The sound of croaking frogs and buzzing insects surrounded me as I trudged through the rocky trail. It was still dark before the dawn and the land was still asleep, but for the restless souls like me trapped in this time between sleep and awakening. I could see in the distance, the moving pin-points of torches forming a broken line leading up towards the top of the mountain’s silhouette that loomed ahead of me. The humidity was unforgiving and I was uncomfortably drenched with sweat. What had started out as breathless excitement had soon degenerated into breathless exhaustion and I thought to myself “What was I thinking of? I could have been sleeping on the comfortable 4 poster bed of my hotel room and enjoying the complimentary buffet breakfast.”
When someone mentions Bali, you would automatically think of exotic temples and beaches with cocktails by the sand. Volcanos don’t really feature high on the list of things to do in Bali. But in case you didn’t realize it, Bali island is formed from volcanic activity and there are 3 active volcanoes on the island itself. Not surprising as Bali sits on the ‘Ring of Fire’ where the Earth’s tectonic plates grind and crush each other since time immemorial.
One of the more popular ‘Off the Beaten Path’ activities to do in Bali is to trek up one of the volcanoes on the island. Mt. Batur (1,717m) is the easiest and can be completed in one morning, and is the one featured in this blog post. Another trek is to go up Gunung Agung, another volcano, and is also the highest mountain in Bali at 3,031m. Trekking up Gunung Agung is usually a 2 day affair and may not be suitable for everyone.
We booked the trek with one of the many tour companies in Bali. The minivan came at around 2.15am to pick us up. After a 1hr drive, we stopped at a restaurant on the Kintamani caldera for breakfast and to gather energy for the climb. After that, it was a short drive down to the base of Mt Batur and we started our trek at 4.30am.
The initial start of the trek is quite easy as we walked along a sandy country trail. However, this soon became rocky as we approached the lava field from the last eruption. There are loose volcanic rocks everywhere and you have to look where you are stepping in case you slip and sprain your ankle on a loose rock. A torch light helps in finding your way. The first hour is generally easy as the slope is gradual, but with many loose rocks to impede your way. I could only see the points of lights from torches moving up the mountain. I was thinking that some of the groups must have started out much earlier as they were already almost at the top.
About a quarter of the way, the gradient became steeper as we began to climb the volcanic cone itself. After the ‘mid-point’ as our guide calls it, it became even steeper and at times we had to scramble hand over foot to get over a large rock ledge. In the darkness, the even darker shadow of Mt Batur seemed to challenged us to climb to it’s crown or give up and turn around. After a while it was just an endless and mind numbing routine of putting one foot in front of the other. Every step got us nearer to our goal. As dawn approached and the eastern sky brightened, we turned off our torches. We had been climbing for more than 2 hours and were still not yet at the summit.
After watching the sunrise, we continued on to the summit where we could rest and eat another breakfast.
After a short rest, our guide Mr Good Day, showed us around the crater. By this time, mist had enveloped the mountain top and visibility was poor.
The vertical ascent is only about 700m. From the base of Mt Batur, we are already at 1,000m above sea level when we started. After spending around 1 hr at the top to rest, have breakfast and do some sight seeing. and at around 8am, we started our journey back down the mountain. As many people know, climbing downhill can be just as tiring or more than uphill.
On the way down, we could see the rim of the Kintamani caldera and Lake Batur. Mt Batur is actually a volcano that is formed inside 2 concentric ancient volcanoes. If that boggles your brain, just think of Mt Batur as a volcano within another volcano, within an even larger volcano (Kintamani). Lake Batur is the crater lake and is the deepest lake in Bali.
Finally, by 10am we arrived back to the carpark where we had started our trek nearly 6 hrs ago. I certainly did feel like Frodo and Samwise in the film Lord of the Rings, after they had climbed Mt Doom. I was totally exhausted and my feet were painful after all the battering from stumbling over lava flows and loose rock. Mr Good Day got a nice tip from my wife as he helped her a lot during the trek. After that, we got onto the minivan to return to our hotel. Our minivan stopped again at the restaurant where we had our earlier breakfast, and I took the chance to photograph Mt Batur in daylight.
It was a quiet journey back to our hotel in Ubud, as everyone in the minivan was soon asleep due to tiredness from the climb.
There are many travel companies in Bali that offer the Mt Batur climb. There are plenty to choose from and the usual price is around USD35~40/person including pickup from your hotel. If you are staying in Ubud, there is no additional pickup charge, but if you stay further like in Kuta or Nusa Dua then they usually charge an additional amount. The more popular trek is to see sunrise and pickup time is around 2am in the morning depending on where you stay. I booked with Bali Eco Cycling and they were responsive with my queries, besides having one of the more reasonable rates around.
I find that which ever company you choose does not make that much of a difference, as the actual trekking guide service comes from the villages around Mr Batur. The tour company only arranges the transport to pick-up and drop-off tourists. Some charge more because they include subsequent visits to Luwak coffee plantations, or some other places.
What to Wear and Bring
This is no walk in the park, and you should be physically fit in order to do it. The trail is quite rocky and treacherous for small children and I don’t recommend that you bring them. Wear closed shoes. and not flip flops. Hiking shoes are the best, the next best being walking/running shoes. However, my wife who wore running shoes found them not that suitable as the thick soft soles made them treacherous when stepping onto slippery or loose rocks. Despite the tropical weather, the top of the volcano can be 15°C, or less with wind. So bring a light jacket or windbreaker. Although I’ve seen people being comfortable with just their T-shirts and shorts. Generally, this activity should be avoided during the rainy season as it’s quite dangerous to climb when the rocks are slippery.
Bring along water as you will get dehydrated. Although breakfast is provided, you may want to bring some energy food along with you. There are villagers who will sell you bottled drinks at the top of the volcano at 30K rupiah per bottle. It’s not prohibitive but it’s definitely more expensive than what you would pay for in town.
It seems that visitors are not allowed to go up Mt Batur without engaging the local guides. The guides come from the villages around Mt Batur and they’ve formed some sort of a guides association, or cartel if you like. They claim that it’s government regulations that only they can bring visitors, and they can get aggressive against visitors who want to go trekking alone without a guide (just Google Batur mafia to find out more).
Anyway, I feel that for most people, a guide is a good idea. The trail is not clearly marked once you get nearer the volcano, and the guides are able to show you the best path to take. They also assist the weaker members of the trek who find it difficult to climb. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is no walk in the park. The volcanic rocks are quite jagged and can cause serious injuries if you fall. And as this is a volcanic region, there are areas which are dangerous due to thermal vents and fissures. Getting hurt without any means to contact anyone for help would be a disaster. However, if this cartel behavior bothers you, then you can climb Gunung Agung instead. It is higher and more challenging, and you don’t have to engage guides to climb it if you don’t want to.
Mt Batur is classified as an active volcano and the last eruption was in 2000. The mountain can be closed off if volcanic activity is detected. So climb it at your own risk.