The plan was to
climb scale Lakegala, that monstrous mountain you see in the pic, over the weekend. Thankfully, we got back alive; though not in one piece. I lost a toe.
Okay… a toe nail really. But before I get into the gory details, I’ll tell you more about Lakegala! We took a bus to Kandy and then took a van, on a winding pothole riddled road to Meemura. The villagers were quite nice, though they tried to dissuade us from climbing the mountain.
Apparently they do that to all those who attempt to conquer Lakegala. They don’t want to have people die on the mountain, we were told later. Little did they know that the Sinhalaya Travels group is only incited more with horror stories of death. They were in fact fanning live, glowing coal.
The plan was to leave early on Saturday morning—around 8am; though we should have left earlier. Higher up the mountain, the scorching rays of the sun will burn your skin raw if you get there around noon (which is what we did). You can’t really leave later though. During the afternoon, at the bit you’ve got to scale bare black rock, the rock would have absorbed the midday heat making touching it impossible.
Pumped up, we got there on Friday evening and managed to find lodging at a temple. A lady in the village agreed to cook meals for us; your basic rice and curry but fabulously delicious. The next morning, fed and rested we took off to Lakegala.
The trek up seems quite inviting with paddy fields, streams, butterflies and flowers.
Though soon enough you’ll reach a wet jungle area—leech territory. I tell you, climbing Lakegala is like playing a video game in which each level you face new and more formidable opponents and the terrain gradually becomes more precarious. Leeches are bottom rung; level one. They can’t really hurt you.
Level two, is scaling bare black rock at a 70 degree angle. One missed step and you’d tumble down. You’d get seriously injured for sure, but there are a few shrubs around that could break your fall at a point. So it isn’t fatal.
No pictures of this bit though…
Level three, you’ve got to scale an area of loose rocks. This is quite dangerous because if you inadvertently reach out for a loosely fitted rock to pull yourself up, you’ll tumble down. I had the misfortune of looking for support in a deceptively sturdy looking rock. It gave away but thankfully, I grabbed on to some shrubs on my way down. KP descended to help me up. He held out a stick for me to hold onto and lift up.
Level three, is also covered in thorns. I should’ve worn a long sleeved t-shirt. I got scratched all over and on the way down had several thorns stuck in my fingers. Every time I missed footing I’d reach out to grab onto foliage that turned out to be a thorny stem.
The final stage is level four. It’s a climb straight up, using just the tips of your fingers and toes. Our guide, being the basket of sunshine that he is, told us that the last leg of the climb can mean certain death. He advised us against shinning up unless we were 100% confident that we could. I wasn’t feeling fatigued but the way he was rattling on, I began to doubt myself. Had a bit of a debate with myself… and decided better of climbing up. A few meters to the top, I waited at the start of level four, till four others (of the eight of us) pulled a Spiderman. While I sat there, putting up my aching feet, I heard panicked cries. There was another group of IT students scaling the mountain that morning, and think the fearful cries to climb back down were from that group. Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad for deciding against taking the risk.
Punchi Bandara, our guide, certainly was a basket of sunshine. Almost at the top, he told the four who were climbing up that they were going to die and started reciting pirith! Unnerved, they descended.
Usually, returning to base is the easy part. But on Lakegala that’s hardly the case. Loosely fitted rocks and the steeped terrain, makes it more of a challenge. We’d run out of water and the only think that kept me going was the awesome rock pool that lay at a half way point (the start of level three). If you plan to climb Lakegala, carry a spare change of clothes so you can have a dip here.
Getting back through the damp jungle is pretty easy. But by this time, my Reebok running shoes had come to pieces! All that I had left was the fabric on the base. While this helped my balance (as my foot took the contours of the rocks) it was horribly painful. I could feel every single stone and rock prick my foot. I left the remnants of my shoes back in Lakegala.
On the subject of my foot, I lost my toe nail when I slipped off a rock. The nail on my right big toe ripped off my flesh. It was standing vertically at a 90 degree angle. We discovered that Meemura, doesn’t even have a good veda mhathaya.
Early the next day, we took a bus back to Colombo and I headed straight to Asiri Surgical. The Emergency Treatment Unit there is pretty professional. I was able to see a doctor as I walked in. Went straight to the surgical theatre, had two shots of local anaesthetic and she pried out my nail with something that looked alarmingly like a cross between a pair of pliers and scissors.
So yeah, crazy weekend climbing that foreboding mountain. I really need to get good mountain climbing shoes next time!