The time I climbed an active volcano

Hi, this is Isha and as you might have guessed by the title, today I am going to tell you the story of when I climbed an active volcano!

Okay let’s start from the very beginning. For the 2013 edition of our Annual Summer Trip, my family decided to visit Bali – quite possibly the most famous island out of the 14,000 isles that comprise the Indonesian archipelago. Now personally speaking, I’m team mountains; I’d take them over beaches any day so I was kind of bummed when Dad told me about our plans to visit this supposed tropical paradise. So I scanned the entire itinerary trying to get myself excited about something and my mood changed at once when I read about the ‘Mount Batur Sunrise Trek’.

Aha! We finally have a mountain in the picture.

This was my exact first thought but little did my twelve-year-old self know that the mountain that was being referred to was in fact an active volcano. So when my father revealed that to me, I thought he’d gone absolutely bonkers. But I think he knew that no amount of explanation was going to make a dramatic, nervous teen (bearing half knowledge) look at this trek any differently than a deathly invitation and so we did not talk about it until the day arrived a couple of weeks later.

On day 4 of the trip, we reached Ubud – the cultural centre of Bali. The plan was to live in this scenic town for three days, ending our stay with the trek.

Although climbing a volcano doesn’t seem like an activity that people would opt for while visiting Bali, given its gorgeous golden beaches and turquoise blue waters, it has become quite a popular hike among tourists for multiple reasons, the most evident one being that the landscape is not too challenging. Since the summit is situated at 1,717 m above sea level (relatively low compared to all the other volcanoes in this region), this hike does not require you to be a professional climber. However, it is no walk in the park. The level of difficulty goes up a notch if you opt for the popular option of doing the sunrise trek.

We went to bed quite early the night before the trek but I could hardly get any sleep because both fear and excitement had taken over my body. You see I had done my research by then. Any volcano which has had an eruption in the last 10,000 years is classified as an active volcano. Mt Batur (or Gunung Batur) had last erupted in the year 2000, just 13 years before our trip, which felt like too small a time gap (to me) and so I could not entirely neglect the stupid, recurring voice in my mind saying ‘what if it erupts tomorrow!!!’

So after a couple of hours of tossing and turning in bed, my family and I left our hotel at 2 in the morning (yes you’re reading this right, 2 am) to reach the base. We hired a guide and started the climb at 3:30 am in pitch darkness. Under a clear starlit sky, we walked with headlamps and flashlights in our hands, emanating just enough light to illuminate the path for the next six or seven steps. The goal was to reach the top well in time to see the sunrise. It was a fairly achievable target because the climb mainly constitutes of off road trails and a rocky terrain, nothing too steep.

Since we were climbing in darkness, there was no way of knowing how far you had climbed or how much farther you had to go. We were all sweating like pigs and my feet were getting wobbly after each step because surely they were not expecting to ascend a volcano in the middle of the night. I was stumbling and grasping for breath, silently cursing myself for not exercising more often but I was not going to give up for three reasons – a) I’m not one to back down from a challenge, b) my sixty-six year old grandma was absolutely acing it (talk about insecurity) and c) this was definitely one of those things which I could brag about later on in my life. And so I kept going.

All in all it took us around two and a half hours to complete the climb. We reached the summit at 6 am, just in time to see a spectacular sunrise. We were lucky because the weather could not have been better – clear skies and just a tad bit chilly. Just a few moments later the black sky started turning inky blue, then pink and finally a heavenly shade of golden and orange. As the sun went higher and higher up in the sky, another volcano right across the valley – Mt Agung (the most sacred and highest point of the island) started becoming visible as did the blackened, arid landscape at the base. A few moments of silence prevailed as we all took in the mesmerizing views around us, completely awestruck. We then did a quick tour at the top and could see steam drifting up from certain craters and cracks in the rock surface. The guides cooked eggs and made tea over these same craters.

After clicking pictures to capture the amazing scenery and having breakfast to regain our energy, we started the descend. Climbing down was an arduous task and it was not easy to get a foothold on the solidified lava. Nevertheless with tired bodies and satisfied minds, we reached the base by noon. I was going to take back with me the memory of a lifetime and a beautiful sunrise etched in my heart forever.