Climbing Mt. Batur – yes or no?

Indonesia is full of active vulcanos, and so is Bali and its islands. Therefore, one of the most important activities for sporty people there is climbing those volcanos. The biggest on the main island, and holy, mountain is Mt. Agung – which is very active at the moment and nobody knows, when it will erupt (but actually it can happen at any time). There is a restriction area around it, so right now, you can’t climb it. Usually this hike is a day or longer, when they combine it with other stops.
Then there is Rinjani on Lombok. There are several tour operators that offer a three day tour where you will explore the area around and of course the crater itself. Since I wasn’t on Lombok, I only had one left: Mt. Batur, 1717m high. It is also an active volcano, the last eruption in 2000. It is a Caldera type of volcano with still some smaller villages in the area, where around 16000 people are living. A colleague of mine hiked it for the sunrise and was very impressed, so I decided to follow his example.

I booked my trip in Ubud. Lonely Planet tells you not to go to those street offices, but I made an excellent experience with them (and actually a very bad one with an “official” operator I found online). It cost me about 26 Euros, including a (very simple) breakfast, the shuttle and pick up, the guide and a visit to a tea and coffee plantation.

You really have to get up early, since they pick you up at 2 to 2:30 am, in order to be on time for the sunrise. They use small buses, which is more or less convenient. You already get instructions what to bring when you book: long pants, good shoes (I used my cross-country running shoes), several layers and warm sweater. They advise you to bring a hat, because after the sunrise it will get really hot. I packed all this in my backpack and also brought another bottle of water. I was really tired and excited at the same time, so I was awake way too early ;-)
We stopped once to get a little snack, a fried banana (tastes better than it looks) and tea or coffee. There they also handed over the breakfast packs including toast, an egg and a banana (whoo) and also a bottle of water. Usually they cook the egg over one of the hot sources, but not when I was there (so of course the egg was cooked).
You will arrive at a huge parking lot, where the driver hands you over to your guide. This guide then gives you the flashlight, since it is completely dark when you start to hike. Many of the guides are not really interested in talking or explaining. I catched some information during the hike and on the top via listening to the more talkative guide. It is not possible to hike up without an official guide of the local association. They say that some people tried and it was a real hassle and confrontation with the guides there.

The first part is rather flat and you see – nothing. Only a row of little lights from people hiking up. So you will get an idea fast how high and steep it is when you watch the others.
The steep part starts very soon, and this is also the part of the hike where I sweated  a lot even though it was so early. Rather shortly after beginning with the steeper part, the guides usually stop to sacrifice at a little shrine. Then you continue.
Depending on your group and how many stops you will make it takes you about two hours up to the summit. The hike itself is not too ambitious, but I wasn’t used to walk in the darkness with a flashlight in a narrow row of people bumping into you every once in a while ;-) And the ground is really a pain in the ass: since it is a vulcano, the ground consists of loose light rocks and a lot of sand and dust. Basically it feels like a romantic walk on the beach – but a very steep one  almost straight upward, where you cannot really choose your speed due to many, many other people. The loose ground costs a lot of energy, which is even more pain in the ass since it is hot and around 3:30 in the morning.

As the light starts to rise, you will realize some shadows of the majestic area around, the big lake, other mountains, and you will see the summit. But as you are reaching that part of the day, you will also reach the really steep part of the hike. The last meters are more a climb, but this is only a short part.
Finally, you and about 200 other people reach the summit. When we came up there, one thing was clear: that we won’t see one of these romantic purple sunsets, because except fog there was nothing to see. Me and the Swiss girl I met sat there on the blanket the guide provided, waiting patiently, but no – nothing. So 2 hours and getting up in the middle of the night for nothing? Not really. After a while it cleared up and we enjoyed a wonderful view over the lake and to the other volcanos. You will walk around the crater and get some explanations when it last erupted, where the springs are and so on. It is impressive to see, where the lava flooded the lowlands, because you can see the black and thick cover of stone, where once a village was. It’s almost unbelievable that underneath this stone cover, the bodies of many people are buried.
There is a little shop, where you can get tea for your breakfast. It is rather chilly up there, and I was really happy for all my clothes. It was a very calm, quiet and relaxed atmosphere, also some dogs strolling around to catch some of the leftovers from the breakfast.
After a while, around 7:30,  you will start the hike down. At first we hoped that we wouldn’t have to take the same way, but nope-you have to climb on loads of loose stones rolling, you will slip around, stumble and slide, you will grab grass, rocks, and the hand of your guide and for a person with a bitchy knee like me, this is real horror. Also, because it is getting warmer and warmer already. I couldn’t help myself, but somehow I had to think about one person stumbling above me and crashing into all of us. But we were lucky-nothing happened.
The good thing is: you don’t need to walk the whole rocky way down. There is a road that leads up to almost two thirds of the whole way and the groups take this road down. I really appreciated this, because I was already tired and my knee from all that slipping pretty shaky. It seems like the road was built for some kind of unfinished building. When you walk down, you will pass fruit plantations, that grow on the fertile volcano ground.

After reaching the parking lot and filling out some feedback forms about your guide, the gravel back home to Ubud began (around 1,5 hrs). We stopped at a coffee plantation, where we tried several types of coffee and tea (you don’t have to buy something). Afterwards they drop you off at your hotel and then, around 10:30, the relaxed part of the day will start: chilling at the pool :-)

So to conclude, I would say it was worth it. The view is stunning also without the clear sunrise. I felt really small and humble 20kms next to Agung and with the knowledge that underneath my feet there is so much natural power.
It was not too exhausting or dangerous, even though you should be at least average fit to make it up without any hassle and also together with your group. If you have any severe injuries on your ankles or knees, I would recommend to skip it. The good thing about this trip is, that you are back before noon, so you have a lot of the day left. And you don’t have to take a long boat ride to an island before. There are also tours that visit hot springs after the hike, so if you are a spa type of person, you should go for that combination. But if you are wondering,  no – I wouldn’t hike up a second time ;-)

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