When we arrived to Bali we decided not to leave without climbing the highest volcano of the island. We knew exactly that it is as hard as it sounds but it will give us a lifelong experience.
About the volcano
Mount Agung (3142 m) or Gunung Agung is an active volcano in Bali which is the 5th highest in Indonesia. Its latest eruption was in 1963, killing around 2000 people. According to local hindu beliefs it has also a huge spiritual significance. It is the most sacred place on the island, the home of the balinese Gods. All buildings and temples in Bali point towards the summit, even Balinese people sleep with their head pointing to it.
How to prepare ourselves physically and mentally?
In the rainy season it is not recommended to climb the volcano therefore we planned to do our sunrise trekking during the dry season (from May to September). However we were a bit doubtful after those huge rainfalls in June and July. Our guide who we found in a facebook group convinced us about beautiful blazing sunshine on our big day. Due to the high number of accidents among hikers in the past few years now it is mandatory to hire an official, local guide for your trekking. And yes, it costs money. We were wondering how we could do it alone and spend that amount of money for other important things. Then we shortly discovered that having a guide is a must. On one hand we would have been lost lots of times as there are no obvious routes, on the other hand some dangerous paths require expertised guidance.
Due to having lots of visitors in the past few months we had no time for training our bodies. Okay, the real reason of being out of shape was our laziness. I had serious plans to do cardio every day before the event. Finally I ended up with some surfing fun on Berawa beach. So I decided to prepare myself mentally. I doubted my own skills a bit as I did not have climbing experience and sometimes I tend to have thoughts of giving up and returning. Matt is different than me, once he decides to reach the peak he will do it without a doubt.
There are 3 trekking routes on the mountain from which you can chose.
- Starting from Pura Pasar Agung at 1600 metres to the crater rim at 2900 metres. I heard this one is less demanding – ascending and descending both take 3-4 hours.
- Starting from Pura Pasar Agung at 1600 metres to the highest peak at 3142 metres. It is a 4-5 hours long hard climb both ways.
- Starting from Pura Besakih at 1100 metres to the highest peak of 3142 metres. 6-7 hours uphill and 7-8 hours downhill. It is an 8 km long distance on one way.
Never back down
I discussed with Gede, our guide that we would like to climb to the highest peak (3142 metres). The driver came at 9 pm to our apartment. We arrived at Besakih Mother Temple at midnight. I turned pale when that 7 hours climb popped into my mind. (I prepared myself for a 4 hours long trek) After registration we started our trekking around 12:30 am. We did not have hiking boots but training shoes seemed to be good. Each of us brought 3 litres of water, banana and sesame seed bars with honey. Gede provided headlamps and walking sticks.
The challenging ascend
I was so worried about my limited physical capabilities that I completely forgot being scared from the mysterious wildlife of the pitch dark forest. Only one „scary” incident happened when some lightning eyes were following us silently for a few minutes. I think it was a civet cat or a monkey. We were lost in admiration of the moon and the dark blue sky with full of stars. I have never experienced this kind of full silence in the nature before. We followed Gede almost blindly on the narrow path. We could only see two steps in front of us (I was extremely thankful for that during our way back). The channel of the rainfall running down from the mountain shaped muddy pathways full of slippery and rolling stones. I asked Gede continuously about how much is left. It was a huge mistake every time as I always felt that we are much closer to the top than we actually was. I had deadlocks with nausea, headache and pain in the muscles in almost every 20 minutes. At 2400 metres a thought crossed my mind and I was planning to sit down and wait for the others to come back. But the darkness made me change my mind. At 2700 metres Gede told us that there are still 3 hours climbing left. I nearly started crying. The last 200 metres was the most demanding and painful part of the ascending. There were only huge lava rocks and slippery stones. We were crawling on all fours and had to manage almost vertical climbing without ropes. The blowing wind and our wet clothes did not increase our level of comfort. We had the feeling that the top is always moving away from us.
Happiness above the clouds
After 6 hours climbing we finally reached the peak where I was about to cry again. This time because of tired happiness. I can not describe the arrival, above the clouds, that moment when I could stop concentration and muscle work. It was 15 minutes left before the sunrise. We were freezing and our legs were on fire. It was quite difficult to take photos in that teeth-chattering cold and in strong wind. On the highest summit at 3142 metres we met 3 other groups having a rest. The sunrise took our breath away. It was a priceless feeling to stand above the clouds on the top of Bali and watch the sunset with that panoramic view including Rinjani volcano in Lombok and Semeru volcano in Java. We felt like we really entered the home of the Balinese Gods. It was worth putting our energy and efforts into it.
After the one hour long amazement the most challenging part began. When I was dreaming about a helicopter rescue bringing me down to Besakih, I knew unconsciously how difficult the descending will be. According to the reviews we read before we knew that climbing down will take around 7-8 hours. Seeing the trail during daylight I did not believe that we had climbed those rocks and narrow pathways. I did not learn from my mistakes. I was asking Gede again and again how much further we have to go. The answer was never that what I expected. Reaching the clouds fog and rain started to fall on us. This made the last two hours of going downhill extremely hard and dangerous. The rocks became more slippery and muddy. We needed more balance to stay on our feet. We had to concentrate strongly in every single moment and use both hands to hold on to branches and legs to scramble slowly. Sometimes I was scared about falling down from the mountain because of one misstep. During the last 2 kilometres of descending Gede held my hand as I was not able to do it alone. Luckily it happened only two times that I slipped and fell on my bottom. Matt had a more badass style, he did not need any help while going downhill. By the way the forest was incredibly beautiful. It was a real jungle experience every time we took a relaxing second between two slides. In spite of the rain we felt we are in a hurry. Including two 5 minutes long break we arrived at Pura Besakih after 6 hours of descending. I was about to cry AGAIN but this time the reason was the burning pain in my knees and ankles. We were happy to see our driver who was waiting for us with a huge smile.
We felt proud of our climbing success. Especially when Gede told us that 50% of the hikers who try the trekking are not able to reach the peak (for various reasons: due to bad weather conditions, no fitness, headache, contracture etc.). It was the most demanding challenge I have ever done – both physically and mentally. If I had been able to walk in the next 3 days, I would have run with raised head on the streets of Bali. We also had some side effects, my ankles and knees were double size at the end, and even a massage could not decrease the pain in my muscles. I exceeded a bit my physical boundaries. Except some pain in the toes Matt’s body was unhurt. However our happiness made us forget about these physical sufferings.
If you have been to Bali you know that it is hard to find undeveloped, non-touristic areas. We loved that the atmosphere of our Agung trekking was exactly like that. There haven’t been any busy roads or small shops selling „sarooong, transport and massage”. Just the untouched nature and us. We could feel strongly the holiness of this place.
Our survival tips
- Find a goal: the achievement, the breathtaking sunrise and the view from the top or shaping your butt. If you have motivation, willingness and mental discipline, your physical boundaries won’t be a big problem.
- Be prepared mentally, it will require strong stamina as well.
- Do not expect a light walk or a casual uphill trek. It will be hard climbing.
- Do not ask the guide about how much is left. The answer will never cheer you up.
- It can be done with training shoes but if it is possible, wear good trekking shoes. Your ankles and knees will be thankful for that.
- Wear comfortable clothes, you may bring some additional shirts. In the beginning you will be all of a sweat, close to the top you will experience blowing wind.
- Cap (against the cold wind), gloves (during scrambling on the ground and holding on to branches), walking stick (great support during ascending and descending) and a headlamp (to see at least 1 metre from the road in front you in the dark) are useful accessories.
- Bring at least 3 litres of water, banana and energy bars with you. Drink water continuously to avoid altitude sickness, dehydration, nausea or headache.
- Be prepared for extreme temperature and continuously changing weather conditions including fog, heavy rain, cold wind or flaming sun.
- If you are not used to this kind of movements, bring muscle relaxant cream.
- Cut your toenails before the trekking.
- Choose your guide carefully. Pick a package which includes transfer from your villa and flexible trekking date – if it is raining you can go on another day. I would highly recommend Gede, he is a punctual, caring and very informative guide.
- Discuss with your guide in advance which trail you would like to climb.
- Go at least with one friend, you can help each other physically and mentally.
- If you are thinking about to give up, go further!
- Bring your camera to take photos!
- You don’t need any hiking experience, only a general level of fitness. Now I don’t have this one either therefore I am the exception for this rule.
If you have your own experience with Agung trekking and would like to share, drop us a message to firstname.lastname@example.org!