Gunung Agung is Bali’s highest volcano, standing at 3,142 meters (that’s 10,305 feet!)
We had an awesome view of it from the beach in Amed (that’s it behind Curtis in the picture on my last post) and here it is again.
Curtis decided that climbing this volcano was something that we had to do…I wasn’t quite as convinced and suggested that we climb Gunug Batur which stands at only 1717 meters. But Curtis was convinced that we should conquer the big one. You definitely need a guide for this climb and ours was the best. Katuk picked us up at 2:00 am.
On the drive there we past several night markets that were bustling with people. I was surprised at how many people were out shopping in the middle of the night and Katuk explained that there are several markets throughout the night and day. At each market, the price of the goods goes up a little more and at the first night market, goods are usually bartered back and forth instead of bought. So the earlier people get there, the cheaper things are.
Armed with flashlights, we started our ascent at 3:30 am. This was going to be Katuk’s 105th climb to the summit. This is us right before we started, still looking a little sleepy on only 4 hours of shut eye.
The first part of our journey was easy, just lots of steps up to a temple. After that, we headed into the jungle portion where a narrow path had us hiking in single file line. There was lots of climbing over fallen trees or crouching under them. When we would come to a clear spot in the trees, the stars were absolutely amazing. A black sky filled with thousands of bright stars without any interference from city lights. We even saw a few shooting stars!
We were just about out of the jungle portion when the sun started to rise.
After the jungle portion came the tough part – the rocky portion. This part seemed to go on forever and had a very surreal feel to it. We were surrounded by volcanic rock in all directions but also had a view of the entire island – it almost felt like we were walking on some kind of desert moon. A very steep one.
As we neared the top, the terrain got worse and we were literally rock climbing – finding the safest spots for our toes and fingers to pull ourselves up . At the very top there was a spot where the Hindus lit incense and made offerings to the gods. There was some rice and fruit and 6 dead white ducks that I stepped over in surprise. Katuk said a prayer and offered a jaffle (a toasted sandwich) while Curtis and I rested and took in the scenery. We had both been expecting the top to be flat and to be able to see the other side of the volcano but instead were met with a jagged edge that gave way to a Grand Canyon like crater. The top blew off the mountain in 1963.
After a rest and a snack, we were ready to make our decent. I had a moment of panic when I looked down and saw just how high up we were really were and how steep the incline was. Not to mention all those rocks which would make for a nasty landing should I misstep and fall.
The panic subsided and we had a great time on the way back down. Katuk knew the best route and pointed out all of the slippery areas to avoid and even held my hand when I needed a little extra help on a particularly trickery part.
We encountered about 20 monkeys who were on their way up the mountain as were on our way down. They were heading up to eat the food that had been left as offerings at the top. Katuk gave one of the monkeys a banana which he happily ate.
A few hours into our descent, I started feeling weaker and weaker as my legs began to give out on me. Obviously going on a hike of this epic proportion was not the best idea after 6 days of severe dysentery…but I had made it up to hour 10 in fine form…the last 2 hours were not so. It got to the point that I literally couldn’t walk without experiencing severe pain with every step. Both of my big toes felt broken (they were only severely bruised…still are in fact completely black under and around the nails) and my left quad muscle felt like something had popped. We were making slow progress and it got worse when it got to the point that I was unable to take another step without Curtis or Katuk’s help (and sometimes both at once). I just couldn’t stay upright without holding on to someone. At one point Katuk carried both backpacks and I leaned my weight onto Curtis’s shoulders….it was slow moving and painful. It was the never ending descent….I was half hoping the volcano would just erupt so it would all be over. I was also fantasizing about helicopter rescues no matter what the cost.
But alas, I did not die on that mountain! We finally made it back to the temple and down to the van.
All of us promptly fell asleep on the hour plus ride back to our hotel (we had a driver pick us up as Katuk’s wife had taken their vehicle to go to the market).
This 12 hour hike was honestly one of the toughest and most rewarding things I have ever done. It was mentally much harder than either of the marathons I’ve done. Even the last marathon that I did with my leg injury was easier than the last couple of hours of this hike. I had months to mentally and physically prepare for those marathons and I knew what kind of pain I was in for during the 2005 one. Also, if you do collapse or run into trouble during a marathon, help is just at the side of the road. The only way for me to get down this mountain was to do it on my own by placing one foot in front of the other no matter how much it hurt and I simply wanted to stop. Knowing I couldn’t was a tough mental game. Curtis and Katuk were so awesome though – so helpful and understanding and positive.
We spent another two days in Amed recovering (Curtis couldn’t drive our standard jeep – he was too sore for the clutch). Ping pong was a fun diversion as were beach front massages and relaxing in the pool.
Looking back on the experience now, I remember all the good parts of the climb and the beauty of how breathtaking it was much more than I remember the pain (well, that’s not entirely true but close enough). It took a full week for our legs to stop hurting…both of us found it difficult to walk and stairs were a nightmare (I used the old trick of walking down them backwards which doesn’t hurt as much but sure gives people something to stare at). Getting up from sitting at the table we looked like we were 90 years old. We helped each other hobble and laughed at the extent of just how sore we were.
Next stop: Ubud!