The Masochistic Hobbyist: Climbing Agung & Batukaru

A stratovolcano – a volcano made of many layers of lava – is very broad in diameter and doesn’t just overflow but erupts explosively. At 3,142 m absl, Gunung Agung is a stratovolcano and the highest spot on Bali Island; it last erupted in 1963. Using the Balinese compass, naga dewata, the peak of this mountain is north (kaja), south being anywhere seaward (kelod). As the Balinese are very vertically aligned, superstitions, on the mountain side, make locals sparse (though they are available as hired guides on auspicious days of their calendars).

You can see Renjani in the background of sunrise at Agung mountain.

The shattered caldera of Agung, sunrise. Can you see Lombok in the background?

            When hiking in general, don’t sweat the small stuff. The important thing is the peak, rain or shine. A recommendation is not a must, and of course, locals will firmly recommend many things, like hiring a guide. The price will start in the juta (millions), but can be brought down to just a few hundred thousand Rupiah (tens of dollars), and should include coffee, and maybe arak (palm alcohol). Substitute an experienced acquaintance or tag along with a geng matik (scooter gang) convoy of CouchSurfers, instead; those happen monthly. Also recommended, people often start the hike at 1 in the morning to catch sunrise and avoid the afternoon heat. If your shoes are elsewhere, do it in flip flops. Every group has a mooch, though. Hiking without food or water? Isn’t climbing a mountain supposed to be something to be proud of?

Two routes offering varied experiences will lead you to different peaks of the shattered caldera. As per the local alignment, the largest mountain on the island has also the most important temple at its foot. From this temple, it’s a long haul through ruffles of jungle and along blades of hardened magma with drop offs of fifty meters either side. This route is the challenging one, also longer by a few hours. The other path, ascending from Pasar Agung (many mooches have probably mistaken this parking lot for a night market), is the most common path to the prolonged and temporary relief that is the peak. The trail is marked with spray paint, passes through thinning old-growth forest, giving way to a long and rugged stone path you sometimes have to scale.

The peak of Agung Mountain, early morning.

Sunrise at the peak of Agung Mountain

At the peak, a clear day puts you eye-to-eye with Lombok‘s Renjani. The orange sun will backlight this mountain, if you made it on time. Behind you, the cities and mountains of Bali skirt out towards the distant peaks of East Java – three or more islands in one, haunting turn-of-the-head.

In the figurative shadow of Agung, Batukaru is Bali’s second tallest peak (2,276 m), and site of the second largest temple. This beckoning bell curve also requires some blood-letting, the island’s oldest forests being hung with leeches. To get to the trailhead you’ll pass through Tabanan, from where nearly all northbound roads rise to the numerous, crowded subak hot springs at Batukaru’s foot.

This gorgeous mountain is not a popular hike. The local people of Tabanan will try and dissuade such exertion. In a hot spring, the locals warn of tigers – well, the spirits of them, anyway. The main road up would take you to Pura Luhur where you would be further set back by a group of pecalang (temple attendants), unknowingly notorious online for being discouraging, confusing, bureaucratic, and for popping motorcycle tires. As if the climb weren’t challenging enough. It took four confrontations with these hard-headed attendants and four separate trips to their temple before the way became clear: the way around them.

Before leaving the town, when approaching the temple, hang a right. Heading east, before Jatiluwih, there’s a road that leads to a smaller temple. Here, the real trail head is frequented by local hunters and hikers, too. The oldest trees on the island tower with imposing musculature along a steepening trail that is lush and overgrown. Within a few hundred meters, the buffers break to the southeast, Medewi, and ocean blue.

Being forested to the peak, Batukaru makes a great shady day hike. The forest plateaus and then makes a comeback, giving the trekker some primal motivation to push on. Four to five hours and you’ll find not only has the trail been well tread, there’s even a small temple marking the peak. The flat, grassy top is a vantage point extraordinaire; you’ll want to run circles before the three hour trip down. I recommend it.

Monyet lucu. Jelek.

Monyet jelek juga ada banyak.

Tempted to try Batukaru? Long pants, sleeves, and proper shoes are, again, recommended. And while the leeches are small and can be easily plucked off, either the flame of a lighter or some salt works to make these pests release their prey.

I recommend it.


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