July 27th 2014 was one of the most challenging, frightening and rewarding days of my life. I had invited these complex emotions to enrich the travel experience and explore the limitations within, physically and mentally.
I was thirsty for growth and self-development and was building a reciprocal relationship with my adventurer boyfriend, Shannon, who loved to find new challenges for us!
The sunrise and energy from the top of an active volcano left me breathless, and it was more than the challenging 5 hour steep climb in the dark that blew me away.
Shannon and I were staying at the Pullman in Legian, a beautiful resort opposite the beach on the coast of Bali. My first trip to Bali, we were looking to explore further than the markets, beaches and shopping. We had done our research over the months prior and were excited by the opportunity to hike to the summit of Mt Agung, Bali’s active volcano.
The reviews had me petrified. Some, what looked like muscle men from their profile pictures, commenting the exposure (the drop off the side of the mountain) was too extreme and unsafe so they turned back or fell short of the summit. We had booked it in and I was deep in consideration of pulling out, losing the money and keeping the altitude less than 300m, shopping for cheap knock of Calvin Klein undies at the markets. Shan wasn’t having a bar of my fear monger’s review reads and banned me from infecting myself further. It was decided. I complete the summit or die trying.. I had weeks to stew on it, so that’s what I did.
Back to the beach and the luxury resort; loved up and strolling down the beach on sunset, heading to the closest bar with music for a liquid dinner. Enjoying our bintangs, we watched the sunset over the water. We had a quiet first night in preparation of the next night’s adventure up Mt Agung and wanted to restore our energy. The next day was spent by the poolside relaxing ahead of our designated pick up at 9:30pm. The mini bus arrived as we yawned our way aboard for the 2 hour drive to our starting location, Pura Pasar Agung temple where we met Wayan, our guide.
Setting off just before midnight, we weaved our way through dense jungle trees, navigating in and around roots and branches that swallowed the path underneath for a few hours and very few rests. The air was warm and we quickly worked up a sweat as we swiftly moved towards the summit. After a few hours we reached a stark contrast in outlook; boulders the size of cars. Needless to say, my sweat production multiplied.
* Snake fruit pictured above *
We stopped for irregular breaks so that Wayan, could nap. His short bursts of what appeared like REM sleep unsettled me along with his insistence of eating copious amount snake fruit. The scaly fruit looked less than appetising but after watching Shan eat, I thought I’d try my luck too. A firm, almost sweet fruit with a tongue grippy texture, it wasn’t too displeasing and served as a good distraction from my nerves and what was to come.
With only our headlights for navigation and madly trying to follow Wayan’s fast paced steps, my anxiety levels were reaching breaking point as I swore and cursed over each boulder, not knowing if I was falling to my imminent death or to a broken back. Shannon who was behind me the entire time, mentally pushing me forward promised he’d catch me if I fell. I was beyond petrified. The exposure of the mountain I couldn’t ascertain, however the request to leap from one boulder to another, in the dark had me questioning my sanity. I was certain that I wasn’t coming down from this climb unscathed.
Despite my lack of sleep, I was wildly wake, mostly in fear and senses on high alert. Just after 5:00am the car sized boulders gave way to smaller, rubble that moved underfoot. The climb was steep and often on all fours. After about 45 mins we reached the ridge line, a very narrow path that fell either side, one to the rubble that we had climbed and the other a steeper decent to the ground far below. As I stood, wobbly with a mix of exhaustion and fear, I could see the summit.
* Not my image as I climbed this in the dark, however an idea of what you scramble over in sections*
Finding my feet and the muscles in my legs adjusting to an upright position, we walked a few hundred metres along the narrow ridgeline to the crater of the volcano- Mt Agung, all 3142m of it!
We were the first arrive and really it’s no wonder. We had reached the summit in record time given the harder route we had just taken. I was exhausted, scared of heights and as Wayan started at making some tea and prepared breakfast, Shan and I snapped some pictures of the orange skies as the sun wasn’t due to breach the horizon for another 20mins.
Shyly edging towards the craters edge, fearful to plummet to my death, I awkwardly posed for pictures of my greatest feat. The sun was starting to peak behind the distant island of Lombok and Shan gave the camera to Wayan so that he could snap a picture of the sun rising behind us. Dropping to his knee, I thought this was the safest position too so followed him to crouch, however he pulled out a box and presented me a sparkling diamond!! It was at this moment that I realised he wasn’t being over cautious as my intuition had told me but a romantic and proposed!
I cried. We celebrated our engagement with bread, cheese and nuts that Wayan had brought along and basked in the sunlight and excitement. After 20 mins the next wave of hikers arrived and continued to celebrate. My fears floated away with the darkness of the night and the anticipation of the decent gave way to overwhelming love and excitement to share our news with family and friends.
The exposure of the mountain was real in the light of day and the decent and scrambling over the rocks that had scared me only hours before, now approached with a lofty, love filled demeanour. We skipped down the mountain in half the time it took to climb, ripping my pants open on the jagged rocks as I bum slid the shale rock section.
Pure exhaustion and nil sleep in 24 hours reached peak when we hit the mini bus. Head resting on my now fiancé, I was snoring within 15 mins. Hoping to get 2 hours of car sleep in, our driver had other plans as we stopped for obligatory Lewak coffee tour. If you haven’t tried this, it’s an experience. The process involves the beans being eaten by the local civet cats, partially digested, pooped out, collected, cleaned and roasted for human consumption.
But that’s a story for another day…
The experience of climbing Mt Agung was nothing short of challenging. Shan and I were very fit and had trained for such a strenuous climb. The instability of the ground underfoot was very challenging and 2 foot gutters in Bali the following few days were problematic for fatigued muscles. The summit was breath taking and unlike anything I have experience before.
In November 2017, 2 weeks after Shan and I were married, we honeymooned to Bali. We didn’t revisit the climb and had our first non-hiking holiday. 24 hours after we flew home, Mt Agung erupted a number of times and continues now to be active with the latest eruption mid-June 2019.
The experiences we gather throughout life's journey are best shared. 5 years on, Shannon and I continue to challenge ourselves, push outside our comfort zones and I promise you that the diamonds that I find atop my feats now, aren't worn on my fingers but in my heart and soul. These diamonds are priceless.