Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

Posts Tagged ‘Peak Wilderness

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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

 

 

 

Sri Pada Field Study 2016

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Montane Hourglass frog (Taruga eques) on the montane forest trail to Sri Pada.

Montane Hourglass frog (Taruga eques) in dying bamboo groves (@ 1,800 m) on the montane forest trail to Sri Pada. Found by DP1 students Jannuda and Aryaman.

This year’s annual DP1 science field trips went out slightly earlier than in past years-luckily with no drastic weather consequences. The DP Physics students investigated hydroelectricity near Norton Bridge and the DP Biology class did field ecology exercises on Castlereigh Lake. Meanwhile, I took the Environmental Systems & Societies (ES&S) group up to Peak Wilderness for a study of biodiversity and human impact. It was a relatively small group (eight students), supported by Rebecca Morse our new language acquisition teacher. Together we enjoyed three days of learning, basic accommodation and the traditional hike up to the summit of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak).

Once again we 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 (lowland, montane tropical forests, cloud forests)
  • Theme 3: Vertical Zonation
  • Theme 4: Biodiversity in a ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’

This year’s group proved to be particularly good at finding frogs and I also encountered several notable bird species that are highlighted in the pictures in this post. The Peak Wilderness area, now designated as a World Heritage Site, is rich in amphibian diversity with new species being described in recent years (see links below). The design of our day hike to the peak is such that it allows the group to stop, look and record examples of biodiversity. The Peak Wilderness area is, of course, very different than what the Colombo area hosts and much of what we see in plants, amphibians, fungi etc. needed to be properly identified with the aid of guide books. The other themes were reinforced both on the hike and the days getting to the Fishing Hut and back. The trip is not designed to be data-driven and the focus of the three short days is on observations and experiencing the guiding themes. Walking up to the peak is a rather physically demanding aspect that distinguishes the ES&S trip from the other science field studies.  Most of the class was hobbling around campus on the two remaining school days of the week when we returned. This was my 18th trip, if my calculations are correct, and along with the rest of the group I returned with a sense of accomplishment, awe in the beauty of nature and concern for the way that our species is treating this sacred mountain.

Human impact in the Central Highlands (Eucalyptus plantation, pine plantation and cleared tea fields, tea estate and slopes above Maskeliya).

Human impact in the Central Highlands (Eucalyptus plantation, pine plantation and cleared tea fields, tea estate and slopes above Maskeliya).

Frogs in montane forest on the trial to Sri Pada.

Frogs of different sizes and colors  in montane forest on the forest trail to Sri Pada. IDs to be added shortly.

Male Kashmir FLycatcher (Ficedula subrubra) a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka's Central Highlands photographed in montane forest at 1,400 meters.

Male Kashmir Flycatcher (Ficedula subrubra), a rare winter visitor to Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands photographed in montane forest at 1,400 meters.

Biodiversity photographed near the Fishing Hut (1.400m): From Left to Right: Indian Blue Robin (Luscinia brunnea),Toque Macaque (Macaca sinica) and the endemic Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush (Zoothera imbricata).

Biodiversity photographed near the Fishing Hut (1.400m): From Left to Right: Indian Blue Robin (Luscinia brunnea),the common but endemicToque Macaque (Macaca sinica) and the endemic Sri Lanka Scaly Thrush (Zoothera imbricata).

Plastic waste collected but then left on the forest trail to Sri Pada. The growing amounts of non- biodegradable waste on the sacred slopes is an eyesore hard to ignore. The situation has encouraged new moves to "ban plastics" this pilgrimage season. Starting with a "pack it in, pack it out" approach would be one sensible idea. We collected the waste pictured here and brought it back to Colombo.

Plastic waste collected but then left (and partly burnt) on the forest trail to Sri Pada. The growing amounts of non- biodegradable waste on the sacred slopes is an eyesore that is hard to ignore. The situation has encouraged new moves to “ban plastics” this pilgrimage season (see links below). Starting with a “pack it in, pack it out” approach would be one sensible idea. We collected the waste pictured here and brought it back to Colombo.

OSC's class of 2018 at the Kithulgala Resthouse shortly before we went in three separate directions in pursuit of different science goals.

OSC’s class of 2018 at the Kitulgala Resthouse shortly before we went three separate directions in pursuit of different science goals.

Class of 2018 ES&S class at Laxapana Falls (left) and on the trail to Sri Pada (right).

On the way to the summit: Class of 2018 ES&S class (+ Julius) at Laxapana Falls (left) and on the trail to Sri Pada (right).

Climbing the steep stairs to Sri Pada with clear views and no rain. The elderly woman from nearby Maskeliya, seen to the left here, said she had been up 250 times!! There was little reason to doubt her... the students stopped complaining after we talked to her.

Climbing the steep stairs to Sri Pada with clear views and no rain. The elderly woman from nearby Maskeliya, seen to the left here, said she had been up 250 times!! There was little reason to doubt her… the students stopped complaining after we talked to her.

Starting back down to the Fishing Hut from the Sri Pada summit temple. The patch of tea near the hut is distance far below. It took us about four to five hours to get up and about three to get back down. Our purpose was to go slow and see as much as possible…

Starting back down to the Fishing Hut from the Sri Pada summit temple. The patch of tea near the hut is in the distance far below. The hut area is off to the mid-right of the frame but the clearing is visible in the forest canopy. It took us about four to five hours to get up and about three to get back down. Our purpose was to go slow and see as much as possible…

The Way to Adam's Peak: a map mural from Whatsala Inn.

“The (Hatton) Way to Adam’s Peak”: a map mural from Wathsala Inn. Our trail to the peak came out of the forest on the middle left of the map.

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)

FURTHER READING & REFERENCES

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

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

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Eight new shrub frogs discovered from the Peak Wilderness.” Sunday Times. 2013. Web.

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Lanka’s central highlands win heritage battle”. The Sunday Times. 8 August 2010. Web.

“Taking polythene and plastic water bottles to sacred Sri Pada Mountain banned during season.” Colombo Page. 13 December 2016. Web.

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

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