Being mocked has never been a forte of mine. And being mocked whilst hiking up a mountain in the middle of the night wasn’t going down well. I’ve always loved a laugh, but at that precise moment – 1,320 steps into a 3,851 step climb up Sri Lanka’s Adam’s Peak – I was close to throwing my first punch.
An hour or so earlier the buzz of my alarm sent me clambering sleepily into my climbing gear. It was midnight, and after only a few sacred hours of patchy sleep it was time.
A few minutes later and my sister and I were scaling the path down to the mountain’s base. Through the darkness our nervous giggles broke the hazy crickets’ song as our footsteps echoed after us.
After a monk’s blessing I was ready for the ascent. The gentle start lulled me into a false sense of security. ‘Four steps then a flat bit? Seems easy enough to me,’ I’d thought.
Soon noticing my chest tightening, however, the sweat dripping from my brow and cooling in the cold night air, it wasn’t long before I knew: this was not going to be as simple as I’d hoped.
Each step became heavier and heavier, as my significantly fitter sister and our new friend Silvia chatted away next to me. Struggling to keep up, I kept quiet, carefully measuring each precious breath.
Sure enough, within mere minutes of entering the middle section, I hit the proverbial ‘wall’. Now I’ve never hit ‘the wall’ before. It was a phrase I used to ponder with pity and reserve for fit people – marathon runners, for example. But right there, 1,320 steps up, I couldn’t move.
My legs had frozen. So I stooped there, panting like I’d just been dragged through some rapids, my heartbeat pulsating through my ears’ constant ringing, like the beat of a drum and bass song.
Blinking through the sweat that stung my eyes, I could see a beaming young girl next to me. She was laughing. After a pitying look, she turned and ran on ahead. Yes, she ran.
Why, in all the torture it endures, is climbing Adam’s Peak considered a pilgrimage? Ironic, really, how the hellish ordeal’s very reputation connotes enlightenment, joy, a spiritual experience. When in reality all I felt was sick.
It took every ounce of willpower I had to drag my drained, limp limbs up the colossal stone steps and onto the third and final section of the climb. The blissful section gratefully adorned with handrails. Hallelujah!
Heaving myself up the ever-narrowing staircase I could feel the tension build. The temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up, but an underlying buzz of excitement-filled whispers was deafening. Then I saw it, a sign that read: ‘100 metres to go!’
With those 4 little words my exhaustion, my despair, my doubt, had miraculously vanished. Running, just like the young girl had, I charged onto the summit.
And there, in that moment, I understood. Now who’s laughing?