It started like any other morning. Wake up at 1:06am, get dressed, stumble down to the lobby of the hotel and wait for your driver to pick you up at 1:40am. Our goal on this morning, head up to Mt. Batur–which is about 2 hours north–meet with our guide, and head up to the peak and watch the sunrise. Just another normal day.
The ride itself was uneventful. Lauren and I slept most of the way, as I suppose that is what you do in the wee hours of the morning. As we approached our destination, it became harder and harder to sleep however, as the roads became worse and worse.
We reached our destinations and were immediately greeted by our guide (Jallowar) and a 12-year old, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, who apparently treks up the mountain daily to sell bottles of Coke to tourists such as ourselves. We were handed a few water bottles by our driver, head lamps to put on and without much ado, we were off.
Now, before I get started talking about this trek, I should add a little backstory. First off, this trek is something that hundreds of people do everyday. People come to Bali specifically with this climb in mind, so there is really nothing out of the ordinary about heading up this mountain. Well, aside from the fact that Mt Batur is actually an active volcano; well, not too active, as it last erupted in 1968. When you look up Mt Batur in Wikipedia it calls the trek up to the summit “straightforward.” So this isn’t a dangerous or even overly arduous task.
Most people that come here to trek this actually come prepared to do so, Lauren and I are special in that we decided to do so the evening before. Which means, we didn’t come prepared with the proper shoes or really clothing. We came to Bali expecting beaches and sun, not freezing temperatures, volcanic ash and frozen lava flows. Lauren of course being a trooper was able to just strap on her minimal running shoes and go. I however, had to be a big baby about it and insist we spend the evening before going out looking for shoes I could wear. Not a fun task, given that the average foot size for men in this area of the world is around a US 10, whereas I wear a size 13-14, depending on the shoe. Luckily, we found a nice Taksi driver who was able to point us in the direction of a “shoe warehouse” type place that had thousands of pairs of discounted shoes. 3 of them were 13s. At least I didn’t have to fall prey to the paradox of choice on this one.
So, this brings us back to the morning. Everything that we’ve read has told us that the trek is relatively easy, the summit is the coldest place many people have been, to wear good shoes, and that the views are amazing.
The trek begins through a trail in a forest. The incline at this point is relatively gradual and the biggest danger is tripping on a stray tree root if you’re not paying attention. We move relatively quickly and about 1/6 of the way, we reach a small temple. Our guide has us stop and take a water break while he prays and provides an offering (this is something that appears to be very much ingrained in the culture of the Balinese people). Within a few minutes we’re off again.
The trail gradually increase in its incline, but never to a point where you’re doing anything where you’re climbing anything higher that a rock that is knee high. It really is something that just about anyone can do, without any technical skill.
We kept a quick pace, as the woods gave way to more of a rocky area about halfway up. We stopped relatively frequently, taking water breaks every 15 minutes or so. There were definitely other trekkers around us, who we ran into frequently, but always seemed to stay ahead of, as we were maintaining a fairly brisk pace, punctuated by increasing frequent breaks. Until at one point, I think our guide sensing I needed a break had us stop and turn around to see the view. It was still quite dark, far too dark for pictures, but what we saw was amazing. There is another taller mountain not too far away, and a lake sitting in between. You could see the lights of the villages below. It was beautiful.
Within no time, we found ourselves closer and closer to the summit. As we got higher, we began to hear people that were already at the top, which was explained to us, that some people begin as early as midnight, especially the locals.
At the top was a small structure, with some seating, along with a few benches around the edges to site on. Throughout the whole trek, we went from wearing jackets, expecting it to be cold, to taking those off and stowing them away, thanks to us sweating from the heat. By the time we reached the top, we were wondering why people said it was cold. You don’t really understand until you get up there though, just how cold the winds can be at that altitude. It never gets cold enough to snow or form ice, but it is bone chilling, especially if you are under prepared as we were. I guess a light Nike spring jacket isn’t enough protection from the wind. Who knew?
The trek itself took about 2 hours to the top. We arrived about 1 1/2 hours before sunrise, so we had some time to kill. Part of these treks is that they provide you with coffee, tea, and breakfast at the top. The breakfast consisted of banana sandwiches, soft-boiled eggs (cooked on a steam vent from the volcano), fruit, and chocolate bars. Not our usual fare, but far more than I think either of us expected at the top of the climb.
It was interesting watching everyone else reach the top (we were if not the first, one of the first). Most people had big jackets on, packs with food and water, a change of clothes, to get out of their sweaty ones, trekking boots, poles to walk with. Basically all sorts of stuff we didn’t bring, because as usual, we sort of just jumped in. So we huddled the best we could, and waited for the sunrise.
Just to be clear here, for once, I think I was the more cold of the two of us. Usually Lauren is the first one to complain about being cold, but in this case, I was the more frigid of the two of us. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she had a real windbreaker as her jacket. Maybe it was just the excitement of where we were driving her forward. Either way, it was cold.
Sunrise itself was spectacular. The volcano itself, while not spewing lava, is active and there is ash and smoke coming out of it. This meant that the morning rays of light were mixing with these clouds and creating some great effects. It is amazing how long sunrise can feel from on top of a summit. I’m not sure if it was the cold making every moment feel a tad longer, but the first light coming out over the horizon made an amazing palette of colors.
As with these things, the anticipation makes it seem like such a long time to get to the payoff, and then it is over too quickly. Luckily with the sun, came warmth, and we were ready to start our descent.
Our guide gave us a couple choices. One of them was a bit more harrowing and when he asked if we were afraid of heights, I knew it wasn’t for us (read: me), so I declined that one. So, we took the 2nd option, which was a tad further, but didn’t have as narrow of a path. Which as it turns out, was probably a good choice.
See, there are 3 things to remember when climbing down from a volcano.
1) The dirt on the ground isn’t really dirt, but volcanic ash, which is very light, fluffy and slippery.
2) Go slow. When walking down volcanic ash, don’t go as fast as the locals, who probably do this all the time, and have a more innate sense of balance.
3) When you’re not paying attention to 1 and 2, don’t take pictures while walking down the mountain.
If you adhere to these three rules, you will probably make it down okay. If you don’t, you will likely slip and sprain your ankle. Which is exactly what happened to me, when I failed to follow these simple steps.
So there I am, 5 minutes into our journey down from the summit. I had made my way briefly in front of Jallowar and Lauren, but within the pack of people who were walking and sliding down. Trying to get a picture of the peak of the other mountain, when a slipped, turned sideways, landed on my camera (which seems mostly okay) and heard my ankle pop. I immediately knew something was wrong, though it took a few minutes for it to really start hurting.
As soon as I fell, Jallowar had swooped in to try and help, asking if I was okay. He help me up and was helping me walk a little, when I asked to stop. I knew I was hurt, but didn’t know how bad. I sat on a rock, and he took off my shoe to inspect my ankle. I get the feeling he is quite familiar with this type of thing happening, as he immediately started feeling for injuries and seemed to have a good understanding of the anatomy of the ankle and feet.
It felt a little embarrassing to have him basically massaging my ankle up on a mountain, but I could tell he wanted to help. This went on for a little bit, and finally, not wanting to spend all day up there, I insisted that we make our way down. Walking hurt a lot, but Jallowar helped tremendously, helping me to keep my balance and telling me where to step.
A little ways further down we made our way out of most of the ash and found another small structure. This was sort of a meeting point of several paths, one was probably what we had turned down earlier, coming around the other side of the caldera, and the other went out into the caldera itself, where there is a forest and I believe monkeys. We sat down at the structure again, and he took another look at my ankle. It was swollen at this point and hurt very, very badly.
Lauren, being her usual compassionate self was annoyed at how dramatic I was being. Apparently her dad gets hit in the face with baseballs quite frequently and doesn’t complain as much as I do. She later told me that she thought that I was not as hurt as I was playing, but that I had felt like I had to keep doing it, out of embarrassment for having let it go so far. She now understands that this was an actual injury and I did hurt myself and has been very nice and helpful.
Fast forward a bit, Jallowar called down to the driver to let him know of the situation. The driver brought the car up a little further than usual, as there is another path you can go but that people don’t use because usually they’re not gimped as I was.
We took it slowly. I tried my best not to use that foot too much. Jallowar help my hand most of the way, in an attempt to provide balance and support. There may have been a brief ride on a motorbike, with me clutching Jallowar as Lauren walked the rest of the way with the driver. That bike ride was probably the scariest part.
In the end, we made it back to the car.
We parted ways. Jallowar was amazing and even though he apologized profusely the whole way for allowing me to get hurt, it really wasn’t his fault in the least. He did the best anyone could expect out of a guide in these circumstances. Apparently when it is a smaller person, he just carries them down the mountain. Damn my impressive stature.
The rest of the day was supposed to be spent in Ubud (you know that place that Eat, Pray, Love happened), shopping and seeing temples, however given what happened, we had the driver take us back to the hotel. On the way though, we had him stop at the last part of the tour, which was at a local coffee plantation. The tour was small, but cool, as we got to see various, coffee, chocolate, and fruit plants. We drank some coffee and teas, bought some to take home and then we were off back to the hotel.
Once we returned to the hotel, we ordered some ice for my ankle and after a little while, ended up using the clinic on site to take a look at it. They poked and prodded a little, and determined it is likely sprained. He gave me some pain medication, an anti-inflammatory cream, and wrapped it.
Overall, the volcano was a cool experience. I’d like to do it again sometime, but with a little more preparation and a little less falling. It would be good to get to see the rest of what we missed on the way down. I’m sure much of it was quite fantastic. In the end, I’m a little limpy and my ankle is all black and blue, but I’ll heal and hopefully next time will stop to take pictures, instead of what I did.
Here are some pictures that I managed to take before falling.