weather was perfect. We climbed overnight and made it to the top. In the end we stood at the summit among the pilgrims. In the morning light we saw the shadow.

Dave is off the hook now for Mount Kinabalu.

Machu Picchu sometime in the future? That’s a different story.


[Dave’s side of the story: Crazy Stuff My Wife Makes Me Do.]

Published on Monday, April 9, 2012

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