Our hike up Gunung Agung started from Pura Besakih just before 11pm. Once our guide had prayed at the temple we donned our head torches and started up the track, it was up, up, up from the word go. We had two vertical kilometers to climb in total and we stopped for a brief rest after 300m and had a chat with our guide.
He had been doing this hike on average twice a week for the last 24 years, so we had every faith we weren’t going to get lost in the dark! After this first rest the gradient got a little more taxing and the soil was loose under foot. We had to use tree roots and vines to pull ourselves up slippery or steep sections. We had been told the last section near the top was the steepest so I was silently concerned that what we were on was already steep. In some areas there was nothing to hold onto so we struggled up with our walking pole for support whilst trying not to slip backwards.
We continued to stop every time we ascended 300m and we soon got into the routine of only thinking about getting to the next rest stop, silently trudging in the dark. We found out our guide had learnt English through guiding English speaking tourists rather than at school, this was impressive since his English was pretty good. It seemed he had learnt the names of the highest mountains all over the world, what a great idea for a mountain guide. He talked to us about Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Mt Cook and even the volcano in Iceland that caused all the plane disruption when it decided to erupt, Eyjafjallajökull. He ever knew how to pronounce that one, mind you how would we know if he got it wrong! He was a fountain of knowledge about all the Indonesian mountains and reeled off facts and statistics.
Around 500m from the top we had a longer rest and he lit a fire to keep us warm, this was a first for us, a fire halfway up a mountain. He then produced a flask and made us tea and coffee, what a treat! At some of our stops he would light incense in improvised holders made from leaves and decorated with flowers. These were offerings to the mountain which the locals believe is the home of their Gods.
There was even a small temple around 400m from the top. He would say a prayer at these shrines and offerings. The tea and coffee break was a precursor to the steep section and he explained the gradient would increase further to around 75 degrees for approximately 300 vertical meters. Well we had come this far, onwards and upwards we trudged in the dark. As it turns out this section was steep but it was also rocky. So unlike the terrain we have scrambled up so far which was loose and slippery we felt quite at home on the rocky steep section. Nonetheless it was tough, by this time we had exceeded 2600m in height and the effects of altitude were making themselves known. My heart was working hard and my breathing became more labored. We were all ready for our last and final stop after this section, in need of a few minutes of sitting down.
Although less steep the final 100m or so to the summit was still slow going as altitude set the pace. I’m not sure how much we noticed though as we were being enticed by the glow of sunrise behind our mighty peak.
The clouds were below us it was simply breath taking. We couldn’t see the full vista until we reached the true summit, timed perfectly by our guide just 5 minutes before the sun broke over the horizon.
He straight away lit his incense offering to the mountain then retreated to let us enjoy the natural spectacle. We had the summit to ourselves and it was stunning, there was not a breath of wind and as the sun appeared over the horizon it warmed the air. Agung has a second, more accessible lower peak, and we could make out two figures in the outline of the sunrise, like little ants in the distance.
Behind this immediate peak is the looming shape of Gunung Rinjani, over the water in Lombok.
We then decided it was time for breakfast and our guide came to join us, explaining that back at 2100m he didn’t think we were going to make it in time to see the sunrise but he had kept quiet until then. We enjoyed breakfast from our perch on top of the world.
Then the inevitable could no longer be avoided, the long, long, long walk back down the mountain. This was definitely the hardest part of the day, we soon reached the point of having been awake for more than 24 hours and the steep gradient played havoc with our tired legs. I think we all slipped at one stage or another and there were certainly areas where sliding down crab like on all fours was the best possible solution.
Daylight now illuminated the island of Bali and we could also see some distant peaks of Java like the Ijen crater that I climbed with Reshma in May.
We could also see the temple from where we had started our trek and it was a long way down.
This trek took us 14 hours in total and when we reached the car for the drive back to the hotel all 3 of us feel asleep utterly exhausted by our expedition, and being awake for around 32 hours.