Shadow Quest

Negotiating the Climb up Adam’s Peak

By Dave Fox
Sri Pada, Sri Lanka

If she wants a partner who’s a natural climber, she has alternatives.

[Last Thursday, my wife, Kattina, launched her new occasional column for Globejotting entitled, “Crazy Stuff I Make My Husband Do.” Today, she writes about how she cajoled me to climb a Sri Lankan mountain in the middle of the night. Here is my side of the story… written before I read her version.]


I didn’t want to climb a mountain.

I didn’t want to climb a mountain at all. I especially did not want to climb a mountain in the middle of the night.

“The trail up is only seven kilometers,” Kattina was saying. “It’s lit most of the way. There are steps. I know you can do it.”

She was probably right. In spite of my foot problems, I probably could do it. I could probably also whack myself on the head with a frying pan, but just because I could do something didn’t mean I wanted to.

Yala National Safari Park, Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka: Sunrise at sea level looks fine to me.

“And why do we have to do this in the middle of the night?”

“To see the sunrise at the top.”

“The sun rises at sea level too, you know.”

“But there’s this eerie phenomenon that happens at the top. When the sun comes above the clouds, the mountain’s shadow appears like it’s floating in the sky.”

Was that all she had? A shadow? She wanted me to climb a mountain… in the dark… to see a shadow?

“What if there are no clouds?”

“There are usually clouds.”

“Is there usually rain?”

“Not… well… sometimes.”

“What happens to the shadow then?”

“I guess you don’t see it.”

I sighed.

“Dave, it will be romantic at the top. It’s our honeymoon.”

Okay, fine. Yes, it was our honeymoon and we should do romantic stuff. I was not convinced intense pain and exhaustion would be romantic, however.

But this was part of the deal. It was what I got for marrying a nature freak. Every vacation we go on involves pre-trip negotiations. Kattina draws energy from the so-called “great outdoors” – from climbing, kayaking, snorkeling, trekking through the forest for days with only a water bottle and a couple of matches. Serenity and fresh air feed her spirit. They rejuvenate her. She needs these things.

One of my top travel tips: Talk to strangers!

I enjoy serenity and fresh air in small doses. But I draw my energy from doing what I was told never to do as a child — talking to strangers — meeting people who are different from me, hearing their tales, getting them to tell me  their craziest or most poignant stories. I need humans around me. I need stimulating conversation. Too much solitude, too much time communing with rocks and trees, makes me edgy.

“But there’s a part of it you’ll really like,” Kattina persisted.


“It’s a sacred place for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. We’ll be hiking with pilgrims.”

That, I had to admit, sounded intriguing. “Let me do some reading. I’ll think about it.”

My Rough Guide to Sri Lanka did not paint a romantic picture. “However fit you are,” the book warned, “the Adam’s Peak climb is exhausting – a taxing seven kilometers up a mainly stepped footpath (there are around 5,500 steps) which can reduce even seasoned hill walkers to quivering wrecks.”

Quivering wrecks? If the climb reduced seasoned hill walkers to quivering wrecks, what would it do to an unseasoned, scrawny guy whose primary form of exercise as of late has consisted of occasional sprints down short flights of stairs to fling himself into subway trains as the doors are closing?

“Okay,” I relented. “I’ll climb your mountain. But if my RSD feels like it’s flaring up, I’m stopping.”

Yes, I was playing the RSD card. In 2008, I was diagnosed with a strange and annoying nerve disorder called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD happens when you injure a limb – usually a foot or hand. Your nerves go all crazy and continue sending pain signals to your brain long after your injury heals. Lately, I’d shown only minor symptoms, but if a big flare-up came, it could last for months. And 5,500 uneven  steps – double that if I wanted to come down once I reached the top– were the kind of thing that could set it off.

“Turning back would be difficult,” Kattina said.


“Because you’re on a mountain. There’s not much in the way of shelter. If you stop moving, you’ll get really cold.”

“Excellent! So if I stop partway up and say I can’t walk anymore, you’ll know I’m not faking it.”

Kattina rolled her eyes. I rolled mine too. But she had just won. Even if my nerves did behave, this was going to hurt.


[Kattina’s side of the story: Crazy Stuff I Make My Husband Do: Climbing Adam’s Peak.]

[Dave’s story continues. Coming Thursday:  “5,500 Steps to the Sun: An Accidental Pilgrimage in Sri Lanka.”]

Published on Monday, April 9, 2012

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