Hiking in the dark: Climbing Mount Batur in Bali

Our friend Rebecca arrived a few days ago to join us on our backpacking trip. She recently quit her job and bought a one-way ticket to Bali with the intention of staying with us until her money runs out. Excellent!

We were really looking forward to having a friend joining us on the trip because we’d got to the stage that I think most long-term travellers get to – feeling a bit exhausted, the magic fading, the countries beginning to blur together. Now, we have a fresh face with us and a new enthusiasm for travel.

Luckily, Rebecca isn’t the chill-out-on-a-beach kind of person, so that means we’ll be filling the next few weeks with lots of adventure. The first was hiking up Bali’s Mount Batur.

Before booking our guide, we’d seen the trek advertised for many different prices, even as much as $100 US, which seemed a huge amount to pay. After looking around, we managed to find a trek for $35, including transfers to/from our hostel, a guide for the climb and breakfast at the top.

The Climb

Climbing an active volcano in the pitch black might not sound too appealing, but the thought of a beautiful sunrise from the top is what convinced us it was a good idea. The 2am wake up, however, was not fun.

Mount Batur, Bali – complete with black lava flows down the side

I think we started climbing around 3.30am, and the first 45 minutes were pretty easy. We walked by the light of our torches and chatted away to our guide, a 19 year old Balinese girl called Uni, who climbed the volcano every single day. We were the only three hikers with her, which was great as it meant we could go at our own pace.

The path was good and the gradient was very gentle. Uni informed us we were passing through a forest, but it was hard to get an idea of anything surrounding us with only the light from our little torches to see by. On the way back down the mountain, in the morning light, the forest looked beautiful. Although I think anything would have looked beautiful by then as long as we could be walking downhill rather than up…

The forest track as seen on the way back down

We got to an area where the path forked and we could either choose left or right. Uni informed us that the path to the left was a series of switchbacks climbing up the mountain, steep, with loose dirt under foot and motorbikes zooming up the tiny path every few minutes (at 4am, why??), making the walkers leap to the side then choke on dust once they passed. This way didn’t sound appealing. We asked for details of the right path instead. Uni said that the path to the right was much steeper, involved clambering over old lava flows and was even harder than the left path. But on the plus side, no motorbikes and less people. We decided on the hard path.

Well after only ten minutes scrambling up the hillside I think Rebecca and I were both regretting our choice. Blakey, on the other hand, was perfectly happy. No one wants to be the first person to ask for a break but my lungs were burning and I called it. I looked back to see Rebecca was just as sweaty and out of breath as me. I was secretly glad that I had someone else at my level, as I’m used to Blakey the mountain goat, bounding up slopes with endless lung capacity.

The climb from the fork in the track was meant to take 1hour 20mins but I think it took us more like 2 hours. It was so hard. I think it was the hardest climb we’ve done in a long time. Halfway up, Rebecca said she thought it was probably harder than when she’d climbed Kilimanjaro, which made me feel better. The early start didn’t help, as we were climbing without having had any food, so no fuel to burn for energy.

Uni finally informed us we were ten minutes from the top. One last push and we’d be there…. After another break.

Sunrise at Mount Batur

We made it. We were sweaty and exhausted, but we got there in the end. We sat down on a bench and gazed out at the incredible sunrise and breath-taking views… oh wait, no we didn’t. It was super cloudy, we couldn’t see the sun at all and surrounding us was a shifting wall of grey.

We made it!! Not the best view but it still felt great!
Mount Batur summit at sunrise… after the clouds shifted a bit!

Oh well. You can’t have everything. Even though we didn’t get to see the sun cresting the horizon to bathe us in beautiful morning light, what we got instead was good in it’s own way. It was a really moody, atmospheric wasteland… steaming vents of volcanic gas, the sun burning in an orange halo behind a cloudbank, the clouds parting to give us glimpses of the volcano’s crater below our feet, and the red and black lava flows from past eruptions.

Sunrise at the summit of Mount Batur

Back Down We Go

It was still really, really cool. The sense of achievement was brilliant, especially since we walked up the hard way. We stayed at the top for an hour or so before starting to head back down.

The clouds cleared and we had incredible views of the surrounding lands. A huge lake to one side, dried lava and forests to another. Even though it was only 7am, we were already feeling the heat from the sun and it made me glad that we’d hiked up at night – I can’t imagine doing that same path with the sun beating down.

Walking back down the easy path, not a boulder in sight!

We walked down the path with the switchbacks, jumping out of the way each time a motorbike came past. We noticed that quite a few of the hikers had hitched lifts to get down. That finally answered the question that had been rattling round in my head all morning… Why on earth would anyone be riding up a volcano at four in the morning? To give tired hikers a lift, of course!

If only we’d seen this on the way up!

When we got down to the fork in the path, in the daylight we saw a sign nailed to a tree informing us of the two routes to the top, as well as the cost of flagging down a motorbike. At this point I was glad we’d taken the hard, foot-traffic-only path, because otherwise I would have been severely tempted to give up and hitch a lift to the top instead. We joked that the motorbikes were there to take up the instagrammers who wanted beautiful pics from the top without breaking a sweat.

Should you hike up Mount Batur?

Feeling proud of ourselves!

Mount Batur is easily Bali’s most popular hike, so you would be forgiven for assuming it’s pretty easy and deciding that if everyone else can do it, you can too. You wouldn’t be wrong – of course you can do it. But if you’re on the average side of fitness and, like us, decide to take the hard path, then you will struggle. Blakey, however, treated it as though it was a nice morning stroll, so I guess it just depends on you. None of us regret it – even though it was super challenging, and the sunrise wasn’t spectacular, we still loved it, and spent the rest of the day feeling very proud of ourselves!

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