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Mount Agung: how to climb Bali’s highest volcano

It was midnight as I was standing on the narrow streets of the small village of Amed in Bali. The night was warm, the street deserted. Still, I brought warm clothes, gloves, a hat. I expected to get much colder before the night was through. I felt a bit bleary-eyed already. I tried to get some sleep earlier on in the day, but had failed. I knew I wouldn’t see my bed again until much later tomorrow.

Would I be exhausted and sore when I returned? Happy but tired? Cold and wet? I was prepared for all circumstances. I had been warned that this would be an exhausting adventure, not for the faint of heart. ‘Bring it on’ had been my reply, but now, as I waited, doubts started to creep in. Was I really in a good enough shape to do this? It had been a long time since I had been in the mountains.

My thoughts and worries got interrupted as the lights of a vehicle swept around the corner and came my way. This must be my driver. No going back now. As I introduced myself to the man and got into the vehicle, I cast a look back at the hotel where my cosy bed was waiting for me to return. I promised it I would make up for lost time the next day. We took off into the night, on our way to Bali’s most challenging adventure. The mountain was waiting.

Which volcano to climb?

When I first arrived in Bali, I started looking around for the best hikes on the island. I’m not one to sit on a beach all day, I need the occasional challenge. True, hiking in Bali is not top of the to-do list for most visitors to the island, but I was certain that there would be something worthwhile to explore. So, I started asking around, reading guide books and exploring the internet. What I found, was the option to hike Mount Batur.

Everyone told me that was the volcano to climb. Easy, accessible, and popular. It’s one of the most popular day trips on the island, in fact. I looked into doing a sunrise hike to the top of that volcano, and with everything I read, I felt less inclined to go there. Why? Exactly for the above-mentioned reasons. It was easy, accessible, and popular. In fact, I heard stories about people lining up along the path.

Ready for a challenge

But in my research, I also found another volcano to climb: Mount Agung (or Gunung Agung). It was higher, harder, more dangerous. When I asked around about climbing Bali’s highest volcano, Mount Agung, people told me:

You mean Batur!’

‘No, I mean Agung.’

‘Are you sure you don’t mean Batur?’

sunrise on top of Mount Agung on Bali
Sunrise over Bali’s Mount Agung, looking towards Lombok.

It is Bali’s most sacred mountain, and the hardest to climb. The Balinese have no objections to people climbing it, and in fact climb it regularly themselves in order to make sacrifices to the gods. My climb was shortly before the country’s elections, and so we met a few groups of political supporters going up to incur favors for their preferred party.

One of the more bizarre things I witnessed on my way up, was a Balinese woman climbing up this volcano on her flipflops and with a white goose peeking out from her handbag. The bird looked rather astonished at finding itself there, and I didn’t blame him for that.

The Balinese choice of footwear started to seem even more remarkable when I approached the end of our hike. The last hour of the journey, you’re scrambling up on hands and feet.

What to bring on a hike up Mount Agung

Gunung Agung’s summit lies at 3031 meters or 9944 feet. That might not sound like too high, but don’t take this one too lightly. The mountain is frequently covered in clouds, it rains up there a lot and there is no well-maintained track to the summit.

Make sure you come prepared for this hike. Bring water, snacks, rain gear, hiking poles and a head torch. On a guided tour, the guide will most likely be able to provide you with the last two items, and they will also bring you some hot tea and food or snacks.

Not long after we started climbing down, it started raining and the rocks got slippery and the temperature dropped even further. I hiked in trail runners, which was fine. Hiking boots will also do, though I like the flexibility and breathability of trail runners far more. I do not recommend sneakers or flipflops, or any other footwear without a proper profile. I was also extremely happy I had the foresight to bring gloves! I would have been very miserable indeed without them.

You can choose from two different routes to the top. I highly recommend taking a local guide for both routes!

Starting from Besakih temple:

This is the longest and hardest route. It will take you around 12 hours to reach the summit and return, according to some tour operators. I have also seen estimates of anywhere between 6 to 9 hours. Starting point lies at 1000 metres (3000 feet). Something that I only found out about later is that this is the only sure route to get you to the actual summit. The route departing from Pasar Agung is shorter, easier, and will get you to the other side of the crater rim, which is a bit lower than the actual summit.

Starting from Pasar Agung temple:

This is the route I took. There is a road leading up to this temple, which lies at around 1500 metres. Reaching the crater rim takes between 3-6 hrs from here. The time stated for both routes vary wildly. We took just under 4.5 hours to get from the parking lot to the top, with the guide taking frequent stops. Keep to their pace and don’t try to do this hike faster, or you will arrive at the summit (likely sweaty and exhausted) way too early for the sunrise. And it gets really, REALLY cold up there!

The first part of the hike is through forest and jungle, but once you reach the tree line, it is just rocks and scree. You can see some lava paths from previous eruptions, which makes the landscape really interesting.

Our time schedule was roughly as follows:

11.00 pm: departure from Amed

00.45 am: arrival parking lot Pasar Agung

01.00 am: start hiking

05.45 am: arrival at the top

07.00 am: return

11.30 am: return to parking lot

We arrived just in time for the first rays of the sun to start caressing the hills and rocks around us, and it was breathtaking. At least for a little while, as shortly after our arrival, and just as the scenery was being unveiled in front of our eyes, clouds started rolling in at an alarming speed, and we ended up in a fog.

So, to summarize:

Is Mount Agung difficult to climb?

Yes, it is a hike that shouldn’t be underestimated. Do it if you are fit and have some experience hiking up steep slopes and scrambling up rocks. It will be an experience to remember. If you are not a strong hiker, this is not the best place to start. In parts, there will be an incline of more than 45 degrees. And don’t forget: what goes up, most come down! Every rockface you scramble up on, you will also need to descend. Your knees WILL take a beating on the way down.

How long will the climb up Agung take?

That depends on your chosen route, on the others in your group and on your own physical fitness. As mentioned before, a climb can take anywhere between 5-12 hours. As the guides will take in to account all levels of fitness, they will factor in extra time and go slow on the way up. If you want to go fast and are sure of your abilities, you could consider hiring a private guide and discuss this with the guide up front.

Can I do this hike alone without a guide?

Technically, yes, it should be possible. However, there is no signposted or maintained route, and I would have lost my way several times without my guide. Even the start of the hike would have been hard to find. There were other hikers on the mountain without a guide, and they ended up having to follow us in order to find the way.

Apart from the fact that this is not really fair on the people that DID pay to get a guide, also consider that this is an important source of income for local guides, and you are helping them earn a living wage. The guides did not become aggressive towards people going it alone (as I hear regularly happens on Mount Batur), but they did voice their opinions on tourists going up alone. I was happy I engaged a guide. Choose wisely.

Can I hike this volcano at any time?

No, unfortunately not. Agung is an active volcano, and the area occasionally gets closed off when there is a risk of eruption or higher volcanic activity. Always check before going. If you hire a guide, they will of course be able to update you on the current situation.

On top of this, I have read recommendations that say it is better not too climb Agung in the rainy season. The paths get muddy and the rocks slippery at that time. I was there in the rainy season, and did have rain on the mountain. It wasn’t ideal on our way down, but it was certainly doable. Like mentioned before, make sure you have shoes with enough thread and hiking poles, and it won’t be an issue.

Would I do it again?

Totally! Even though my knees and leg muscles protested somewhat in the following days… The experience was unique, the views spectacular and the sense of accomplishment after making it to the top was rewarding.

I hiked Agung on a private trip with guide Wayan Tegteg, who has decades of experience guiding people up Batur and Agung. He can be contacted via Facebook here.

Do you have any questions about climbing Agung? Would you go on this hike? Let me know in the comments below!

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