I was lucky enough to be let off the leash for a night and a day last weekend to go and climb Bali’s highest mountain – the sacred Gunung Agung.
four days later, i’m still mesmerised by the experience…and my thighs have only just stopped abusing me at every step for cranking them up and down 2000m worth of hill .
i went with some friends from the East Bali Project, ten of us in total: half Bule and half Balinese. i confess, i was a little paranoid about not having the right footwear, and so splashed out $30US on a pair of indonesian-issue hikers, only to see some of the group turn up in battered old converse cut offs. As it turns out, i was very needful of the heavy duty boots, especially on the way down when my knees conked out and it became more of a plunge than a descent. Only one of my converse-wearing friends made it, although all of us were fully shamed by the old women who passed us on the way up at about three in the morning, carrying a basket full of offerings and going barefoot!
after failing miserably to get any sleep at Pura Pasar Agung on account of the local arak that was making the rounds, we set off at about twelve thirty…in the morning. we were the first group to really get underway on the mountain, and given the pace we managed, this was a sensible move. our ‘guide’ was Ardika, a friend of a friend who claimed to have made the climb four other times. within an hour of leaving the camp, his sandal broke in two pieces, and, when we couldn’t fix it with some electrical tape, he decided to turn around and head back down..
it took another four and a half hours to reach the summit after that, with the last hour and a half a pretty hard scramble above the treeline, requiring what felt like a near-vertical climb up a series of sharp volcanic walls. with only the moonlight to go by, you couldn’t really see where you had come from or where you were going, just the next few footholds and the shadows of the cliffs. further up the mountain, you could sometimes make out the flickering of small lights, where some hardy folk were really pegging it, but they seemed so high as to be almost overhead, and it was quite dizzying to think of how much further you still needed to climb.
i lost my group when we came out of the trees, so climbed most of the rocky part solo, occasionally passing small groups of Balinese pilgrims who would ask me where my guide was. this may be why i found myself at the thin edge of the crater, and almost over it, before i really figured out what was going on. someone had made a fire against a rock wall out of some old leaf offerings, and when i tried to keep climbing past them, i pretty much ran out of mountain. a little blown away, i sat there for an hour, turning down more offers of arak while watching the thin trickle of pilgrims come up to the edge, light a few sticks of incense, chant some lines then float one and two thousand rupiah notes out into the abyss.
as the sky began to change colour, i noticed that there was another spur of rock further east around the crater, and that a few western types were already up there taking pictures. it took another twenty minutes to get there, which was when i realised that my legs had already started to seize up with the cold. this would to come back to haunt me on the descent.
around five-thirty, the sun came up over Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok to the east, fully 100 km’s away. it was amazing to see it across a sea of clouds at 3700m to our 2600m. as the daylight increased the view just became more amazing wherever you looked: down the slopes to the temple, inside the crater (created in 1963 when the top 100m of the mountain blew off), or along any of the fault lines from the eruption, showing layers of rock that had once been the insides of the volcano.
most of the rest of my crew straggled up, and we had a rather delirious hour taking pictures and stuffing our faces with nutella, peanut butter and honey (yes, all on the same slice of bread), before we started back down around eight thirty in the morning. that part of the trip was a slow crescendo of pain, as everyone had various parts of their body call time. for me, it was the knees as i always knew it would be. thankfully i found a 2m staff about halfway down and i hobbled into the temple elven hours after we started, looking no doubt like a wonky, pot-bellied Gandalf in hiking boots. Thankfully everyone was too tired to take any photos by this point.
speaking of which, perhaps it’s time i shut up for a bit…
a last supper of crackers and coffee. this was where i started to notice the footwear discrepancies
when rice into nutella will not go…
getting passed by the first wave of pilgrims…
then being shamed outright by a little old lady doing it barefoot.
(i was looking for blood later, the rocks were that sharp)
on edge: perched here for a while, trying to figure out if this was the top
cue smile of relief
the sun finally joins the party
and light’s up Rinjani to the east.
“what were the skies like when you were young…?”
a familiar face
full moon party
inside the crater’s west face. you can see why these are called Stratovolcanoes
crater floor…cozy, huh?
this big fella has a long shadow
can anyone else see a rabbit?
Juan practices some surf moves…
(how did Sai Baba get up here?)
peanutbutter and nutella frenzy
the converse crew: where’s the bloody zipline?
where valleys end.
(the little notch on the left is the offering place….that i nearly offered myself out of…)
you mean we climbed up this in the dark?
you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of a volcano
only three more hours to get down…