Climbing a Volcano in Indonesia
When I visited Bali last autumn I wanted to climb Mount Batur, an active volcano on the eastern side of the island but I ran out of time. People that I talked to, that had done it, said that seeing sunrise from the summit is a must do, so I felt a little cheated. This time during my stay in Bali I was not going to let the opportunity go undone.
Since most package tours to Mount Batur start with a 2AM hotel pickup on the coast, and because most of those tours don’t actually go to the summit, my friend Sarah and I opted to spend the night before the climb in on site. We found a nice, two room guest house in the caldera, right on the edge of Lake Batur in the little village of Songan. There isn’t a lot to do in the little village so we just walked along the lakeshore to take in the scenery. Serendipity often has me stumbling upon great things when I am on a little walkabout, and this time it had us stumble upon a friendly Hindu family having a celebration at their private temple. When they saw that we were interested in watching the proceedings, we got invited inside to their home. We were sat down in a place of honor, given some tea and cakes, exchanged the stories of our lives and played with the children. There is another story, and some photos, there that will be forthcoming soon.
Anyway, instead of a 2AM loadup into a van we got a 3:30AM knock at the door by our guide and our little adventure began. Even though we were squarely in the tropics, the altitude and the morning air made the temperatures pretty cold. The walk started off easy enough with just a few groggy stumbles by flashlight on a wide path on an uphill grade. The stars were out in force and the Milky Way looked as if you could reach out and stir it. I was starting to feel quite confident about my fitness level, even as the grade started to increase.
Soon we were moving, still in the dark, through a humid, deep forest canopy and up ever narrower trails. An easy walk soon turned into having to search with my boots, for unseen footholds to lift myself upward and maintain balance. Despite the still cool air a trickle of sweat was falling down my back and making me clammy. My legs started to get heavy and I began to question why I do these things to myself when I could be warm in bed somewhere, but at this point we were out and on a mission. It didn’t take long until we were through the forest and we stopped for a quick rest. In the east we could see the first signs of dawn.
We began again and our guide started doing a countdown of sorts for us — “30 minutes” then 20 minutes later, “only 20 minutes!” 15 minutes later, “just ten more minutes.” We were getting onto his game. Sweat was running down my face and getting in my eyes, my legs were burning and my knees throbbing. The sky was lightening further and soon we were able to put away our flashlights and navigate without them. Finally as we topped what felt like an almost vertical climb we could make out our destination; the top of Mount Batur.
As we approached the summit it appeared that the air was thickening with a warm fog. There was a stiff breeze blowing and I went from being chilled from the combination of perspiration and wind to being warmed by the fog as patches floated by. We weren’t the first people at the summit but we did beat sunrise by about 30 minutes. I bought myself a cup of instant coffee and Sarah a weak cup of tea from the makeshift restaurant at the top and found a bench where we could celebrate, rest, talk with our fellow trekkers and wait for the sun. As visibility increased I saw that what I though was warm fog was in fact steam escaping from the volcanic vents that were set in crevices and hidden behind foliage in meadows near the peak. The outline of Mount Agung’ Bali’s other active volcano started to become visible as the stars faded into the yellowing sky and finally it was time for the main event.
As the sun rose we could see reflections from the Bali Sea and even further in the distance the Indonesian Island of Lombok. We just sipped our drinks and marveled at how beautiful everything was. As the sun rose higher we could just begin to pick out the starting point of our hotel, far below, on the shore of the lake. This was the payoff for all the effort and discomfort. Again, the challenge was worth it and all doubts of our sanity were washed away. We were only halfway into the adventure (what goes up must come down) and I had that satisfied feeling that I was happy to be out doing something worthwhile with my time and my retirement…