[Island of the Gods] Sunrise on Mt Batur the Volcano

It seems that most people don't really know the Bali other than the one with its beautiful smooth beaches and vacation villas.

I had no idea that Bali was in fact such a mountainous island, consisting of 17 volcanoes, the highest being Mt Agung! (meaning "Great Mountain") at 3031m, that is already as high as the 100 peaks in Taiwan!

[Bali from the sky! Now I recognize so many of the mountains, including Mt Rinjani of Lombok!]

I was totally hooked on pictures of sunrise on Mt Batur, just a day before arriving in the area. On the top of a volcanic crater, overlooking a volcanic lake, and the sun rising behind another volcano opposite this lake ... not to mention, it's an ACTIVE volcano! I never thought I'd be so into volcanoes since Tongariro! 

It took me just one night to decide that I wanted to do it, but I was in a constant struggle between whether to do it on my own or with a guide (quite a familiar dilemma before every hike in a foreign country!) In the end I was so happy with out everything turned out!

[Mt Batur from Lake Batur]

I had already been warned to watch out for the "pushy locals" who will try to sell you a room and a trekking guide when you arrive in the area around Lake Batar.

However, I still fell into my first real "scam" when this one guy pulled me over and told me that the police were ahead, and they will stop me for me to pay to enter the area. He said if I just waited (looks at his watch) 10 minutes, they will end their shift, and he can take me on a back road to get in.

The instant I decided to wait that 10 minutes, he took out a map of Mt Batur and told me he was a guide himself, and he also had cheap rooms to offer. Naively, I thought he meant 100 THOUSAND rupiahs for the trekking, instead of 100 USD. That would have such been a huge rip off!! (And 100 thousand rupiahs would have been ridiculously cheap!)

[It was pretty much this vibe that convinced me to stay]

Late in the evening, I finally stumbled into a little hostel, way off the main road from Toya Bungkah. I was so tired when I arrived that when the owner Yon told me he could only offer me a tent instead of a room, I took it right away! 

They also had a reasonable price for their trekking to Mt Batur, and there were a group of other travelers signed up for tomorrow's sunrise, that I decided to just take the whole thing right away!

[An unexpected night in a tent!]

Early the next morning (by morning I mean 3 am when it is still pitch black and the stars are still shining bright in the velvet night), I crawled out from my tent and joined everyone to have a small snack and some hot tea.

It turned out that the walk starts almost immediately from the hostel itself! We only had to walk a short distance before we were surrounded by indiscernible pine trees.

[Tramping in the dark]

As we were marching to the trail head, I attempted to memorize every possible marker so that I would know the way coming back next time (hopefully with Seb :D). I also realized how difficult it would be to find the trail by myself if I didn't have a proper headlight, and had to count on other passing groups to figure out where to go.

There were in fact quite a number of other trekking groups, their headlights or torches forming a vague line of procession up to the crater. In the end, I'm really glad that I could focus more on the walk itself, enjoy the starry night and the village lights across the lake, rather than trying to find my way in the dark.

[A mesmerizing view over the village, the lake,
the "double mountains" on the other side and Mt Rinjani beyond]

Once we left the forest, we started getting a better view of Lake Batur and Mt Agung, as well as the dawning sky. After a year in the southern hemisphere, it was a strange sight to see Orion hanging neither up or down in the sky, as we were basically right on the equator!

We were told that we're really lucky with the weather because it was so clear that we might see Mt Rinjani from neighboring Lombok, about some 250km away. They also kept insisting that we would see that Mt Agung and Mt Abang are "double mountains", which I had no idea what it meant. All I could see was the silhouette of Mt Abang from across the lake.

[Double Mountains revealing themselves]

Then the first light of the day started to seep in, and the double mountains eventually (and magically) revealed themselves. It turned out that Mt Agung was literally an offset from Mt Abang. They were identical in shape, with one was right behind the other. In reality, they were some 1000m different in elevation!

We reached the crater with plentiful time to get comfortable, have some breakfast and wait for the actual sunrise itself. The day was brightening so much already, it was long past necessary to use our headlights. Our guides had a good spot for us so that the many other trekkers weren't visible nor audible to us, and we could really enjoy this spectacular view.

It was a perfectly clear day, which made the whole experience so impressive just because we could see everything SO clearly! Mt Rinjani rose distinctly visible on the horizon, as if it were part of the island of Bali itself. The lake and the ocean were separated by the outer caldera, it was so strange to see that the ocean was so close by!

[A clear view of Mt Rinjani in Lombok]

As I watched the glowing red sun, a fiery cauldron rising up from the vast expanse of ocean,  I could barely remember when my last sunrise was. It was probably from Sylvester Hut, back in the South Island ... a good 4-5 months ago!

[Everyone trying to take the same picture!]

Then the clouds finally started to roll in from the south, creating the mountain-peaks-piercing-through-a-sea-of-clouds effect that I originally expected to see. Then they turned into mist, mystical and mysterious. Then they cleared away, and the sky was compelling immaculate blue once again.

We were about the last group to leave our sunrise spot to embark on our "ridge walk" along the rim of the crater, which was the most exhilarating experience! Moon-like landscapes surrounded us entirely, because not only were we walking on the rim of a crater, we were INSIDE another greater volcano itself!

[A moon-like landscape all around us]

I was so intrigued  about the forming of Mt Batur and Mt Abang! Apparently, these two volcanoes used to be part of the same 4000 meter volcano. And after several big eruptions, Mt Abang was formed ("Abang" means "big brother" because it is in this sense, a big brother to Mt Batur), the rest of the volcano collapsed on itself, leaving behind a huge outer caldera, and Lake Batur and Mt Batur within! ("Batur" means "stone eruption")

[An exhilarating "ridge" walk!]

As for Mt Batur, not only could we SEE that it is a volcano, but we by walking along the rim of the crater, going into the crater itself and seeing the steam coming out from the vents, and "skiing" down the black lava sand on the south side of the crater (what the locals call "black snow"), we could really FEEL that Mt Batur is absolutely, unquestionably, with out a doubt ... a volcano!

[Black snow skiing]

It seemed that every Balinese living around this area had some stories to tell about living with volcanoes. Mt Batur is an active volcano, it's last eruption was in 2000, which both of our trekking guides had a vivid memory of.

One guide told us how his village was evacuated in 2000, and when the lava spilled over the land, only one patch of the village was spared, which was where the lucky temple had been standing. The villagers all gather to this temple every year to worship the gods. He also waved his arms at the land around us and said "We all live somewhere around here now."

[Where the lucky temple stands]

When leaving the area and seeing Mt Batur again, I could clearly see route we took that was not visible to me when I first saw this volcano. What we did was go up the right side (north) of the main crater, stopped for sunrise at a lower point so that we were away from the large crowds but still had an equally impressive view.

Then we circled around the crater, coming down along the left side (south), where we could see the second crater better. Then we closed the crater loop and took the same route back through the pine forest back to the hostel.

[Basaltic lava flow covering the surrounding area]

In the end, in retrospect of how everything turned out, I am so happy with my decision! This is definitely the best place to climb Mt Batur! And for entirely unbiased reasons with no obligations at all, I've concluded that it was absolutely the best decision to go with the guides from this hostel!

□ Not only was the owner Yon himself super friendly, everything "Don't worry!" Our two guides were also super fun and friendly, making jokes with us and making sure we were happy the whole time!

□ They really allowed us to take our time, and they seemed to be enjoying the entire walk themselves also, we even stopped for a spontaneous guitar session when we found a guitar!

□ They knew all the spots with the best views and offered to take pictures for us all the time! (Especially important when you're the only one in the group who's not in a couple!)

□ They were very knowledgeable about the history of the volcano and the surrounding area! We really learnt a lot from them! 

□ They were also very professional, so that even when one girl from the group slipped and fell, they knew how to take care of her and made sure she felt alright!

□ Finally, for 350.000 rupiahs, all breakfast, lunch and drinks (including everything we had to devour out of famine and exhaustion when we returned to the hostel!) were included! They offered headlights and hiking poles. No transportation was needed to get to the track because we were so close!

All in all, Mt Batur was a truly exceptional experience for me! I'm very impressed with all it had to offer, much more than I expected!

Of the other volcanoes in Bali, I heard that Mt Abang is less impressive because its peak is mostly in the trees. And Mt Agung is a 6 hour walk, one-way. 

I think next time, we should go for Mt Rinjani on the island next door!

... Or camp on top of Mt Batur!

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