Mount Agung: Ascending the Great Mountain
“The sunrise trek up Mount Agung is probably one of the most spectacular outdoor experiences ever. Breathtaking – both physically and metaphorically – battling this great, active volcano through night and day is a rewarding challenge for any nature lover out there.”
Mount Agung is found in East Bali, in the regency of Karangasem. This towering, active volcano stands at 3,042m high and is considered in ancient Balinese beliefs as the abode of the gods. The word Agung, also the title of royal or higher caste Balinese, translates to ‘great’, thus Mount Agung is Bali’s ‘Great Mountain’.
The drive east often puts people off, perceived as being long and tedious, but having passed through the hectic urban centres the roads clear up and the long Ida Bagus Mantra highway takes you away… During the drive, I looked out of the car window and watched as the busy Bali we are so accustomed to in the south slowly transitioned into the green, lush landscape that is more akin to ‘yesterday’s Bali’.
We reached Alila Manggis, our hosts and accommodation for the evening. With an early wake up to reach the crater by sunrise, staying near the mountain means a longer night’s rest.
At 1am we were picked up by our driver Pak Made at the lobby and were taken halfway up Mount Agung to a parking lot roughly 1,400m above sea level. There we met Wayan Botak (Wayan ‘The Bald’), our friendly guide and avid hiker.
In the darkness, with only headlamps lighting the way, we began our ascent up 350 steps that brought us to the bottom of a temple called Pura Pasar Agung. All that was visible from the light of our torches was the outline of a temple gate, or gapura, towering in front of us. The majesty of Balinese temples is never lost, no matter what time of day.
From a path found behind the temple, the real trek began. The air was cool, the path steep. All we could see was the earth at our feet and the soft mist of our heavy breaths. Carefully, we made our way up the mountain, warming up our bodies and getting to know Wayan a bit better. His positive support and chattiness helping us power through the tough terrain.
Up to this point, the trek was repetitive and tiresome. We simply focused on the next step and nothing more. However, upon reaching a flat, open area, we were finally rewarded for our efforts. No trees blocked our view down to the sea, where we could see the whole outline of the southern peninsula. The stars in the sky were clear against the dark night, the bright lights of civilisation also visible, almost as if they were the Earth’s reflection of the stars above. Only half way up and Agung had already impressed us.
At around 3.30am, at 2400m above sea-level, the dense woodland area ended and the soft earth turned to crumbling, volcanic rock. Mt. Agung’s last eruption in 1963 had left behind weathered, hardened lava on which we were now walking.
Up we walked, climbed and scrambled. Crouched forward towards the summit in order to keep our balance, fear of falling into the unknown darkness around us. Our guide giving us clear instructions and warnings along the way.
640m after the tree line ended and we were finally just below the crater. After a vertical climb up a small rock face, there we were on Mount Agung’s crater rim. The opposite edges just a silhouette against the now bluish sky and below us the crater itself, nothing but a deep abyss.
With the dark heart of Agung to our left and a 3042m fall to our right, we edged around the crater to a nest of rocks that became our waiting area. There we settled down and revelled in our achievement. We had made it to the top and were about to be rewarded.
It was almost 6am when it finally began, what we all had come to see. To the east, behind a clear view of Mt. Rinjani on Lombok, were the first signs of light – a warm glow of orange and red surrounded by the dark azure of the surrounding sky.
As the sun rose, light filled the land to the west and we could finally see and feel the height of the Great Mountain. The expanse of green at Agung’s feet extended to the coast. All of Nusa Penida could be seen too. As the sun continued to rise, the colours of the land changed. From the cool blue of first light, to warm amber and finally the brilliant green shining off the sun’s strong strike.
During this performance by Mother Nature herself, Wayan prepared coffee and tea for us and gave us fruit, bread and sandwiches. We sat and ate in awe.
Wayan and other guides took out incense sticks and prayed at a small, homemade-looking altar of Hindu fetishes. The drifting incense aroma and the guides’ chanting was the perfect Balinese touch to an already surreal morning.
After such an amazing time sat atop Agung, we almost forgot we had the 4-hour walk down again. Photos taken, bags packed and rubbish collected we began our descent. For many other treks this part is often dull, but having walked up in the dark, the walk down was a completely new experience with totally new sights ahead of us.
We were amazed to see the terrain we had climbed that same morning; steep, craggy rock that forms and moulds the top half of Agung, with sharp ridges and drops to both sides and a long stretch of trees as far as the eye can see. Grey monkeys were spotted too, often found roaming when the sun comes up to find food left behind by pilgrimages or trekking groups.
Whilst the walk down was tiring and difficult, the scenes we missed on the way up kept us entertained. The changes we saw only through the path under our feet were now visible around us; from the volcanic rock, to a sparse woodland and finally into deep jungle again.
Finally, we reached the bottom, back to the Pura Pasar Agung now busy with it’s daily pilgrims and prayers. Still, here 1,400m above sea-level, the view and ambience is awe-inspiring. Yet, nothing can quite beat the view from the top of Bali’s Great Mount Agung.
Mount Agung has erupted since this article was written and is now on a state of alert. The mountain has an exclusion zone that does not allow anymore trekking at this time.