Ubud & Mt Agung
At 11.15 p.m. the alarm went off - I’m sure it was a new record for us (as it probably would be for most people). It wasn’t a chirpy start to the night/morning with barely 2 hours of sleep under our belts, but by 11.30 p.m. we were out the door and on our way to the start of the Mt Agung trek in a private car (no tour vans for us!). Although we had a friendly driver, several times he tried to take 'shortcuts' that ended up as dead ends. The 1.5 hour drive took us 2 hours, but we were too tired to care. By all reports, we had a mammoth climb in front of us, which would require all of our attention.
As soon as we exited the car, we were introduced to our guide, Yeoman, who insisted on beginning straight away. No checking if we had all the necessary equipment or if a bathroom break was required - she was heading up the mountain with or without us. I scrambled to find my head torch and prepare myself for the journey as we commenced up a set of concrete stairs. Five minutes later we arrived at a temple, where Yeoman proceeded through a ritual of some sort that I guess gave us safe passage up the volcano. Then we were off, and the real trekking began.
The entire route was steep. No easy parts, no sections with level ground, just an unrelenting incline in pitch black. The first 45 minutes were on soft soil through a dense forest, which I absolutely loved, but then it turned into loose rocks that slowed us down considerably. Other than a couple of groups that we passed early on, we were mostly on our own (I was incredibly glad there were no scooters or cars on this trek). As we rose above the treeline, we nervously watched a lightning show behind us, with rolling thunder letting us know that there was rain nearby. Is the top of an exposed mountain the safest place to be in the middle of a storm??
About 2 hours in we stopped for a coffee break, where it started to spit. The lightning and thunder appeared to be gaining on us, but Yeoman didn’t seem worried. She just rummaged through her bag and pulled out every type of sweet biscuit known to man - I think she brought an entire convenience store with her. With Danny’s caffeine needs satisfied and our sugar levels topped up, we resumed the hike. It was at this point that the true scramble commenced. It was a four-limb effort to haul ourselves up the large boulders and loose rocks. Technical didn’t even begin to describe the terrain. In the back of our minds, there was the constant worry about how we were supposed to get down again. An hour later, just below the top of the mountain, we hit another pair of hikers, who we huddled up with out of the wind until it was almost sunrise.
Disappointingly, we didn’t reach the true summit. I wasn’t sure if this was because it was too dangerous or if it would take too long to get there. We were clearly at a viewpoint that every tourist was taken to, but it was a couple of hundred metres lower than I expected. Looking at my watch, I saw that it had taken us just over 3 hours for the 3.25km hike to the crater rim. I’m not sure if I had ever hiked more slowly in my life when it didn't involve snow, ice or high altitude. At least the thunder and lightning had disappeared, which was a huge relief.
At 5.30 a.m. the first light appeared in the sky. The jagged crater rim around us came into view, as did layers of clouds, both overhead and beneath us, that annoyingly blocked most of the spectacle. I had hoped that being 2,900m metres above sea level that we would be above the clouds, but evidently not. We waited and hoped, but in the end we were only granted a minuscule hole that allowed a few rays of sunlight to penetrate through. Although there were brief moments of grandeur, there wasn't the striking display of colour that we expected with a sunrise. A momentary gap in the clouds revealed Mt Rinjani, a volcano way off on the island of Lombok that we had climbed 9 years ago, which was somewhat exciting. Overall it wasn’t the dazzling display I was after for the final sunrise of 2023. Thankfully, I enjoyed the hike up so much that it more than made up for the disappointing finale.
As we turned around to begin our descent, I could see steam being emitted from numerous vents inside the crater. The last eruption was only in 2019, and from where I was standing it appeared as though it was still quite active. But we didn’t have time to think about that - the seemingly vertical climb down was our sole focus.
Just like on the ascent, we used both arms and legs to move from one rock to the next. Surprisingly, we actually progressed slower in this boulder section going down than we did coming up, but it wasn’t as impossible as we had originally thought. The clouds gradually lifted, unveiling a view all the way out to the southern edge of Bali and to the Nusa islands, where we had been only a few days earlier. There wasn't much time to take in the view; fatigue was hitting me hard, and it took all my concentration to watch where I was placing each limb.
The loose rock section was the most difficult, as there were less places for us to steady ourselves with our hands, and we frequently skidded and slipped. After an eternity we re-entered the forest, with it’s slightly more stable dirt floor. Before we knew it, we were back at the temple and heading down the solid stairs (yes I counted, there were 296). In the end, the descent was only half an hour faster than the ascent.
Overall, this had been a much better tour and hike than Mt Batur, despite the lacklustre sunrise. While we appreciated being in a group by ourselves, what sold it for me was that this felt like true hiking, not just walking along a road that you could have driven up. Even though our legs were sore for days afterwards, it was absolutely worth it. We were also grateful that we didn’t have to stop at a coffee plantation on the way back to Ubud.
We arrived back at our hotel at 11 a.m., an hour earlier than expected. I presumed I would sleep for the rest of the day, but an hour and a half was all I could manage. We grabbed lunch, shopped a little and wandered aimlessly until happy hour began and we could celebrate our achievement. There was no chance we would be staying awake to ring in the new year, so as soon as we had eaten dinner, we packed our bags and crashed into bed. I guess a full, deep sleep was too much to ask, because at midnight the loudest fireworks in existence exploded over our hotel. It sounded like we were in a movie that was set in a war zone. Half an hour later the excitement ended, and we were asleep again with minutes. Until 5.20 a.m., when the alarm woke us up for the drive to the airport...