A drawcard of Ella, Sri Lanka is a hike up Ella Rock. Yet mysteriously no route map exists, no trail markings are present and the whole affair seems shrouded in secrecy. Whether it be to support the local guides or the peak itself, the reason is uncertain. Still, a trek up Ella Peak is not to be missed.
Erin and I had recently hopped off the Kandy to Ella Train and had our first few nights in Ella at one of the many homestays dotted around town. Sadly, I cannot reveal the exact homestay as it will reveal the source of my forthcoming map up Ella Peak and I am sworn to secrecy! I can reveal the loose map I was given and some supporting directions to help you along your way. Although the true achievement of an ascent of Ella Rock is your navigation skills!
Step 1: Follow the Kandy to Ella Railway tracks
As you head down the main street of Ella opposite the bus station, take a right on Waterfall Rd up the steep hill for about 1-2km until you reach the railway line. This is your first key to unlock the route up Ella Peak. Now, if you follow the railway tracks towards Kandy (looking up the hill, this is left) it is a few kilometres of hopping between the railway sleepers supporting the railway tracks (keeping an eye and ear out for trains along the way of course).
Step 2: The tree and the railway bridge
Once you pass the railway bridge you will come to a large unmistakeable tree, a small store is located just down to the left of the railway tracks. Your second key, follow this path down the the store until you reach a small canal. Nod to the stall owners, buy some water if you have forgotten to bring some, then continue left along the canal towards the footbridge over the waterfall. About now some guides may approach for assistance, tell them, you’ve got this!
Next, take a right and cross the footbridge over the canal and follow the trail upwards. Here is where most people falter, take the first right shortly after ascending up the hill, don’t continue straight up the hill. It may seem turning right is the wrong route as you will now be in tall grass which can be disorientating. However, follow this path for only 20 metres or so before taking a sharp left up the steep hill.
Step 3: Cross the Tea Plantation
This path will continue uphill for about 900m until you reach the tea plantation. Once you reach the open plantation veer to the right up and over the hill for another 400m. You will begin to head slightly downhill and through a gap in a hedge before reaching a larger 4WD trail. Turn left on this trail and head uphill once again.
A small stall selling water and snacks will be on your left as you bend right towards a rocky outcrop. Here the trail becomes more noticeable worn into the rock. Continue over the rocky outcrop and keep your eyes on the well worn trail that leads slightly down along the edge of the ridge.
Step 4: Up spook hill, the steep trail through the forest
After passing the previous rocky outcrop and descending slightly you take a left uphill. A few white arrows on rocks will guide the way. From here it gets quite steep, for quite some time. A trekking pole will be useful or source one of the many sticks lying around. It is about half an hour of solid climbing to reach the peak, on occasion you may need the help of tree trunks to haul yourself up on.
Step 5: Arriving at the top!
Less than 100 metres from the top you emerge up a bank to what seems like a fire trail. Turn left and you will see a clearing and likely a few entrepreneurial locals selling drinks. Congratulations! you are now at Ella Rock! Relax and take in the views overlooking the valley!
Soak it up, it’s a tricky steep descent so enjoy the achievement of scaling Ella Peak under your own steam! Or if you want 100 percent assurances, you can of course get a local guide which aren’t that expensive really, but it’s the challenge of navigating yourself that is the real achievement of Ella rock!