Pre-dawn Volcano Trek

Climbing Mount Batur

Climbing a volcano at 3 am in the morning in the pitch black, with only a flashlight, barely able to see the two steps in front of me was not something I ever imagined doing but somehow I found myself climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano in Northern Bali to watch the sunrise. After 3 and half hours of sleep my alarm clock sounded at 1:45, the time most people start coming home from the bar, to start our ascent 3.5 km uphill (the volcano is 1717 m above sea level). Mount Batur is an hour away from Ubud and I figured I could catch up on some sleep in the car but the windy road up to the volcano made me more nauseous than sleepy. We were greeted by our guide Wayan (the second most popular name in Bali after Ketut) and started our speedy ascent into darkness. Clumsily, both my boyfriend and I left our headlamps at home so we were left with half broken flashlights to guide ourselves up the wieldy mountain.

The beginning of the climb was relatively easy, sandy paths, flat land, few bushes to move out of the way but at the halfway point, where an alter has been erected and all guides kneel down in prayer before continuing on to offer prayers of safe journeys, the trek became much more strenuous. The lava, which enveloped the mountain in 1917 (there have been various other eruptions in 1926, 1963, 1974 and 1994) covers the path and makes for a treacherous climb. The rocky, steep uphill climb is difficult to man-oeuvre especially in the dark and the traffic jam of other travellers climbing up the mountain forces climbers to keep pace or otherwise slow down all those that trail behind them. The climb is not always straightforward- where the rock is two steep I am forced onto my hands and knees to pull myself up. Despite the darkness and the cool breeze, everyone in my group (besides our guide) is dripping in sweat and my boyfriend is cursing the name of the person who recommended this hike. The guide keeps saying almost there- 10 minutes- but it feels as if 5, 10 minutes have already rolled by. Eventually, I see a small hut as a peer up above the rock and call out “we made it!”. Despite the huffing, puffing and complaints my group made it in 1.5 hours (the trek usually takes 2 hours) so we feel pretty proud of ourselves and even more fulfilled that we reached the top of a volcano.

As we wait for the sun to rise, our guide boils egg from the volcano’s own natural heat in less than two minutes and we buy overpriced coffee from the little hut to keep us warm. Despite sweating our way up the mountain, the temperature at the top of the volcano is chilly and I can see my breathe as I talk (which is a rarity in Bali at any time of year).

We spend the next hour enjoying the view, watching the sky change colours as the sun slowly peaks its way over the mountains and the clouds move to shield the sun from our eyes. While I am told the views are spectacular on a clear day our view is unfortunately blocked by clouds.  While I did manage to catch a few great pictures of both Mount Agung (Bali’s largest volcano and a much harder 6 hour climb) and the sun as it slowly lights up the sky- it would have been nice to see Lombok in the distance (which you can see on a clear day) and Lake Batur.

After the sun has risen we walk around the top of the volcano, carefully peering into the crater, where a Dutch traveller sadly died for the first time, just 3 months ago. As we descend the volcano we are greeted by clouds and it seems as if we are walking in the sky. While the climb up was difficult, surprisingly the volcanic rocks almost function as steps as we walk down the mountain- which makes the steep climb almost manageable. This time I am relieved to see the shrine all lit up by daylight as I knew the path ahead only gets increasingly easy.

It was also interesting to see the path lit up in daylight. As I was walking in the night, I occasionally shined the flashlight to my right or left to see what was beside me but to see the mountain dressed in light gave the climb an entirely new experience. As we descended we saw Lake Batur, farms below and the little huts which aligned the path selling bottled water. In the light we were also able to see the mess of volcanic lava that flowed in a circle at the bottom side of the mountain.  The villagers call it ‘lucky mountain’- a small green mountain situated in the middle of black lava that somehow managed to escape being covered and  ‘lucky temple’ which villagers claim that the lava stopped just 100 meters she of the temple doors saving the temple from destruction.

Overall the trek was fantastic while it was difficult at times, the view and the feeling of reaching the top was truly magnificent.

This volcano can be easily reached from pretty much anywhere in Bali (depending on what time you want to wake up at) travellers can also camp at the base of the mountain or shack up in a home-stay for the night before heading out in the early morning. We went with a tour company which provided a guide, transport to the mountain and breakfast- this should set you back anywhere from 300 000 RP to 350 000. The trip includes, flashlights, food at the top, all HPPGB (Mt Batur Tour Guides Association) fees and the guides services (tipping is extra and welcomed).

Climbing Mount Batur – Getting There

The volcano can be climbed without a guide but there have been reports that HPPGB has intimated climbers when attempting to climb the mountain without a guide. HPPGB has a monopoly on guided climbs up Batur and requires all trekking agencies to have at least one guide when trekking up the mountain. HPPGB intimidation tactics include waiting outside traveller’s hotels to intercept the climb and using physical threats to deter them against going guide-less. So be careful when announcing that you plan to hike the mountain up the mountain solo.

Happy trekking!

Climbing a volcano is a once in a lifetime experience and Mount Batur is a great activity for adventure seekers.

Backpacking Bex