A trek to the crater rim of Bali's highest volcano
As part of our stay on Bali in 2004, myself, Karteek, Pabala and Stuey decided to tackle a trek to the crater rim of the majestic Gunung Agung. I don't have any long-distance shots of this mountain but Im sure a quick google search will reveal a few (such as http://www.travelpics.net/gunungagung_e.htm) - from most of southern Bali it reigns supreme on the skyline, a classic conical volcano with its head in the clouds, active (in the most destructive sense) as recently as the sixties.
The trek to the summit is tough in the wet season, as the trail from Besakih is easily washed out, and a group of our friends had recently had to turn back before completing the climb. We opted instead for the shorter ascent from Pura Pasar Agung, which takes you to the crater rim, but not to its highest point (and a circuit of the crater is not recommended - perhaps the preserve of fully equipped rock climbers?).
We arrived in the middle of the night with the weather worsening - persistent drizzle and the cool upland air made for an air of inertia in the taxi - were we really going to get out in that rain and darkness and try to find our way through the jungle to the top of a mountain? Eventually we stirred and found it wasn't so bad - mild, if a bit damp. The prospect of dramatic views from the top did seem a bit unlikely though. After offering a prayer for protection on our trek, we set about our first task - having rejected the offer of guidance from a hopeful chap who appeared from out of the night, we headed up the temple steps, knowing that entry to the temple proper would be inappropriate but that there should be a right turn somewhere leading to the trail (this much we had learned from a rather vague guidebook). We were a bit lost int he darkness and strayed into the temple compound, where a helpful chap appeared from out of the darkness (rather like the unsuccessful "guide") and led us to a door in the compound wall. "Agung!" he said as he opened it and we left the ancient precincts of the temple to find ourselves on a grassy ledge about a metre wide with a nearly-sheer drop on one side and the high temple wall on the other - very Indiana Jones.
After making our way behind the temple (slow progress in rain & darkness over muddy ground) we spotted some plastic water pipes feeding a water tank and followed these on a vague path up into the forested mountainside. My pictures of this phase of the trek were taken in daylight on the way down of course....
The temple of Pura Pasar, with misty slopes behind
Thats where we should have gone - right side of the temple leading into the wooded slopes - instead of into the compound itself. If you want to find the end of this trail, take the stairs on your right as you face the main temple entrance with its white sign, and make your way up the "terraces" then up the steps to this white house (pic below) thence through the gap between the house and the high compound wall (centre of pic below).
At first it was a damp, slippery climb through the brush, then the vegetation grew sparser as we entered stony slopes with trees and bushes, growing steeper by degrees as we gained height. We were soon above the rain, and could make out the topography ahead - a long lava ridge led upward, with a dramatically deep gully to its left with imposing walls of black rock (would be a nasty fall so avoid the left side) and gentler stony slopes to the right. I made mental note of all this remembering I was going to have to return by the same route to find the temple again on the way down from this huge mountain (with many spurs and ridges - you could easily take a wrong turn).
As a little light began to dawn, we made steady progress over the lava flows, a mysterious and rugged landscape of bare rock. We knew we were on a track used before us - as well as the occasional discarded water bottle or "pocari sweat" can there were the offering baskets you see everywhere in Bali, and even occasional carvings on the rock. A notch appeared on the horizon which looked like it may be the crater rim, so we headed onwards and upwards towards it as the light brightened.
One thing about volcanoes is they tend to get steeper and steeper as you ascend until the last climb is - well, a climb. We were employing hands and knees as well as feet as we hauled ourselves up the last ascent and nestled among the rocks to look into the mysterious crater interior.
We meditated briefly and sang our Invocation before sharing the bread, bananas etc. that had been getting slowly squashed in our packs on the way up. We met one other climber who had a guide and headed for a slightly higher part of the crater, but otherwise the mountain was all ours.
The view was superb - you could see our hotel in Sanur, so many miles away, and the coastline of much of Bali. The temple was a tiny speck below us, and the jungle-covered slopes seemed to spread for miles around, finally giving way to beautiful terraced rice paddies. Bali is a paradise island for sure, and Agung affords some great views (though I'm sure those from the true summit on the Pura Besakih side are superior).
The descent was hard work because it was so steep and in places the stones were loose - Karteek's knee was giving him trouble and Prabuddha managed a fall on some stones (which cheered me up as it gave me an excuse to smugly produce my first aid kit which I had lugged all that way in case of a minor injury).
Once back at the temple, we bought a drink from a guy in one of the houses by the compound who miraculously produced a crate of Sprite and Coke - then got a pic of our party at the end of a great trek.