Climbing above the clouds; My experience tackling Mount Agung
I had read online that you can hike high above the clouds to the top of Bali’s highest peak, Mount Agung. You begin the trek in the middle of the night, so that you reach the summit right as the sun is rising. “A view unlike anything else in this world,” people had posted in TripAdvisor reviews, “Definitely challenging, but well worth it!”
Awesome, a nice little hike and a sick view, sign me up!
I'd say I’m a pretty fit person. And while I don't actually work out or train per say, there is nothing that I have ever tried that I couldn’t accomplish- the majority of the time doing it well. Things just always seem to come a little easier for me, so when something is described as a “difficult sunrise trek”, I can’t help but be smug and write it off as “difficult for most...”
THIS WAS THE HARDEST-MOST MISERABLE- WANTED TO DIE-WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO-thing I have ever done before. I didn’t take the trek seriously and came extremely unprepared. Learn from my mistakes and don’t be a contemptuous asshole like I was.
It was our final day in beautiful Ubud, Bali. Trying to make the most of our time, we work up early and headed to town for a yoga class.
My muscles were already sore from pushing myself in the yoga class.
From there we spent the day wandering around, stopping at various cafes and bars that jumped out to us (or had a sign that said 2 for 1 cocktails). In true vacation spirit, we had a pretty consistent buzz going from noon until 10pm.
I was dehydrated.
I was hungover by midnight.
The most nutritious thing I ate all day was probably the cherry in my cocktail.
When the sun went down we made our way on foot back to our hotel, which was a couple miles away. We had already checked out of our room, but they were nice enough to hold our things for us and let us wait by the pool until our tour pickup time of midnight.
By 11pm all three of us were passed out on the pool beds like homeless people. It felt like as soon as I shut my eyes, it was already midnight and our guide was there to pick us up.
I was exhausted. WHY DID I THINK IT WAS OK TO NOT SLEEP?
The ride was about an hour and half from Ubud to where we would begin our ascend. Anxiety filled my mind the entire time as my hangover set in;
I just want to sleep! Why did I sign up for this??
We arrived in the pitch black to a dirt parking lot where we met our guide. He was wearing about 5 layers, had a winter hat, and heavy-duty hiking boots on.
Meanwhile, I was wearing my lightweight capri pajama pants and boat shoes.
FRICKING BOAT SHOES, MONICA?? REALLY?
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My two friends weren’t much better off than me, one wearing hiking sandals and the other in Keds.
The air already had a chill to it so I made the game time decision to bring with my scarf and put socks on. Good thing it was pitch black out, because I looked absolutely ridiculous.
The guide handed us each a headlamp and 2 water bottles.
“Oh, that’s OK, we already have a water that we can share...”
Take the water you idiots! Most people go through at least 2 bottles during the hike.
We follow our guide up a flight of steps; I can already feel my legs burning.
Then another flight, then another flight, then another! I kid you not, there are over 200 steps to climb before you even start the trek!
At that point I probably should have just turned around and passed out in the car.
From there, the Pasar Agung Temple, is where the real trek begins.
After lighting a blessing at the temple we were on our way. Two hours of winding through the forest up steep inclines in the pitch black, and I’m dying after the first 15 minutes. The high altitude is making it hard for me to breath and my legs feel like they’re going to snap. Already, this is without a doubt the hardest hike I have ever gone on. My body felt drained and in so much pain.
Being the optimist that I am, I assured myself that we must be getting close to the top.
Optimism isn’t going to magically change your Sperry's into hiking boots.
“Are we there yet?????"
"We’re almost halfway," our guide responded, "It’s only 3am and we won’t reach the top until about 6am."
I’m pretty sure if I wouldn’t have been so dehydrated and my body could produce tears that I would have burst out crying.
WHAT? That is not the answer I was looking for!
Scrambling for at least a little ounce of hope, I told myself that this is probably the hardest part and it will get easier.
You know how most hikes are usually about 30% difficult, and the other 70% is spent enjoying the scenery and being in the great outdoors? This was not that at all. It went from difficult, to impossibly difficult, to “oh my god, just put me out of my misery and push me off this cliff, difficult.”
My body nagged for a break, but it was too cold to sit for even a minute.
It wasn'tall bad. I should mention that inbetween the wind howling on my back and my legs feeling like jello, the view of the starry sky was hypnotizing. Anything I had ever seen before was insurmountable to that feeling of standing in the unknown pitch black, where the only thing in sight was thousands of stars overflowing the sky. I don't think I've ever felt so small before. This was probably the only thing that kept me going. Well, that and the fact that I was on the side of a cliff in the middle of the night in a foreign country... So there really was no option other than to move forward.
It was both frustrating and a relief that aside from our small headlamps, we were in complete darkness. I felt extremely discombobulated not being able to see my own feet as I climbed and attempted to maneuver through the steep jungle and slippery gravel. At the same time, it was probably for the better that I couldn’t see what was beside me, or rather, a lack of what was beside me. One wrong step and you could find yourself plummeting down thousands of feet to your death.
Navigating through the steep terrain I prayed for us to get out of the thick brush and into a more clear area.
Be careful what you wish for.
I soon found myself face to face with the side of the mountain. Seriously, it was like a wall of volcanic rock that we were expected to climb. You’ve got to be kidding me, no where in those TripAdvisor reviews did I read anything about scaling the side of a cliff!
It went from steep to steeper (which I know isn’t a word, but you get the point, right?)
The remaining 2 hours were spent scrambling over vertical cliffs and crawling on all fours just trying not to die. Everything hurt.
By that point my legs no longer felt like jello, they felt like what happens to jello after you’ve let it sit in the sun and melt for hours. Speaking of jello, I could eat my own limb right now I'm so hungry. My arms were sore from a combination of the earlier yoga class that I had done and from gripping on to the side of the mountain holding on for dear life. I was freezing, dehydrated, fatigued, and exhausted. My feet were raw and blistered from my stupid boat shoes, and my fingers were numb from the wind.
To avoid feeling like this, please refer to mistakes 1-11.
After 4 hours and climbing nearly 10,000 feet high and well above the clouds, we reached the top of the summit. Looking down, you could see all of Bali; The view was no doubt extraordinary and certainly a sight unmatched by anything I had ever seen before.
We sat down on the steep pinnacle and took in as much of the scenery as we could. The wind was even more menacing from up top and there wasn't much room to get comfortable. Our guide handed out bread and disgusting instant coffee, which at the time, tasted like sweet heaven.
I wasn't kidding when I said I looked absolutely ridiculous.
As much as I’d like to say everything I had just gone through was worth it for the view, it wasn’t. Before I could even breath with a sigh of relief that it was over, the sun was up and our guide was shooing us back down the steep peak.
I thought going up was impossible, well going down turned out to be way worse torture. By this point my legs don’t even remember what melted jello feels like. They’re basically nonexistent, sometimes justing giving out from underneath myself and I’d slide down the rock until I could grab on to something to stop my fall.
This was about an hour into our descend.
I was delirious. Halfway through I couldn’t stop myself from hysterically laughing. Looking back, the conversation in my head can best be described as going through the 7 stages of grief:
1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
Nope, no way.
I refuse to hike down this mountain. There has to be an alternative because I’m just not going to do it. I can’t. My body physically can’t get down this mountain.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
Why oh why did I sign up for this? Why did I have to be overconfident in what my body can do? Why didn’t I come prepared? WHY MEEEEE?
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
I HATE THESE FUCKING BOAT SHOES! I CAN’T WAIT TO GET OFF THIS MOUNTAIN SO I CAN LIGHT THEM ON FIRE AND NEVER BE REMINDED OF THIS GOD AWFUL DAY EVER AGAIN!
4. DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Atleast you have shoes, Monica! There are so many people in the world who have less than you and you’re the one complaining!? Some people can’t even walk! GOSH, YOU’RE SO SELFISH!
This can't be good on my knees. I'm gonna kneed knee surgery after this.HAHAHAHA! 'Knee' and 'need' get it?? Oh god, I'm gonna die alone out here..."Girl falls to death during sunset hike..”
That sounds so lame.
If I fall off this cliff right now rescuers are going to find me dressed like this...
You’re wearing Sperrys with socks and your hair is in a french braid, YOU CAN’T GO OUT LOOKING LIKE THIS!
I would kill for some pancakes right now.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
Are those trees I see? Sweet baby Jesus we’re almost there!
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
Just a little further, Monica. You can do it, you’re almost there!!
Wait, I see steps. Please no, don’t make me walk down all of those steps!!
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
I guess that wasn’t so bad afterall.
Coming from a self-proclaimed tough girl that just about everything comes naturally to, this really took me down a notch.
Leaving at 1:30am, the hike took us nearly 9 hours to complete (which we were told was a pretty decent time. A lot of people don't even make it up in time to catch the sunrise). Aside from stopping only for short water breaks and spending 30 minutes on top of the summit, we were moving the whole time and didn't ease up.
This was without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience. Mainly because I will never put myself through that torture again, but also because of what I was able to accomplish and the feeling I got from standing higher than the clouds. It truly was spectacular!
This was another reminder of how thankful I am for what I can put my body through. Even though I don't always take the best care of it, it never let's me down.
If you plan on hiking Mount Agung, learn from my mistakes and be prepared!
Hire a guide, bring warm layers of clothes, wear proper hiking shoes, try to get some sleep the night prior, and take it seriously!
The hike can be booked easily online in advance or through your hotel. It costs about $35 a person including transportation.