Climbing Gunung Batur, Bali’s Volcano

I didn't want to climb a volcano. One of my biggest fears is to be burnt alive by lava.  Ever since watching Volcano with Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones, I have visions of slowly burning alive. The way that guy from Fargo did during the scene in the subway. yikes!

As a matter a fact, Dave and I had a huge fight the night before. I was blaming with him for wanting to climb Gunung Batur even though I had said that I wanted to as well.  But I wouldn't admit that I didn't want to so I was just angry and he couldn't understand why.  We had come to Bali for many things  and climbing a volcano was one of them, so I wasn't about to admit that I was chickening out.

Gunung Batur, Bali's volcano

The volcano of Gunung Batur

As it turns out, Gunung Batur is not a frightening lava flowing volcano at all.  Yes, it is an active volcano, but you won't see any lava fields flowing by  as you walk up the trail and you won't have to worry or fear that you may tumble into molten lava.

I really should have done my research before we climbed and I would have known this. I would have been much happier the night before.  Instead I lay awake all night fretting and waiting for our 2:00 am wake up call.

It seemed that I had just finally closed my eyes when our driver Anung, met us at our bungalow in Ubud.  He lifted my spirits with his warm smile and breakfasts in hand.  We hopped in the back seat of his shiny SUV and we drove in luxury eating our hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit before our rugged trek.

Gunung Batur and the crater lake, Bali

Sunrise over the volcanos and crater lake

I was very stressed out as we approached the base of the mountain. I tried to hide it to no avail.  We stopped to get our permits to trek up this active volcano and then with a quick introduction to our guide Nyoman we were off by 4:00 am. Armed with our boxed lunches we were trekking this mountain whether I liked it or not.

The Trek up the Volcano

He set a fast pace and there was little talking as we hiked in the dark.  I didn't enjoy myself at first as I still didn't know what to expect. I had never seen a volcano before this climb, let alone climb on one.

Crater Lake, Bali

We stopped to catch our breath.  Climbing a volcano is quite tiring.  The black rock is loose and the slope is steep.  We had just climbed Mount Kinabalu in Borneo a few weeks earlier so I thought I would be a breeze after that, but I was breathing heavily all the way up.

Everything ended up being fine and we made it to the lookout with more than enough time to catch the sunrise.  We found a pleasant spot in a shelter with benches to sit on.  There were quite a few of us lined up side by side waiting for the sun to come up, and as soon as it crested the horizon we were armed and ready with our cameras and videos.

Sunrise over Gunung Rinjani and Lombok

Sunrise at Gunung Rinjani on Lombok

Sunrise over the Volcano of Rinjani on Lombok Island

The sunrise was spectacular.  We were on the top of Bali and the sky was ablaze as the sun rose over Lombok, Indonesia and Gunung Rinjani.  It was a slow rise and we had more than enough footage. By the time it was actually daylight we were frozen wrapped in our skimpy sarongs.  The climb was a sweaty one and to sit for an hour waiting in the cool and damp darkness took its toll.   The warmth of that sunrise couldn't have come too soon and now that all of my fears had subsided, I couldn't wait to move on to see the volcanic crater of Gunung Batur.

Sunrise horizontal of Mount Rinjani in Lombok

Another view of Mount Rinjani in Lombok

Our first stop was a deep hole in a cave where we watched a lot of volcanic steam rise from the depths of the earth.  Steam was everywhere and Nyoman told us that yearly sacrifices are held each year by the local villagers to appease the volcano Gods.  Live water buffalo, goats and chickens are ceremoniously dropped to their deaths.  This will hopefully stave off another eruption. I just felt bad for the animals and I imagined the sight of the poor buffalo being hoisted by rope and pulley over the deep crater.

An egg cooks in Volcanos steam in Bali

The Steam is hot enough to boil and egg

We climbed on after sunrise to the rim of the newest volcanic eruption.  After cooking an egg in a steaming hole, yes it is that hot that one can boil an egg, we went on to view the old lava flows and more smoking cones of sulphur. You could feel the heat all around you and steam rose from everywhere.

Will another eruption occur at Gunung Batur?

Vulcanologist's are expecting Gunung III to go next and although they monitor regularly, you just never know when it will erupt.  All around you could see rocks that had been thrown into the air from the angry depths of the earth.  They left behind holes with gas spewing from within and I imagined being right there when it happened. There is potential for some serious injury if you happen to find yourself standing next to a spot that is ready to blow.

Steam Rising from depths of Volcano in Bali

Steam Rising from the Volcano

I was amazed to think that people can comfortably build homes and businesses at the base of this still active volcano.  Earthquakes occur more frequently and there is a lot of activity.  It could erupt at any moment, but villagers go on with their daily lives.

We trekked through the morning on trails right along the craters edge.  The landscape changed drastically as we walked from black loose sand from the most recent eruption to lush green grass on the older craters.  You could see first hand the strength of Mother Nature, she can rebuild and thrive even after disaster.

Years later, the soil near a volcano is filled with nutrients.

Hiking on the Craters Edge of Gunung Batur

Hiking on the Craters Edge

It ended up being a beautiful day. I walked and talked with Nyoman as Dave stopped regularly for photographs.  I learned about village life and history as Dave absorbed the surroundings and nature.

I am very glad to have sucked it up and climbed Gunung Batur. It wasn't the big bad scary lava flowing experience that I was expecting. It was an invigorating climb with spectacular views. Once we reached the lookout, the day consisted of a leisurely trek from mountain to mountain and along craters.  We were at the bottom by early afternoon with not a care in the world.

Steam rises from this active Volcano

Changing Landscapes around the volcano

We said goodbye to Nyoman after tipping generously. He earned it.  At first he was quiet and probably didn't know what to expect from us, but as the day went on we talked openly and frequently.  We talked about family and friends and life in Bali.  We enjoyed his company but knew full well that we would never see him again.  And it ended with a wave goodbye as we caught our air-conditioned van back to Ubud.

That is what is odd about travel, you bond with people and learn all about their lives. You share intimate details and then never see one another again.

Tips for Trekking Gunung Batur

  • 1. Bring something warm to keep yourself warm while waiting for sunrise.
  • 2. Book your trek in Ubud it is cheaper and always remember to haggle on the price.
  • 3. Drink lots of Water.
  • 4. Tip your guide. They work hard and make most of their money from your tips.

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