Peaking just over 3,000 meters, Mount Agung towers over the island of Bali. Its dark, ominous outline fades under the cover of puffy, cotton ball clouds during the day. An active volcano hidden from the thousands of tourists and residents below.
Although Agung is known to occasionally belch gases and ash from within, the volcano has not erupted since 1963-1964. Throughout the year, Indonesian guides now lead daring adventure-seekers up the steep journey to see a sunrise of a lifetime.
Our group of seven departs at 11:45pm from the free-spirited town of Ubud. We must drive a little under 2 hours to reach the base of the volcano, to meet our two Balinese guides. While we wait in a parking lot, we realize how unprepared we are for the cold and wet weather that has suddenly approached. The lucky ones are handed headlamps. The others are stuck with handheld flashlights.
We follow a series of spiraled, moss-covered stairs to a temple at the base of the volcano. We start to see hundreds of stars scattered across the sky, with a bright yellow moon illuminating the start of our journey.
It will take four hours to reach the summit for sunrise. Then another four hours to return. It is now 2am, and we have not slept since the night before. Ready, go!
The first stage of the climb was through a forest. Following the footsteps and flickering lights ahead of us, we slowly navigated our way up the tree-root steps and slippery mud path. Our guides walk with ease. They do not struggle with balance, nor even use their hands for stability as we do.
After the first half hour, we are rewarded with a five minute break. The stars seem brighter. The galaxy is now in view. Some of us catch a glimpse of a shooting star or two. A sea of bright cities and street lights reflect below.
We continue to ascend through the trees to a more rocky terrain. We are now grabbing the sharp edges of age-old volcanic rock, hugging our bodies to the near-vertical incline. Flashlights do little to help, as the environment seems to get darker and darker.
We continue to take breaks every hour or two. Snacks and tea keep us from falling asleep, and from falling down the mountain. Our calves are burning and our inhales are now quicker.
Above us is what distracts us. The white cloud of stars that makes up our galaxy. The Southern Cross, slightly to our right. A satellite streaks across the twinkling canvas. Smooth black clouds creeping towards the volcano.
We reach the summit just minutes before sunrise. We sit together. A gaping crater at our backs, the perfect combination of blue and orange sky in our sights. A giant vertical cloud floats in the north. Sleeping cities and villages to the south. It is mostly silent, except for sound of shivering and tea-sipping.
The sun slowly rises, bringing warmth and light to everything. We realize the magnitude of what we just climbed. The converging lines of the horizon, volcano, and forest below play tricks with our minds. The clouds are now below us, and climbing down is our only way home.