Dumbara Falls in the Rainy season
Updated: Jun 3
10 essential things to consider when you're planning on doing the Duwili/Dumbara falls hike in the rainy season
The Hike to witness the Hidden cascade of Dumbara falls and Duwili falls is perhaps on of the most intrepid trails you will come across in the Island. Making your way down steep mountain passes and then up again to witness these beauties and then spending overnight at the base of the falls , or somewhere close by is an adventure not to missed. While the hike itself is HARD , making it in the rainy season brings its own unique challenges –so we’ve done a short list to help you focus on the most important issues we think are crucial when planning your journey to the falls.
Lets have a look shall we?
1. Get good footwear.
The dumbara Ella trail is almost 15 km's long, and winds its way up and down across extreme elevation changes. Although parts of the trail are relatively flat, sections with mountain passes are steep - and you meet principally 4 gradients.
Initial head of the trail - Stone steps
Of these the Waddahena pass is the most difficult to traverse, with the steepest gradients along the dumbara - Atanwala stretch. And when the rains kick in it becomes seriously slippery, with dead foliage acting like the crust of a newly baked cake - Adding to the loss of grip between the trail and your feet.
Ideally you'd opt for some good trail running shoes, but with the wet weather it's better to have some good trail shoes, preferably done with gotex (making them waterproof). Wet feet are sad feet. And sad feet make for a miserable long trudge in the wilderness. Make sure you've got good tread on them too - if you're lugging a pack this would be paramount : slipping and falling down the trail would be a disaster.
Most locals use flip-flops, but I'd strongly advise against it. Although easy and hassle free, they offer minimal protection for your feet and have the tendency to “slip out” when wet. Not a good idea when your making the way back up the trail (the trail to the falls is primarily downhill but the way back is almost all uphill)
Tip - trim your toenails before heading out on the trail
2. A camping stove and tent is recommended
The wet season means a lot of rain. A LOT OF RAIN. The locals even tell of periods of rain that last for almost a week( hence the sinhalese expression - hath da wahi /හත්දා වැහි )
This in turn means, that if you're planning to get some firewood from the periphery of your campsite - it won't turn out good. Chances are the firewood would be sodden to the core with no kindling properties whatsoever. A small stove would be a lifesaver - especially if you are doing an extended day camping adventure.
Also bring along your own tent with a good rain cover. A tent is a must if you plan of doing an overnight at the base of either dumbara or duwili falls. There aren't any places that rent them around Atanwala so come prepared.
Note - we donated our tent to our guide, the indomitable Ekanayaka uncle - and he should be able to give you that if you require as such. Ekanayaka uncle or “ekanayaka mama” is perhaps the most experienced and oldest guide on the trail - having been there from the beginning , leading the forestry department officials when they made the trail to the falls. You can contact him through this number 0771985904.
3. Get a guide to help you.
The trail is easy and not so difficult to follow, if you read the signs well. The main trail has small red arrows painted along the way, aiding the hiker. But going on your own is taking that extra risk.
The Villagers of Atanwala are more than happy to accompany you to the falls (they do require a fee) and this is a wise choice for many reasons.
Getting to know the local folklore and history of the trail
Added safety and knowledge of the trail.
Making sure that you do not loiter too much off the trail, hence making good time to your destination.
So that encounters with pachyderms and water buffaloes don't turn out to be a total disaster for the hiking party. ( all the animals use the same trail as you would, so chances are high you'd meet someone from the other side)
4. Take Extra dry rations.
Extra dry rations can be a lifesaver, should you find yourself cutoff from crossing one or more of the watercourses you will encounter along the way. Always prep for contingencies, but also be mindful about the added weight ( spread the load amongst your trail companions). Also add some fire starters to this too. You might end up not using it, but hey, better safe than sorry :especially in a place many miles away from any human habitation.
5. Wet weather clothing
No surprise here. A big raincoat or a poncho will do you good when it starts pelting down. The keyword is weight and coverage area. A larger raincoat will cover you AND your pack, so get something extra large.
Also take along a few square meters of heavy gauge polythene - this will only weigh a sinch (we found this invaluable) and you can use it to put down over where you would pitch your tent (so it wouldn't be cold soaked) as an extra rain cover for the tent, or a tarp to cover anything (our spare firewood and shoes got saved from the rain in this way)
6. Be physically and mentally fit for the trail
The trail is tough, no questions about it. Saying that anyone can do the trail, is stretching it a bit on the extreme side. The way down and back up again requires a goodly amount of physical strength, stamina and good balance. (especially if you've got a pack on your back)
Make sure you can walk on gradients for extended hours, with delicate footwork. Also be sure to carry a repair kit, in case of breakdowns or things start getting tough. (a pain relieving spray can do wonders) Also get yourself well hydrated and something to counter cramps - with is one of the worst things that could happen.
Make sure you are mentally set up for the task at hand too, if you start to think that your body can't handle it - you will end up down. It's amazing what the body can accomplish, when you press it hard - and going past the barriers you've set up in your mind.
No pain - no gain.
7. Be mindful of leeches and other potentially hazardous animals
the most hazardous animal on the trail is perhaps the leech. These writhing strands of elasticity and get into anywhere and start sucking your blood without you ever noticing. Leech socks, leech repellent is an invaluable idea. And always sop for a rest of rocks - this minimises the chances of them clambering onto you. But always check.The leech bites can be really irritating, and last for over a week sometimes.
Also there's the chance of meeting snakes - but they usually avoid the trail, and as long as you don't do unnecessary deviations from the trail, or do caveman escapades under less visited rock outcroppings, you'd probably be safe. But always have keen eye out. This also applies for tarantulas, centipedes and other creepy crawlies too.
The most major concern is meeting either wild buffaloes (can be semi wild) and (100% wild) elephants who use the same trail to negotiate the terrain of the area. Having a guide here is invaluable, especially if you've no idea on how to deal in such a situation.
Make sure you give them space, and not alarm them, should you find yourself in such an encounter. Avoid panicking and be calm, think ahead and back up if need be. Remember it's their turf you are intruding upon.
8. Spread the load
A lesser load means more strain on your body . Plant out your gear and spread it with your companions. Cut out the heavy stuff and go for lightweight. But never compromise on the essentials.
Water can be taken minimally, with many watercourses along the way offering up cool and pristine water. This will definitely lighten up your load.
Take lightweight clothes, something you'd wear to a gym, or made of lycra. These practically weigh nothing, even when wet. (don't forget to take some warm clothing too!!)
9. Travel with at least 3 people
there is safety in travelling in a pack - we went with 3 (our guide, plus me and Ann) opt for a smaller group, as it would make it easier to keep tabs on everyone while on the trail. If someone gets down, either because of injury or incapacitated the rest would be able to bring him back to safety. Also while more people mean more resources, it also cuts down on individual weight of a pack.
Also another thing to note is the pace of the group will be wholly dependant on the slowest individual, and make sure they aren't left behind unintentionally.
10. Be mindful of sudden increases in water flow.
Sudden rain can cause flash foods, be especially mindful of this when /and while on watercourses. With its steep gradients and massive rocks, such a torrent can be fetal.
Make sure you've got ample lights with you after dark, if you camp next to a stream, and always have a buddy next to you while you take a dip (preferably not in the darkness) keep and ear out and watch the water level.
If you are crossing such a stream, make sure to have good footing, as the rocks can be slippery. Wade if you are not sure of the foothold. But don't risk it, if the current seems excessive. (this is where a guide is invaluable)
This is not by far the most comprehensive list on what to do while hiking on the trail to dumbara falls, but some of the most pressing things we found while on our journey. We hope this adds to your preparation on your upcoming travels especially if you plan to do some hiking in the wet months of the monsoon.
And above all , don’t litter or destroy this beautiful trail -leave only footprints, take only memories.