I knew I wanted to climb a volcano on Bali. The question was which one: Mt. Batur, or Mt. Agung. Mt. Batur is the more popular choice, and tours are easily arranged from Kuta, for a substantial price.

Mt. Batur is a pretty easy climb, so it gets crowded. Not being one to take the easy route, I was more interested in Gunung Agung, the highest and holiest volcano on the island.

I asked around in Sidemen about guides, but they wanted a lot of money. So I drove myself to Pura Pasar Agung, a temple that is one of the starting points.

The temple was desolate and deserted, but an old guy hanging around offered to take me tomorrow for a reasonable price. I just had to get there myself tomorrow morning.

Most people start this hike ridiculously early, around 2 am, so they can be to the top for the sunrise. But I had not yet conquered my fear of driving in the dark, and I didn’t care about the sunrise. My guide said we could start at 7 am. It’s supposed to take three hours to the top, and two down.

It looked like we were headed for that rocky ridge, but that's not the summit.
It looked like we were headed for that rocky ridge, but that’s not the summit.

A Crazy Climb

He was waiting for me at 7 the next morning, so we got going right away. I hiked extensively in places like Grand Canyon and Canyonlands, but this was far more difficult. It was three hours of climbing relentlessly up. There was no developed trail.

The first portion was up a muddy path through jungle. Then came rocks and gravel to scramble over. There were no flat portions to rest on. It was always up.

The forest became scrubbier, then disappeared when we hit treeline. The fog started to come in. That’s the other reason people start early, to see the view before the clouds obscure it.

There was no trail, but we followed a dried lava flow. It was steep and rocky, so there was lots of scrambling over the rocks. For the last hour the route was totally exposed, with some significant drop-offs.

My guide on the path up through the scrubby forest.
My guide on the path up through the scrubby forest.

It was relentless. Always straight up. No switchback. It wasn’t hiking, it was climbing. For the last hour I couldn’t catch my breath, and had to stop every couple of minutes. My guide would smoke a cigarette while he waited. Monkeys lurked in the fog around us.

Towards the end my legs started to cramp. Luckily we were finally at the top and could enjoy the view! Only there was no view looking down from the summit. Only white fog.

But I could see into the caldera. And there was a little shrine to mark this sacred spot. My guide performed a ceremony, and left an offering. When he was done the monkeys rummaged through the shrine.

We had our simple lunch, the same dish of chicken roasted in banana leaves that I paid quite a bit for at the tourist restaurant in Sidemen. The local version does not cost nearly as much.

The clouds start coming in.
The clouds start coming in.

Climbing Back Down

After taking pictures and resting, it was time to go down. Going down was worse. Climbing down the rocks meant having to carefully watch every step. I slipped many times and worried my guide. The constant concentrating was exhausting. There was nothing to see except for the fog. It took us three hours, not the advertised two.

The last hour was in pouring, cold rain. It was miserable.

Despite the difficulty, the lack of views, and the technicality that I wasn’t at the true summit, I’m glad I did it. I wasn’t glad that I booked a place in Candidasa that same night, which meant I would have to drive there in the rain. I would have preferred to rest in Sidemen!

The rocky path was not going to that ridge.
The rocky path was not going to that ridge.
We were surrounded by monkeys. What were they doing up there?
We were surrounded by monkeys. What were they doing up there?
Clouds coming in.
Clouds coming in.
Looking up to the summit.
Looking up to the summit.
At the top. If I don't look happy in this picture, it's because I'm exhausted!
At the top. If I don’t look happy in this picture, it’s because I’m exhausted!
The summit is marked by a shrine.
The summit is marked by a shrine.
This monkey wasn't smiling.
This monkey wasn’t smiling.
Terry
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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