‘Fancy a different kind of three peaks challenge?’
10 of us ‘signed-up’ and had a team meeting the day before at which we agreed none of us really knew what to expect but would all eat lots of noodles in preparation.
At 10pm on the 18th February we met at Coco Supermarket in Ubud — full of Nasi Goreng and expectation, we piled into the cars and drove for and hour and a half to the foothills of Bali’s highest volcano.
Peak 1: Mount Agung
Most recent eruption: 1963 / 2017!
For Balinese people Mt.Agung is the spiritual centre as well as the highest point of their island home. We not only stop on the climb to rest but also for our guides to make offerings. Incense burning under the stars in the still air reinforces the fact that we’re inching our way up both a big rock and a symbol of peace and power.
Excited and with some of us ‘cacking it’, we begin our climb at midnight up a steep staircase to the temple Pura Pasar Agung, near Selat. Soon we are in the forest and the ascent steepens as we find a rhythm. Our headlights weave like the legs of a centipede winding through the undergrowth. The early chatter quietens.
Out of the forest and onto the naked volcanic rock. Agung rises intimidatingly above us, and beyond the milky way rips a gargantuan arc across the night sky. We stumble and scramble forward — increasingly the climb becomes just that, a climb. Nothing technical but we are ‘spotting’ each other as we take one angled step at a time.
Finally, we stagger onto the crater edge. A very big, very dark hole. That feeling of being up close to an exposed drop-off rushed through me. Breakfast on the summit at 4:30am was chilly and plentiful — rice, eggs, salad, and Bali coffee. It was probably the first airline type meal I’ve actually earnt.
Most trekkers will stay for sunrise but we were already getting cold and besides, we had another 2.5 volcanoes to do!
First light arrived an hour later. To see southern Bali, the rice paddies, the low-lying clouds, ocean, and islands emerge out of the darkness was nothing short of spectacular. From a thin blue line the whole world seem to light up.
The descent was slower than we expected as the forest eventually spat us out at 9am.
We headed for a big breakfast overlooking the rice paddies and took some time to recover in the sunshine. At this point four of our tribe decided to check-out. They’d achieved a big climb and needed to head home.
Peak 2: Mount Abang
Most recent eruption: pre-historic
Our leisurely breakfast and one hour drive to the foothills of Mt.Abang means we don’t actually start walking until 12:30pm, this is a little later than we had ‘scheduled’ but we didn’t let this phase us as we fuel up and head back into the forest.
This is such a contrast to the previous volcano. The paths are gentle at first as we skim around the southern slopes of Lake Batur before heading up the ridge, occasionally popping out of the tree-line to look down onto the grid fish farms of the lake. The forest is magical. Giant wisps of foliage hang down like the great green beards of guru’s. It feels like we’re walking into middle earth.
We maintain a good rhythm on this climb, stopping regularly for short water breaks and snacks. I’m sweating to the point that I actually appreciate my body’s self-cooling mechanism. Doing this without the canopy cover would be too intense.
Sooner than we expect we surface onto the mini-summit and temple of Mr.Abang. Less a bang, more a sigh of relief as we collapse onto the grassy knoll and watch the cloud roll in and around the crator and lake before drifting away and exposing the full vista. We’ve reached the summit in under 2 hours.
Our guides make us the Balinese equivalent of redbull: Egg yoke, honey and lime. Sweet raw energy on-board we dive back down the hill.
I’m not sure about everyone else but I definitely find the descent more challenging that going uphill. Climbing is a muscular, aerobic workout — if you’ve got a good base fitness level and you take your time and hydrate and feed well you can keep going. But on the downhill its your joints that take a battering — knees, ankles, hips — as you slip, slide and pound down down down. Psychologically I think that the reason the descent always takes longer than you expect is because you feel like you have ‘achieved’ the goal of climbing the mountain by reaching the top. Of course that’s only half the job done.
We reached the cars at 4pm feeling tired but quietly confident that we could have a crack at the third volcano.
Peak 3: Mount Batur
Most recent eruption: 1963 (same year as Mt Agung)
After a greasy buffet pitstop we begin our walk to Batur at 5:30pm along dusty tracks through the village and farms. Most people climb the volcano at sunrise so at sunset we have it to ourselves. The orange light settles on our tired but determined limbs as we head up through the rocky lava fields of the lower slopes.
Soon we’re slowly zigzagging up one of Batur’s crustacean like spines, pausing on the switchbacks to enjoy the increasingly spectacular sunset across the lake, Mt.Abang, and there, emerging behind, the now distant memory of mighty Mt.Agung.
We reach the crater edge and ‘sunrise hut’ by 7pm. We’re exhausted. The peak stands a further few hundred meters above us on the other side of the rim. We can see the smoke of the volcano drifting up like a solitary chimney stack. We scamper up the final ascent, slipping and sliding on the narrow sandy slope. The dusk closes in and the twinkling lights of the valley brighten. We’ve made it. We’re on the summit of Bali’s Mt.Batur, sweating in the fresh night air, we celebrate with hugs, high-fives and peanuts.
Two hours later we’re back in the local bar below. The final descent taking longer than any of us would have wanted as we edge out of the lava-carved cravases like cowboys with rickets. Everything hurts.
But as we sink a cold Bintang we can celebrate a challenge completed knowing already that it has been worth the blood, sweat and fear.
We stop the clock at 9:30pm.
21 hours and 30 minutes.
Three peaks Bali. Done.
Thank you Gusti for getting us around and to all the guides for taking care of us up high.
Thank you Agung, Abang and Batur for a day we’ll never forget.