Archive for January 2012
The pilgrimage season to Sri Pada begins with the poya in December. The weather is always a little unpredictable at this time with the North East monsoon still being active with gaps of cool, dry weather mixed in with violent thunderstorms. For the last several years I have been taking small groups of OSC IB Environmental Systems & Societies students up to the peak during the same time. My goals have been to give them a sense of ecosystems and the changes in structure, plant types etc. as you ascend. A trek up to the peak through the Peak Wilderness forests give one an excellent cross section of changes in vertical zonation. On the path there are numerous managed landscapes (plantations, hydroelectric schemes etc.) to observe and study. Most importantly the trip gives students a chance to be outside and to feel and breath what has previously been taught in the classroom.
Now that I have fairly decent spatial data of the area, we have been looking at the variety of land uses in the Central Highlands. Starting with rubber plantations and home gardens in the lower elevation and then moving up through patches of undisturbed forests through non-native eucalyptus and pine forests there is a good deal to observe and study. In the mid elevations we passed through the enormous and expansive tea plantations that are the most important feature of Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands. Finally as we pass through the Moray tea estate we encounter the undisturbed montane forest that represents the original vegetation of the hills. The walk up to the peak is mostly spent in these forests but near the summit (after 1,800-2,000 meters) vegetation typical of cloud forests is more prominent (Rhododendron sp. trees, Cyathea tree ferns etc.).
We had an energetic group of seven students that were able to do the walk with relatively minor difficulty. Last year several students had suffered from dehydration and altitude sickness-like symptoms that prevented us form making it to the summit. This year, under similar clear sky conditions, we went slowly. It got cloudy later and half way up to the summit a deluge came down. Thankfully we had made it to a tea shack on the main path. It was quite wet by the time made it to the top where we spent the night. Leaches were a major distraction and the physical challenge of getting up the mountain through the wet forest made it challenging to facilitate learning on the pathway. At the top I shared my Paths to the Peak exhibition brochure with the temple monks, the first time that ‘ve brought it up. Thankfully we were able to get a room to stow gear while most of the group slept on the floor with other pilgrims. The next day’s dawn was beautiful though it lacked the first light and hence mountain shadow. We returned via the Hatton steps and we’re having brunch by 11:00. The 4,600+steps are a real nuisance on one knees and legs and few in the group weren’t limping through the rest of the week. I would prefer to take the decent more slowly but there were schedules to keep and we had the team safely back in Colombo by 3:30.