Ascent of Gunung Agung on 1993-10-06

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:"Karak" (Guide)
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Wednesday, October 6, 1993
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Bus
Peak:Gunung Agung
    Elevation:9944 ft / 3030 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tuesday, October 5, 1993:

I got off my bemo in the market area of Klungkung, where I walked around, bought a coke, and, by talking to the villagers, found a bemo going up to Besakih, my ultimate destination. By now I knew about what the ride should cost, so I held firm at paying 2000 Rupiah. This last bemo ride went steeply uphill, letting most people off as it went up, until it came to a large parking lot ringed by bazaar-style shops, apparently the main square of Besakih. As the only westerner on the bemo (indeed, I had seen no others since leaving Denpassar), a tout approached me as I got off asking if I needed a "losmen" (Indonesian guesthouse) for the night. I said I did, and his price of 10,000 rupiah (US $4.76) was certainly reasonable, so I followed him up from the square along the only street in Besakih, a steeply ascending paved road, divided in the middle by a flowery median, lined with stores and stalls selling souvenirs, T-shirts, and religious stuff--Besakih was a major pilgrimage center for the Balinese.

A couple minutes up this road the guy led me down an alley between two stores to his little losmen, where he showed me a room that appeared to be pretty clean, and could be locked, so I paid him for two nights. The room was off of a courtyard, and the guy's family was hanging out in a far corner, and dogs and chickens roamed around, so it was pretty noisy, but I decided to take a nap anyway. It was early--only about 2:30 PM, but I was tired from too many journeys in overcrowded bemos. I dozed for a few hours, the crowing of a rooster the most annoying sound.

At 4 PM I went out to do a reconnaissance of the town, wanting to see if I could find the path that I could use the next day for climbing Agung. I left my losmen, carefully noting the obscure alley it was behind so I could find it again, and walked up the long, bazaar-lined main drag of Besakih to where it ended at a massive terraced temple complex. I walked up a long stairway off to the side of the main group of temple buildings, and up higher and higher, until the buildings petered out. There were nice views down to the far away ocean from here. I had a xerox of Kelsey's mountain guidebook page on Bali, but it had a poor map, and I wasn't sure that an overgrown track I saw leading off from a bulldozed dirt road behind the highest temple was the trail or not--there seemed to be a lot of trails used by villagers here and there.

I hung out at a construction site near the highest temple, and wandered down, since it was very overcast out, and it was getting dark. Near the base of the temples I was accosted a couple times by villagers asking if I needed a guide to climb Agung, and I finally started talking to one, playing it cagey as I could as a bargaining technique. I still didn't know where the path started, there were no trail signs, and I had visions of myself hacking through tropical rain forest, totally lost, so I finally decided to hire a guide, if only to get me started. After talking to the guy (whose English was pretty good) for a bit, I finally agreed to hire one for 15,000 Rupiah (US $7.14). He wanted 10,000 now, but I gave him only 5,000, and he said a cousin of his, "Karak", would meet me at the base of the temple steps at 4 AM. Hoping that this arrangement would work, I left the temple and walked back down the main street of Besakih.

I wanted to eat now, so I went down to the main parking lot in town, but it seemed that all the stores had closed up, and the place was deserted, even though it was only about 5 PM. However, there was one food store/restaurant that was still open, and I went in and got a big bowl of hot rice and some nice chicken breast to eat, and I started talking to the 18-year old girl who was running the place, since I was the only customer. She was very cute and surprisingly intelligent, and her English was good, so we chatted a while--I told her about my mountaineering plans for the next day and complimented her on her English, while she told me about her school and that she wasn't married yet. Her mother was hovering in the back of the store, seeming to disapprove, at one point asking her daughter to clean things up.

I paid for my meal, buying some cookies, too, and then returned to my losmen/guesthouse, it now dark--at 6 PM in the tropics, it's like God flicks off a light switch. There I read my guidebook some, wrote in my log, killed whatever insects had made their way into my room (none so bad as the huge spiders I had dealt with in India), and made a couple extremely unpleasant trips to the hole-in-the-floor toilet across the courtyard (the kind that had to be "flushed" with a bucket of water) before turning out the one naked lightbulb in my room to get some sleep. It rained quite a bit that night, not a good omen when planning a hiking trip the next day. It was rather noisy, too--the family that lived in this guesthouse was pretty loud until late, and a 2 AM trip to the toilet didn't help matters any, either.

Wednesday, October 6:

I woke up at 3:20 AM, quickly ate some cookies and candy for breakfast, and locked the door to my spartan guesthouse room, nervous about leaving behind some of my stuff, but not having much choice. In the utter darkness I put on my headlamp, left the "losmen", and walked up to the temple of Besakih, Bali, Indonesia. It was raining lightly, so I put a garbage bag on my pack, and waited under a tiny overhang of a temple wall for "Karak", the guide I had arranged for yesterday that was going to guide me up Gunung Agung, the highest mountain on Bali. I seriously wondered if he would show up--4 AM was the agreed time.

Fortunately, he did, about five minutes late. He was about 20 years old, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, and spoke very, very little English (although he might have understood me OK--I don't know), and we set off, up the temple staircases, then to the bulldozed road to the left of the temple complex, and up the overgrown path I had seen yesterday. It was pitch black out, and Karak's flashlight and my headlamp were essential as we ascended through the jungle at a good pace. I was soon sweating like crazy, and had to stop to remove my jacket. The rain had pretty much stopped, but between my sweat and the moisture from the plants overhanging and blocking the path, I got wet anyway.

Shortly after I took off my jacket we passed a small, isolated temple, and here my guide stopped to make a burnt offering to the gods--I had seen little tiny burnt palm and flower bouquets on doorsteps in Kuta yesterday morning, and now I realized what they were, as I watched Karak take out his little packet and light it while I munched some M & Ms. After this we just hiked up and up, at a good, fast pace--Karak was definitely in shape, and, happily, so was I--he indicated, at one of our rest stops, that some of his clients were not. I drank lots of water, ate lots of candy (Karak wouldn't have any when I offered him some), the trail was through thick jungle, and we had to climb some muddy, eroded banks using tree roots. The rain stopped by the time it got light out, but it was still overcast, and up higher we were in a cloud.

I realized that I hadn't really needed a guide, since the trail was easy to follow and had no puzzling junctions, but I was glad I had one, since I would have been consumed with doubt about the correctness of my path until way up high, mental anguish I didn't enjoy at all. As it was, I had enough mental anguish looking at my altimeter and realizing that we were making slow progress on this 6,600 vertical foot climb, a lot by any standard.

After a while the jungle gave way to drier forest, and after more steep, eroded sections we came out to scrubby, thin vegetation, and then to a cliff, scarred with graffiti, kind of a sad sight on an island supposed to be a tropical paradise. Karak and I followed the path as it went along the base of the cliff, past a discarded tent, and swung up around to get above it. We rested here, and were now above timberline, and, after some more climbing of steep, cindery slopes (this was a volcano), emerged above the fog and clouds into the sun, but the view to below was still cloaked.

We toiled on, higher and higher, up a lava dome with many cracks, then a narrow lava ridge that ended at a summit I thought was the top. However, it was just a forepeak, and the ridge continued on to a further summit that definitely looked like the top. It was now very, very windy, and Karak had put on a bank-robber type ski mask to keep his head warm in the chilly air at 10,000 feet. I asked him if it ever snowed here, and he indicated (I think) that he had never seen snow in his life.

At the low col between the forepeak and the main summit my guide told me to go on alone, and he would wait for me--apparently his religious beliefs forbade him from stepping on the holy summit. So, alone, I easily hiked the last few hundred yards to the summit, which I discovered was the high point of the rim of a huge crater. Looking down into the huge hole I could see and smell sulphuric fumes, but Agung seemed safely dormant for now. It was 8:30 AM, having taken me four and a half hours to climb 2000 meters--doing little but hike for the past couple months had me in pretty good condition.

I rested a bit, ate some food, and admired the view--although I couldn't see much below me, I saw Rinjiani, the highest mountain on the neighboring island of Lombok, also poking its summit out of the clouds. The clouds were a little less thick to the north and west, and I could see a little of Bali below me in that direction. I was puzzled, though, at the way my altimeter read only 2920 meters, not the 3142 it was supposed to. Never before had it been off by over 200 meters (656 feet), so I figured that the elevation I had for Besakih had been wrong, and re-set it to 3145, since I could plainly see that I was the highest person on the entire island of Bali. After taking pictures, and having difficulty finding a good rock to balance my camera on for a self-timed shot, I left the incredibly windy summit area and returned to the col where Karak was waiting for me.

We hiked down easily, without any rests, for a long time, back over the bare lava ridges and domes, back down around the cliff, and into the forest. Here Karak was much faster than me, since I was protecting my knees on the very steep path, and, besides, I was in no rush. Once we were about halfway down I decided to release him from my service so he could go ahead without me. I now knew the path, we were off the high and more dangerous parts of the route, I didn't like holding the kid back, and I enjoyed hiking alone, too, since it gave me time to think. So I paid him 10,000 Rupiah, the remainder of his fee (maybe his entire fee, since I think that his cousin might have pocketed what I gave him yesterday), had him take a picture of me (which he muffed, instead shooting the trees overhead), and he went galloping off down the trail.

I leisurely hiked down the rest of the way, taking rests and enjoying the quiet solitude of the rain forest. My guide was the only other person I saw or heard on my whole hike, meaning I was the only one who climbed Agung this day. I finally arrived at the first, outlying temple, where a group of men were hanging out, and one of them accosted me and gave his English a good workout during the course of the usual conversation-- "Where you from?" "How long you in Bali?", etc. Even though I was on a heavily touristed island, I was still in a relatively obscure corner of the world, a trailside temple deep in the forest on the slope on an Indonesian volcano, and it amazed me that I was still finding English speaking villagers. (Later on my trip, I met some Dutch tourists who had been to Indonesia and complained that "It's not fair! Even though we ruled that country for 200 years, when we go there now we have to speak English!").

After my little chat I hiked down through the most overgrown section of the trail to the main temple complex above Besakih, down the temple stairs past a number of western toursits, wearing the skirts rented by temple keepers so they could cover their bare legs, and down the busy main street of the town to my losmen. My altimeter now read 1100 meters for Besakih, not 900 like it had this morning, since I had adjusted it 200 meters up while at the summit of Agung. It was 1 PM, and, exhausted from my hike and my lack of sleep the night before, I simply crashed out after unpacking, taking a nice, long five-hour nap, from about 1:40 PM onward. Even the noise from the animals all around didn't disturb my slumber.

A Balinese guide in front of the summit--he refused to go any further, not wanting to tread on the summit of a holy mountain (1993-10-06).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6344 ft / 1933 m
    Total Elevation Loss:6544 ft / 1994 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6344 ft / 1933 m
    Route:Main Tr
    Start Trailhead:Besakih  3600 ft / 1097 m
    Time:4 Hours 25 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:6544 ft / 1994 m
    End Trailhead:Road below Besakih  3400 ft / 1036 m
    Time:4 Hours 15 Minutes

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