Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Sri Pada Field Study 2018 & 2020

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On our way to the summit of Sri Pada. Looking up at the peak on Day 1 of the three day ES&S field study in Peak Wilderness.

Sri Pada Field Study 2020

The annual OSC Sri Pada field study was revived again last month when a small group of OSC’s DP1 students and their teachers spent three days climbing and staying on top of this sacred pinnacle in the midst of the biodiversity-rich Peak Wilderness area. The learning experience gives the class an important opportunity to learn more about the peak, its biodiversity, vertical changes in forest vegetation, contrasting land uses and its cultural significance as an important Buddhist pilgrimage site. It is also a physically demanding experience that left our group exhausted and sore yet elated by its concluding day.

2018 Recap

Rewinding back to the last academic year, I had chosen to join Will Duncan’s Physics field study at Norton Bridge. My ES&S class was quite small and I was interested in having my students learn more about hydroelectricity in Sri Lanka. We went to Norton Bridge in December 2018 and spent two nights in the area. The highlight was getting a tour of the Wimalasurendra Hydroelectric Power Station. This station is part of the Laxapana valley cascade generating system that utilizes water coming down from the Central highlands through the Kelani river. The 52 MW pant is named after the “father of Sri Lanka’s hydroelectricity program” D. J. Wimalasurendra and was built in the late 1950s (CEB). The students also had a chance to make their own mini-power generators using a small stream at the guest house where we stayed. I used the same stream to look for frogs and was rewarded with a (Pseudophilautus macropus) while Will found an endemic Chesnut Backed Owlet (Glaucidium castanotum) in the adjoining tea garden (my first sighting after 13 years in Sri Lanka).

An important imitative on the 2018 ES&S & Physics field trip was the successful search for the endemic Daffodil orchid (Ipsea speciosa). I’ve been searching for this terrestrial orchid for many years in Sri Lanka and it finally took the wise advice of Nadeera Weerasinghe who suggested searching the Watawala area. That happened to be right near to Norton Bridge and so we stopped to walk along the Peradeniya-Hatton tracks and look for it. The flower is associated with mid-elevation pantanas (grasslands) which have been largely converted to tea estates and timber plantations. It seems reasonable to expect that the populations of Daffodil orchids are found in areas that survived the almost nearly complete landscape conversion to plantation land in the 19th and 20th Centuries. The dominance of plantations in Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands helps to explain why they are not common. We can think of daffodil orchids as important indicators of an ecology and landscape now lost to plantation agriculture. Its Western Ghats cousin, the Malabar Daffodil Orchid(Ipsea malabarica) is extremely rare and was thought to be extinct for many years (it was rediscovered in Silent Valley in 1982). The Gurukula Botanical Garden has a healthy population now. My father Merrick Lockwood, who has been passionate about orchids for many years, photographed a single Ipsea malabarica in mid-elevation montane grasslands in the north-west Palani Hills in the 1980s on a family camping trip.

Class_of_2020_at_Kithulgala_1(MR)(12_18)

Class of 2020 all together at the start of the science field trips. (December 2018)

Class_of_2021_group_at_Borderlands_1(01_20)

Class of 2021 all together with a few teachers at the start of the DP1 science field trips. (January 2020)

2020 Sojourn on the Summit

This school year (2019-20) the science trip was placed at the beginning of the 2nd semester and we departed a day after returning from the winter holidays. Three of my students got sick but I was still able to take the remaining four with the support of my colleague (and KIS graduate) Andry Dejong as the female chaperone. The other DP1 science classes were in the same vicinity and we started off together.. The ES&S had to have a flexible approach to the journey and we ended being able to spend the night on the summit with other pilgrims.

Our first night was spent at the Blue Magpie Resort, the upscale sister guest house of the Fishing Hut. It is still within the Maskeliya Plantation’s Moray estate but is downstream a kilometer or so from the Fishing Hut. While it doesn’t enjoy the spectacular view of the peak, the stream at the Blue Magpie is better suited for exploring and swimming. It is also a lot less rustic-something that my group appreciated. Similar to past years, the learning of the field study was focused on four broad themes related to the Environmental Systems & Societies syllabus.

  • Theme 1: Land Use Variation (anthropocentric vs. natural ecosystems, plantation agriculture etc.)
  • Theme 2: Forest & Vegetation Types (llowland & montane tropical forests, cloud forests, pantanas)
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’

Montane forest in evening light, Peak Wilderness.

After careful consideration I consulted with the team and then made the decision to bivouac with other pilgrims up at the summit of Sri Pada. This meant carrying larger backpacks with food and sleeping gear on the hike up. In the past carrying loads has been a challenge for OSC students unaccustomed to backpacking and ascending altitudes after being at sea level. Working with Andry, we ensured that the group would go at a slow pace and stay hydrated to avoid these challenges.

We had overcast, but dry conditions, as we started the hike up through montane forest at on January 8th. The altitude at the start point above the Fishing Hut is about 1,500m while the summit is 2,243m -so it’s a rather steep 6 km hike up! There were virtually no leeches which pleased the group (and in particular one unnamed individual who has a phobia for them). The trail had been cleared for the season’s pilgrims but other than one small party led by a monk, we were the only ones on it. We hiked up the path under gnarled trees, around mossy boulders and along the ridge that leads up the eastern face of the peak. Occasionally, we had fleeting views of the peak with its summit hidden by a crown of mist. Our pace was slow and I wanted the group to keep an eye out for facets of the forest. At one of the few stream crossings the students found several small frogs. We took a break to refill water bottles there but were not that successful in photographing the amphibians.

The clearing at 1,850m provides an ideal rest stop and we took a generous break with water, peanuts and chocolate. The group seemed relieved when we reached the main path with its railings, tea shops and steps. However, the novelty of doing monotonous measured steps, ascending concrete steps at 60 degrees soon wore off and they belatedly realized the value of the forest trail. After a tea break we reached the summit by 4:00. Catching our breath, we were able to observe temple rituals and watch the clouds roll over the lower hills as the sun went down. Swathes of mist whipped over the peak; one moment we would be basking in the scarlet light of the sunset and then thick mist would envelop us. As darkness set in I did a short frog search with Rizqi and we found several interesting individuals but were not successful with the photography. The night on the peak was memorable and shared with dozens of other pilgrims as well as a few emaciated dogs who had made the trek up. Early on, our group laid out sleeping bags in a corner of the pilgrim’s quarters under the temple. We snacked on mixture, pita bread and hummus and then tried to sleep. Of course, as more pilgrims and visitors make it up in the early hours the temple and associated spaces of the summit got rather crowded and noisy. I’ve done this before so I managed several good hours of rest but the kids were not happy with the sleep they missed.

By the earliest light the summit of Sri Pada was packed with pilgrims and numerous foreign hikers who had left Nalathani at midnight or after. I positioned my tripod near the lamp-lighting shrine and then coaxed my group out of bed to join me. Andry was up but the kids had a hard time getting out of their sleeping bags. There were clouds in the east which affected the sunrise and mountain shadow. It was more or less clear around the peak and by 7:00 the triangular shadow was being projected down on the western forests of Peak Wilderness. We started down around 8:30 and I guided the group down the Ratnapura steps and then around the mountain on the short-cut back to the main Nalathani route. The path gives you a fine experience of the cloud forest and there were several flowering Rhododendron (R. arboretum) trees below the summit. It wasn’t too long before the strain of the steps set in. Rika sprained her right ankle and I had problems with my knees. We wrapped the sprain and Andry lent me her walking sticks for the last stretch. Although it wasn’t as physically demanding as the ascent, we ambled slowly and carefully down to Nalathani where we met up with our van and started the journey back to Colombo. The group was tired but we reflected back on the significant learning and accomplishments of our journey to the peak.

Peak_Wilderness_Rhodo_Pan_1(MR)(01_20)

Cloud forest below Sri Pada’s summit with a flowering Rhododendron (R. arboretum)- an indicator of this high altitude vegetation type.

Rika_Sri_Pada_dawn_1(MR)(01_20)

OSC students photographing the shadow of Sri Pada. (January 2020)

Google MyMap of paths from January 2020 Sri Pada field study (click inside to interact with the terrain).

PAST SRI PADA STUDIES

  • OSC Class of 2010 (Sri Pada 2008trip)
  • OSC Class of 2011 (Sri Pada 2009trip)
  • OSC Class of 2012 (Sri Pada 2010trip)
  • OSC Class of 2013 (Sri Pada 2011trip)
  • OSC Class of 2014 (Sri Pada 2012trip)
  • OSC Class of 2015 (Sri Pada 2013 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2016 (Sri Pada 2014 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2017 (Sri Pada 2015 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2018 (Sri Pada 2016 trip)
  • OSC Class of 2019 (Sri Pada 2017 trip)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

Atmospheric Optics. “Mountain Shadow.” Photography by Ian Lockwood. 2010. Web.

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Laxapana Complex. Web.

Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). Western Ghats and Sri Lanka Biodiversity Hotspot. May 2007. Web.

Hance. Jeremy. “ Scientists discover 8 new frogs in one sanctuary, nearly all Critically Endangered.” Mongabay. 21 March 2013. Web.

Luxman Nadaraja and Sarala Fernando. Sri Pada. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa, 2011. Print.

Pethiyagoda, Rohan. Horton Plains: Sri Lanka’s Cloud Forest National Park. Colombo: WHT, 2013. Print.

Werner, Wolfgang. Sri Lanka’s Magnificent Cloud Forests. Colombo: Wildlife Heritage Trust, 2001. Print.

Wickramasinghe, L.J. Mendis et al. “Eight new species of Pseudophilautus (Amphibia: Anura: Rhacophoridae) from Sri Pada World Heritage Site (Peak Wilderness), a local amphibian hotspot in Sri Lanka.” Journal of Threatened Taxa. 2013. Web.

 

 

 

One Response

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  1. Thank you, Ian. Another most interesting and attractive field study report.
    Ted

    Sent from my iPad
    Ted C Essebaggers, Gladvollveien 24C, 1168 Oslo, Norway

    Ted C Essebaggers

    2020-02-11 at 1:54 pm


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