Mt Agung - Bali, Indonesia

Why Hiking an Active Volcano Was a Great Idea

It was the middle of the night and I was standing at the trailhead ready to begin my ascent.

I’m a fairly seasoned hiker and I try to get on the mountain a few times per month, weather permitting, but this time was different.

I was in Bali, Indonesia, the most popular island in the Indonesian Archipelago, and I was about to begin my journey up a 9,500 ft tall active volcano… Mt. Agung.

Mt. Agung is sacred in Balinese culture.

As Hindus, they respect mountains as the dwelling of the gods and believe Agung to be home to Mahadeva, the supreme manifestation of Lord Shiva, considered by many to be the most superior of all god.

Almost everything in Bali is influenced, in a way, by Mt. Agung.

They design their Temples to match the structure of the mountain starting with a sturdy base, then jagged pillars, and finally smooth slopes that reach a unified point.

They only place their trash outside the walls of their homes on the side opposite the mountain so as not to let the gods see and they perform numerous rituals and ceremonies every year to honor their culture rich beliefs.

Normally, I would set an intention for myself before beginning a hike, but this time I needed to be blessed by a Pemangku, a Balinese Priest, the most respected member of their society.

Lit by candles and smelling of incense our group sat down on the floor of Besakih Temple, the largest and holiest temple of the Hindu religion in Bali… then began the ceremony.

Out of the silence of the night, the priest’s voice roared to life.

If this were to have been on a Netflix special the subtitles would have read [Incomprehensible Audio] and served as a shock to my unacclimated ears.

We were then given an offering that consisted of an array of beautiful flowers on a neatly stitched basket made of banana leaves.

On what I’m almost certain was a single breath the priest’s voice echoed throughout the temple for no less than 5 minutes.

Concluding his song, he stood up, walk over to me with a small container of holy water, and proceeded to sprinkle it on my head.

Next, he handed me a few pieces of what was the most pristine white rice grains I had ever seen and pointed to my Ajna Chakra or third eye. I placed the three grains on my forehead in-between my eyebrows and when I looked up the priest had disappeared back into the Temple.

…It was time to begin the ascent.

I later found out that you must use whole rice grains, Bija, for any Hindu ceremony as broken rice does not grow. Similarly, Hindus believe that if you use broken rice the body and soul of the Lord Character will not grow up inside their body. The ‘wet rice grains’ serve as a symbol that God has blessed you.

Armed with only a headlamp and a large walking stick we began our 8-hour journey.

The first 3 or 4 hours were spent in the thick of an overgrown jungle and required all sorts of climbing, crawling and the occasional tethered rope to get us up a steep or muddy incline.

I remember our guide splitting us up into 3 groups for fast, moderate, and slow…

Normally I’d be determined to be the first one up the mountain but looking back on this experience I vividly remember an overwhelming sense of calm that pervaded my body.

I settled into the ‘moderate’ groups last spot and in an almost meditative state we pressed on.

*It could have been sleep deprivation but let’s stick with a more spiritual description for this story… 😀

We soon arrived at the next phase of our climb and the terrain shifted dramatically. What was minutes ago an overgrown jungle was now a giant boulder-filled landscape…

I looked up, and with no end in sight, I thought we must have been going in circles.

The guide persisted and so did we.

This was by far the hardest part of the hike and was unlike anything I had ever climbed before.

My energy was slowly draining, it was getting colder and I began to question what I was doing on the side of this mountain at 4 am.

I sat down, pulled a protein bar out of my Camelbak, and took a break.

Our guide glanced back at that moment, spun around, and in a few David Belle parkour-style moves he was standing at my feet.

He said, “No, not yet. That rock first.” As he pointed to the biggest boulder yet…

Reluctant but obedient, I stood up and kept moving.

I think it took our entire group a total of 30 minutes to summit that single boulder, and when you did you disappeared… COMPLETELY out of sight…

I was the last to go, and for a brief moment, it appeared as if I was the only person on the mountain. There was no constant hum of electrical appliances, no distant chatter, just rocks, trees, and the ever-increasing windchill.

I climbed that boulder and when I reached the top… what I saw next shook me to my core…

The treacherous boulder-filled terrain changed to a smooth single path that led directly to our destination, the summit.

This single path lined the ridge that we needed to follow to achieve our goal, but one step to either side and it was certain death… or a Jackie Chan esque slide back down to basecamp.

With the summit in sight, our group’s energy and determination increased ten-fold, and our desire to finish the ascent strengthened.

Single file we slowly crossed the multiple ridges to bring us to our final obstacle…

The rock equivalent of Koko Head in Oahu…

We were 7 hours in and the only thing standing between us and our goal of watching the sunrise was roughly 1000 rock stairs…

We took off like something you’d see in the running of the bulls and conquered that last obstacle in minutes.

We had done it, we summited Bali’s highest peak, Mt. Agung in just shy of 8 hours!

There is something so humbling about standing on the top of the mountain and being forced to realize how vast and powerful mother nature truly is.

It was 5 am and the sun was about to rise…

… and I had forgotten one extremely important thing.

To prepare for our hike we had been given a checklist of things that we NEEDED to bring, and being the ‘experienced’ hiker I thought I was, I decided to make my own checklist…

  • Camelbak + 2 Nalgene’s
  • Headlamp
  • Rain Jacket
  • Hiking Boots
  • Protein Bars
  • Inhaler (Asthmatic)
  • Camera

I thought I was good to go…

What I didn’t think of was that the temperature and accompanying windchill almost 10,000 feet above sea level on a completely uncovered mountain would be near freezing.

We sat down to watch the sunrise, the guide began to brew us Kopi Luwak and the cold started to set in…

My sweat-soaked clothes and light rain jacket provided minimal, if any, protection whatsoever.

I quite literally found myself between a rock and a hard place…

Luckily, someone in our group came prepared!

One of the girls in our group had read the checklist that said to bring a change of clothes for the hike down and had brought 2 extra shirts, and a thermal blanket…

So, there I was, sitting on the top of Mt. Agung in a women’s top, hoodie, and rain jacket sandwiched in the middle of our group who was huddling for warmth.

We sipped our coffee and waited for the sun to rise to bring us some much-anticipated warmth, and when it did something magical happened.

As the sun peeked over the horizon there was a green flash, a phenomenon rarely seen and something that suddenly made everything worth it.

That moment will forever be etched in my mind and is a true testament to nature’s brilliance.

When it was time to leave, I remember telling the guide that I wished there was a zipline to take us back to the temple, but sadly I don’t think he understood what I meant…

The descent was rather uneventful, with one exception…

We were an hour, maybe two from the temple. We came to one of the muddy sections we had used a tethered rope to climb on the way up, and I had the brilliant idea that I was going to try and slide down.

What started off as a great idea turned into my right pant leg being ripped completely off… I’m talking nothing from sock to the right side of my crack.

For the last hour of the hike, I was sporting a woman’s top that fit me like a glove, and a single pant leg… Other than my underwear covering half of my right thigh there was nothing but skin…

We were greeted at the bottom with a much deserved Bintang and shuttled back to our hotel.

I scheduled an in-room massage for later that evening and apparently, the masseuse came, gave me the massage and I even signed the bill, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever. If it wasn’t for my roommate filling me in the next day, I would have had no idea where the charge came from… I had slept through the entire thing.

The next thing I remember was waking up at 2 am to a burning sensation on my right leg. I removed the sheets, immediately stopped itching my leg, and saw what looked like chickenpox…

Remember when I ripped my pant leg?

The reason they tell you to wear long sleeves and pants is because the mosquitos are ravenous and my bare skin was no match for the family that had a wonderful feast during our final hour of the hike.

I put on some clothes and headed down to the overnight reception desk to ask if they had any Hydrocortisone cream. Being a very holistically driven society, they did not.

Instead, the next 30-minutes consisted of me getting my leg scrubbed down by the overnight attendant with a mixture of coconut oil and salt, which I now swear by to this day.

… And just like that, back to bed I went with a leg glistening like a freshly polished diamond.

Would you like to know what this hike taught me about life?

It’s that we never have all of the pieces to the puzzle when we are starting out, nobody does, but what does matter is that we make the conscious decision to start anyway.

Sure, there will be bumps in the road that will try to discourage us, but it is often the bumps themselves that create memorable experiences.

I want you to remember that how you respond to the trials and tribulations throughout your life is what will determine if you are consistently propelling yourself forward or holding yourself back.

You will one day have your own summit insight, and when you do it will have made everything worth it.

Your time is now!

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