Climbing Mount Batur, the second highest peak in Bali, had been one of the many things we had planned while Amy and the rest of the Hemers visited. Getting there and getting set up to begin a hike that got us to the top before sunrise was the challenge. The closer the date got the more I lost my enthusiasm. Do I want to get up before 4 in the morning, hike with a flashlight and climb 700 meters (2300 feet) before breakfast? Can’t I just stay in bed or hang around the pool while the others do it? Can’t I legitimately use the excuse that I’m too old for this? I claimed I was indifferent; I’d climbed other volcanoes and they are all kind of the same: a steep rugged climb, a bit of time at the top then a difficult descent on tired legs.
That didn’t work. No one forced me to go but I chose to go and so our party of seven started out with three guides in the cool morning darkness. There is a union of sorts that requires hikers to use a guide, it helps the local economy and keeps climbers from getting lost or hurt. Fair enough. On a mostly level densely forested footpath we left the edge of Lake Batur and the village of Toya Bungkah. The roosters weren’t even awake. Of course we started climbing before long and after an hour or so we cleared the dense jungle into more open woods. The path was rough with tree roots, boulders and loose volcanic gravel. When things got steeper they really got steeper; the path goes straight up with nothing so much as a switchback. One of the guides stayed with me as the more agile climbers kept a more rapid pace. He would put out his hand and pull me up in places where the path rose well over a foot over a tree root or through boulders. With age starting to show and knees a bit creaky, I guess I have lost my high altitude lungs since we have been at sea level for a couple months now.
It was a very strenuous climb and among the fifty or so hikers I finished dead last. But we made it just as the sun rose and what a glorious sight it was. The valley below encompasses a large crater lake, the largest in Bali, and fertile agricultural land. There is evidence of recent volcanic activity all around including a several hundred acre patch of black lava near the lake. We were at the top of Gunung Batur, 1717 meters above the Indian Ocean looking down to the sea, looking across to Indonesia’s second highest volcano on the island of Lombok, nearly 100 Km away and at the tallest volcano on Bali, 2567m high Gunung Agung. Mount Batur sits inside a huge caldera the remnants of a much larger volcano long ago blown to bits by earlier eruptions. That volcano must have been very large because the caldera is roughly 15 Km in diameter and is ringed by what’s left of its jagged edges.
When the excitement of the sunrise was over we waited our turn for breakfast. No one had to carry gas up here to prepare our food, it was heated by steam from within the still active volcano. Our guide took us down a sharp bank to reveal the “cooker”, a pocket in the rock where egg and banana were placed and covered with rice straw. Steam rose readily from the earth. Soon we were served a soft-boiled egg and a steamed banana spread between two slices of bread. And a big mug of kopi Bali, the typical Balinese coffee prepared by steeping very finely ground coffee that leaves a heavy layer of sludge at the bottom. We needed that.
Too soon we began the trek down taking a different path. We rapidly dropped a couple hundred feet down a path of loose lava gravel that filled our shoes and about wrecked our knees and ankles. An overlook gave us a closer view of the immense lava flow below. Farther down we sat to rest a bit before we came upon an active group of monkeys, another steam vent and a bat cave. Down some more. Down still more. As we re-entered the forest we took a rest; we had more to go but were pretty happy we had made it. Eric and I posed for a picture congratulating ourselves for his having been the youngest at six and I at 12 times that being the oldest to climb the volcano that particular day.
Our hike ended. We were all tired but elated at the overall experience. All we needed now was some gasoline to get the Suzuki APV up the torturously steep road out of the caldera. There are no gas stations down in the bowl but gas is sold in small quantities, usually 2L soda bottles for the ubiquitous motorbikes, at most of the small shops in the area. Our hotel arranged delivery of 10 liters of “premium”; it arrived by motorbike in two much used plastic jugs along with a funnel. This kind of delivery is normal.
Up on the rim we had a delicious Balinese meal in a place overlooking the splendor we had just experienced. I’m glad I’m not too old for this.