Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gunung Agung Volcano, Bali, Indonesia

Prayers on the peak of Agung.
Its supposed to be hot and dry season now but as I trundled up the mountain in the beat up van with Wayan my driver I was beginning to think I was jinxed. It had already started drizzling heavily and I wasn’t keen to start up the hike wet and stumbling on the wet soil and later on the slippery rocks further up the volcano. That was what happened on my last aborted attempt up Agung when i brought the rain after a month of dry season at the foot of the mountain.

We arrive at Pasaraya Agung the highest temple in Bali. My guide for this trip is Ketut and much like most Balinese, looking 25 years old for a 32 year old father of 2.

There are various other groups also starting up the trail at 2am in the morning. With guides there  at least 25-30 people will be attempting the climb up Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest peak at slightly higher than 3,000meters. And a still active volcano which last erupted in 1963.

The rain has stopped and we stop by the temple for a quick prayer to the gods of the mountains before we begin our ascent. The weather is now perfect. Where else on my last attempt we were scrambling up soggy soil in the wet and misty night, this time around the night sky was clear.

We take the small trail on the left of the temple entrance (after you take the steps from the car park) and it snakes around the temple and enters the forest behind. The trail can be hiked up without a guide but slightly higher up you'd have to be able to pick the trail among the rocks or there is a small chance of you wandering off the official trail.

My laces are undone and as I bend down and start to retie them a familiar smell wafts up and assaults my senses. Its crap. Shit. Stool. Berak. Tahi. Si. I can only assume that when I went into the bushes earlier to take a piss my pants had brushed on some of them and thus my boots and laces had some traces of it too.

I really have no time to think about it now. I don’t even want to brush my hands on the grass anymore to clean them.  But I can say that both my hands are now smelling like something out of someone or some animal’s ass.

Ketut sets a quick pace and I reign him in. I tell him that I am not fit and I definitely do not think I am going to meet his expectations of 3 hours to the peak.

I go slowly and am quickly overtaken by every other group behind me. My muscles which I have not given a good workout since Kilimanjaro last year are starting to protest.  My calves are tight and protesting like angry women who’ve just caught their husbands sleeping with someone called Fanny or Apple. There is a tight knotted muscle in my left butt cheek that I never thought was even a muscle.

I just concentrate on one step at a time.  My breathing is OK but I’ve never felt so weak in my life. Its like there was simply no energy in my legs and my arms. Maybe i should not have started the climb the same day i landed in Bali. I am using my hiking pole and it helps a lot. 

After an hour my muscles are just getting warmed up and we clear the forest. And an amazing sight waits for me.

Ketut Dana my 32 year old guide up the Agung volcano. A father of 2 who supplements
 this income with farming and providing feed for neighbouring livestock.

The sky is lit by bright moonlight. The stars, bright and clear dot the heavens above me. I just stop and call out to Ketut to wait. I want to enjoy this. Its about 3am now.

Once I start up again I try to keep a rhythm. Its not easy as the ground in uneven and rocky. Ketut and me sorta have our patterns. I stumble along for 5-6 steps, stop for about 5 seconds and then continue. He quickly walks ahead and waits for me to catch up before he shoots off.  Pretty soon I realize that Ketut has an amazing ability to sleep on his feet. Once when I catch up to him and he’s just standing there into space. My first reaction is to think he saw something ahead in the dark and I peered into his face and saw that his eyes were closed. I cleared my throat, saw his eyelids flutter open with a start and without looking at me he started walking ahead again.

After the second hour i have settled into giving myself markers to aim for, that shadowy rock, that silhouetted tree, or even Ketut’s (possibly sleeping) shadow in front. Then I switch to counting every 500 steps, 200 steps whatever that keeps my mind occupied. My mind gets bored in my mental boredom as my physically limits are tested. Images and thoughts start flashing through my mind - A picture of a mud skipper sits in a chair counting money, Eminem and Dr Dre are in a music video but the words are from U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name, I wonder what it would be like if the Hindu Gods of Bali met their counterparts from India, and this goes on until we hit the half way mark. 

I am not resting as the cold will make my muscles tight. Some early signs of cramping has begun but I’m just taking it slow. We’re now walking by moon light and I’ve turned off my head lamp.

Ketut seeing my tortured steps stops and says the view here is not that bad. We are about 75% up the volcano. Hinting that we can just chill here and wait for the sunrise. I say no that I want to get to the peak. He nods and moves ahead. At this point its more psychological as just looking up with tired muscles can make ones mind feel like just flopping down and ordering up a cold beer and some chicken wings. This is where you just look down and take one step at a time. Dont look at the peak at all. You will make it. Its just how hard you make it on yourself.

Ketut turns around and says we’re going to miss the sun rise. I said I’m not in it for the sunrise. It’s the peak that I care for. The only reason why we started early was so that we would be able to get off the mountain before the morning heat bore down on the uncovered three quarters of the mountain. Or if by bad luck the clouds would move in and cover the terrain with mists.

Besides I told him, I’ve seen sunrises from Kinabalu, Africa and the Himalayas and even Batur in Bali.  He seems genuinely amazed that this slow creaking tourist had hit any other peak in his life. I don’t blame him. There was an older lady who overtook me up the mountain. I really am out of shape.

At the back of my mind while coming up the mountain I am thinking how am I going to handle the 10 hour Teluk Limau hike with Langkau at the end of the month? Why do I do these things to myself?

Dawn breaks. Interesting. The first time I’m not on a peak by the first light of day breaks.  In Kilimanjaro we had almost hit Stella’s Peak by the time it was clear to look around.

And then that was when I discovered that sometimes its better to climb in the dark when you have no idea what you’re up against.

Agung is not just steep. Its BRUTALLY steep. Which means if you look up in the day light you’re going to be looking at one of the steepest and in some places very narrow ridges that you have to walk on. If you fall off Agung there is a high chance you’re dead. There is not much to break your fall for quite a way down. Its steeper than Kinabalu and in most places even steeper than the final ascent up to Kilimanjaro. The rocky terrain does not help much if you’re looking at taking economical steps.

I accidentally made the mistake of looking back. And yes, my balls shrunk. May it was the point I was at, but looking down I could not see any bottom. And being so steep one actually gets to see a lot of the South of Bali before you which is quite spectacular in its own way. But not at 530am in the morning, with sore muscles, leaden legs, cramps and an old back injury that was starting to act up ie i was wobbling like a drunk on a raft in the ocean. This is when i realised that the reason why it was so hard was because of my weak knees and back from all those injuries of old. I've never really made an effort to rehab them properly. Moving was not hard, it was just painful.

My only stops now are to keep pulling up my pants which keep slipping down and also this is where I realize that that faint draft in my crotch area was caused by my trusty fake Columbia hiking pants tearing at the seams. Its looks like an alien burst out from my crotch. looks like i can't sit 'kangkang' on the mountain top now.

We see a couple from China in front resting. The lady seems afraid of the heights. I hear their guide say that she can go on to the top but if she’s going to be thinking about the hike down all the time than he would advise her to just take it easy and make her way down now as he needed her to concentrate on climbing safely and not distracted. Not bad advise.

It’s the final 200 meters to the top. I’m really struggling now but start going up one step at the time. My calves are cramping and I worry a little how am I going to make it down. I need to be fully operational to navigate some of the tricky sections before we hit the forest. I hit the peak at about 645am.

Some of the earlier climbers are now climbing back down.  I am greeted with a mixture of incredulity, amazement and amusement. A German guys looks at me for a long while amused and as I pass him he asks “ good morningzz, you had problem with your alarm clock?” I think its quite funny and breathlessly all I can muster is "my alarm clock is not fit” as I pass him by.

NOW, I believe everything happens for a reason. So what if I was the slowest person up the mountain. So what if everyone did it in 3 hours and I got to the peak in 4.45 hours? So what if I missed the sunset?

The view of the South of Bali from the Peak of Agung

When Ketut and I reached the top, the last few climbers had just left the small ridge where they had gathered earlier to witness the sun rise over Bali.

Ketut and I, had the whole mountain to ourselves. How cool is that?

Just the two of us and the Gods of the mountain. The sun was shining bright in our eyes. South Bali stretched out before us into the blue green ocean. It was cold in the shadows and warm in the rays of the sun.

Ketut made some small preparations and said some prayers to the deities on the mountain. Then
he brought out his flask and made some strong Balinese coffee. He shared some fruits with me and I shared some of the kaya buns I brought. (the original text would have read - he shared one of his bananas with me and I shared my buns with him but as you can see it doesn’t sound right).
Ketut enjoying taking in our hot coffee before we make our way down.
Ketut saying prayers to the Gods of the mountain for allowing us safe passage up
and a safe journey home.

Ketut checking out the crater of Agung.
We spend about half an hour on the peak before i decide that we need to head down. My muscles are cooling down and also the sun is coming out in full force. I dont really want to spend too much time in teh hot sun with my waterproof fleece lined pants, and two layers of Nike Pros and a long sleeved Dri-Fit.

I take about 3 hours to get down. Its steep and yes my body is stiff moving down. Now is when the hurt hits me hard. All the old injuries come back to haunt me. The knees and the back are jolting pain at almost every step. The hiking pole helps and i make my way down as steadily as I can. We even catch up to one group who was spending time cam whoring along the way.

Not bad. I'm even joking to Ketut by the time i reach the Pasaraya Agung temples. I ask Ketut if i can pray at the temple. He checks if he's got a sarong to fulfill the temple protocol. Yes there's one and we find a well and I wash my face. Ketut helps me tie the sarong, finds me a side entrace, and lets me into the temple. I go to the 3 main shrines of Vishnu, Siva and Brahma. The golden doors are closed so i apologise to them then i may be addressing them wrongly. I pray to each god in turn and i leave with Ketut to our van waiting in the car park below.
The view on the descent from Agung

My torn pants. Went through Kilimanjaro but Agung torn it up real good.
Well not bad for a fake... 

Ketut makes our morning coffee on the peak of Gunung Agung

Agung always called out to me much like Kinabalu and Batur and I could never visit Sabah or Bali without some yearning to to experience the sounds, smells, the crunch of the rocks beneath my boots and yes, the views. From the misty covered forests to the glorious majesty of the terrain of the land spread before me.

On this day among the company of gods, Ketut and hot coffee in my hands, with clouds below me and the bright sunshine in my eyes, I look out onto the the island of Bali that stretches out before me. Its not a bad way to start my birthday.

Information on Agung

An ariel view of Agung taken from the web. Beyond is the the peak of Gunung Abang
and beyond Abang is the Kintamani crater where you see a bit of
 the Batur lake and the batur volcano

Getting There : 2 hours by car or van from Kuta at around 11pm. Slightly longer back depending on the day time traffic.

Elevation: 3,131 Meters

Start off Point:
Pura Besakih : 1,100meters (approx 7 hours to peak and 5 hours to descend)
Pasaraya Agung:  2,000 meters (4-5 hours to peak although some fitter ones can do it in 3 hours. Descent in 2 half to 3 half hours depending on the state of your knees)

First hour or so in a forest which gives way to volanic skree terrain and rocks. Its very steep and you'll need hiking polls to help you along the way. The last push to the peak is about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on your fitness. The last part is sheer rocky wall that you have to navigate along. The path is clear but there are some small ridges you will have to walk up. Psychologically it will look dangerous. It is steep so if you fall it could be fatal depending on which section you are in. Just respect the terrain and keep your concentration and focus climbing and you'll be fine.

The terrain is not as steep as it will look when you are ascending. Just concentrate on taking it one step at a time and you'll make it to the peak. Just dont stop too long or your muscles will cool down and getting started again will be tough.

Water proof pants and jacket is a must as if if rains it can get uncomfortbale. It glorious when the weather is perfect but it can change if the clouds come in and it gets cold. Same and even colder when it rains. Hiking poles will help a lot. Get one layer at least of a good fleece. A good hiking boot is also essential as you'll need the support on the rocks and the descent. Bring water in a camel bak like bladder will help as it helps you drink on the move. A good beanie or skull cap is good to keep your ears warm. Trust me this will def make things bearable. Bring power bars and some snack so to munch on the peak. Get the guide to bring a flask of hot coffee. Trust me it will be awesome on the peak!

It does get very hot in the mornings on the way down if the mists and clouds do not come in. Have a light shirt on standby if you dont want to be caught in your fleece and water proof jacket.

Best time to Hike: The dry season in Bali is around April to the mid to end October. Once the rains hit its very slippery on the slopes near the peak and very dangerous. ALso the leeches tend to come out with the wet conditions. These suckers can get a bit annoying.


ah lim said...

Amazing post, amazing view!

Chindiana said...

Thanks Ah Lim! Glad you like it! :)

Hamster'sNuts said...

fwah..i have 2 fwahs to comment on...

fwah no.1:
i'm sorry i saw french loaves. need new glasses or eyes.

fwah no.2:
wanna comment about your torn pants, but scared u no more belanja me lok-lok nanti.

bonus fwah :
i love how the sun rays pierce through the sky from blakang the mountain...

Chindiana said...

First time the gods kena call 'french loaves' la Hamster!

Fwah 2 - comment la what else can you say? my 'nut's busted out?

Thanks for the fwahs macha, all 3 of them :)

Hamster'sNuts said...

sssshhhhh !!!!!!
disclaimer : i NEVER called the gods FRENCH LOAVES..i do not know what you are talking about..(right now, also dont know who u are..?) ;P

fwah no.2 :
only 2 words bro, 2.
HAMSTER'S NUTS ( pls go to a pet store near you)

Chindiana said...

ooohhh... cari pasal eh?

and i'm going to an outdoor store. need new pants...

langkau said...

looks very high and steep, and dangerous.

Chindiana said...

Come la Langkau we do one easy one in Bali soon. It wasnt a long climb just steep as the start point is already quite high up. But yes it was steep and yes it could get dangerous if you were careless.