I kept waking up all night thinking of my impending doom. It all started when I went for a walk around Ubud on my first day in Bali. Wandering up and down the streets photographing ornate doorways and temples, I came across a sign offering treks up an active volcano. An active volcano? That certainly caught my attention. Indonesia is laden with volcanoes, but how often do you get to climb one? With my curiosity piqued, I went into the travel agency and got a bit more information about the excursion – a 3:00 a.m. pick up, a hearty chocolate pancake breakfast, a 2 hour hike up to the crater, and a glorious sunrise to boast – I was in! But just what was I in for?
Seeing as I couldn’t get any sleep on the eve of the big day, I got up long before my alarm went off and started getting ready. I put on leggings, a tank top, stuffed a hoodie into my daypack in case it got windy once we reached the summit, and pulled out my dusty sneakers which were stained orange from the last time I wore them in Jordan. A sign of how often I like to exercise…
At 3:00 a.m. our driver arrived at the hotel and I piled into the van with Sam and his dad, George, who also agreed to join me on this little expedition. I drifted in an out of sleep the whole way over, but finally woke up when our drive slowed down to a crawl as a result of the thick fog which hung over the land. We could hardly see the end of the road and it was only the occasional light from roadside homes that kept us from veering too far to the right or the left.
A few minutes before 4:00 a.m. we reached the base of Mount Batur. Flashlights lit the dark parking lot and we met our guide Gede whose name sounded a lot like Gooday and made for a funny introduction.
“Hi, I’m Audrey. What’s your name?”
“Ah yes, it’s a gooday… What’s your name?”
Without wasting a minute, we fell into a single file formation and started following our guide. Still unfed and walking in the pitch dark, my mind was swirling around those chocolate pancakes I had been promised.
“Mmm, gooey chocolate chip pancakes… I wonder if the other climbers found pancakes? Maybe they’ll have them once we reach the summit… They are so much better than blueberry pancakes… When was the last time I ate chocolate chip pancakes, anyway? Those would be so good right about now!”
While the trail started out sandy, it quickly became rocky and steep. Requiring more concentration not to lose my footing on a jagged end of volcanic rock, my mind – or my stomach – eventually accepted a fate with no pancakes and focused on getting one foot in front of the other.
We continued our walk feeling the brush of tall grasses against our legs and seeing nothing but the dark silhouettes of nearby trees and the odd flicker of light from the climbers ahead of us.
I’m not going to lie, the climb was easy for about the first 20 minutes, but my legs quickly started to cry out, “Why are you doing this to me?!” I tried to appease them but guzzling bottles of Pocari Sweat and taking multiple breaks, but my legs were shaky by the time we reached the top.
Exhausted but not defeated, I took shelter in a little wooden shack at the sunrise point and waited for the first rays of sun to shine in the horizon. A little glimpse of orange appeared, and then the sky was slowly painted yellow, pink, and lavender.
This was the reason we had chosen to climb this volcano in the wee hours of the morning, and it was totally worth it!
I sipped on my cup of hot chocolate and took it all in.
After a spectacular sunrise, our guide Gede led us closer to the crater for a little surprise in the form of monkeys! Yes, these little macaques live atop the volcano because they enjoy the warmth that emanates from the ground.
I was also surprised to see what the crater looked like – no bubbling lava; just a hollow, rocky interior with an ever present cloud of steam. It was a sight that made me revere nature.
Aside from watching the sunrise, coming down the volcano was another highlight. I had done the entire climb in the dark, where all I could see was the dimly lit path illuminated by my flashlight. I hardly knew what lay to my left or my right, however, walking down with the sun now up was a completely different experience. The landscape now revealed itself in its best light showcasing Lake Batur, green rice fields, and a lava field below. It was a wonderful sight to behold.
The verdict? If you’re active and are looking for a unique experience in Bali, then climbing Mount Batur for sunrise is something that I would definitely recommend.
Tips for climbing Mount Batur
– Dress in layers. The temperatures can change quite drastically from the base of the volcano to the summit. While you may be okay in shorts and a t-shirt when you first start the climb, you’ll find that it’s very windy once you reach the top and have to wait for the sun to come up. Bring a hoodie or a windbreaker just in case.
– Wear the right shoes. I hiked in running shoes and I was fine, but if you have a pair of hiking boots, that might be a better option. You’ll be climbing over sharp volcanic rock and there will also be sections with loose gravel to watch out for. You want to wear a shoe that has a good grip.
– Pack a headlamp. While the guides will provide flashlights for the climb, sometimes there won’t be enough for each individual climber and you may have to share. If you own a headlamp, I would opt for that over a flashlight because there will be sections of the trail where you will be using your hands to hoist yourself up. That’s when a headlamp comes in handy.
– Bring water or a sports drink. The climb is quite steep so you’ll get tired a lot quicker than you’d think. Pack a drink so that you can stay hydrated.
– Consider your fitness level. 1,717 meters may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the incline is steep! I met a few people along the trail that were just hating the experience, so think about whether or not you have what it takes to reach the top and then come back down. It should be a total of 3.5-4 hours of hiking (up and down) if you’re able to keep a steady pace.
– You can eat breakfast at the top. There is a small wooden shack at the sunrise point on the volcano where you can order a little breakfast. The menu includes hot drinks and things like toast, boiled eggs, and ramen noodles. It’s a simple fare, but you’ll probably be hungry after the 2 hour climb. Most items cost anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 rupiah (around $2 USD).
– Tours can be arranged at most travel agencies in Bali. The sunrise climb up to Mount Batur can easily be arranged once you’re on the island. Most operators will charge 350,000 rupiah ($30 USD), but if you’re a group they are always willing to negotiate the price. This cost includes transportation to and from your hotel, an experienced guide, and supposedly a pancake breakfast.
– Be mindful of nature’s ways; Mount Batur is still an active volcano. The last serious eruption was in 1968 when the lava field tragically covered an entire village. The volcano was active again from 1997 to 2000, and in 2000 it shot 300 meters of ash above the crater. The hiking trail was also temporarily closed down in 2009 after some activity was detected. Keep informed before you decide on the hike.
Would you climb an active volcano?
What’s the most challenging climb you’ve ever attempted?