A Personal Recount of Hiking Mount Agung

A Personal Recount of Hiking Mount Agung

Hiking Mount Agung, the tallest peak in Bali, was a challenge to behold.

Towering over the rest of Bali at 3,142m, Mt Agung is a sight to behold. The tallest peak in Bali and also a stratovolcano, it dominates the island and is considered holy by the locals.

In 1963, the volcano erupted and devastated the villages around the vicinity. The lava that flowed from the volcano narrowly missed the Besakih Temple, a Hindu temple nestled snugly in the side of the mountain at 1,000m. Because of this, the people took this as a sign from the Gods that the temple was holy and to be preserved. Till this day, volcanic ash still covers the trails up the mountain, making it easy to slip and fall.

Image credit: Ash G

Mt Agung from Besakih Temple

The purpose of Bali was a scout trip for an experimental documentary I was making about the spirituality of mountains. Climbing Mt Agung became part of the plan when I found out about its iconographic nature. I knew it was hard, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have climbed mountains before in Colorado and Montana, so another mountain can’t be too hard, right?


Image credit: Xeviro

The Mother Temple of Besakih, nestled in the bosom of Mt Agung

We started the hike at 11pm on Friday night. Before we hit the trail, our guide Gede brought us to the Besakih Temple, the temple that was untouched by the volcanic explosions 52 years ago. He instructed us to pray for our journey to go smoothly using incense sticks, flowers, and holy water. When we were done, we readied ourselves, turned our headlamps on and walked into the darkness of the night.

The 6.5–7 hours spent climbing up the volcano in the dark has blurred together in my mind. It started off being a rather flat trail, and then it became straight vertical. Because soft volcanic ash covered the ground and made it slippery, everything was twice as hard. I remember climbing on all fours, using ropes to help hoist me up to the next level, and so many times falling, struggling to not slide back down the mountain, and having to crawl painfully up on all fours.

Thinking back on that ascent while sitting comfortably in my air conditioned room typing this recount makes it even harder for myself to believe that I achieved such a thing. It was pure mental strength to keep pressing on; I remember thinking, it doesn’t matter how slow I am going (I was going really slow, lagging behind the whole group by a good 10 minutes) as long as I keep pressing on and making it to the summit. I kept at it, making generous stops to rest but determined to summit the mountain.

The terrain evolved from sandy volcanic ash to bigger pebbles and rocks, and eventually into gigantic boulders that you had to climb over. My Ahnu hiking boots saved my life, and once again I was reminded of how important adequate footwear was – the grip on my boots allowed me to easily move from rock to rock. The goal was to reach the summit before sunrise, but because of my slower pace, the sunrise happened while I was 30 minutes away from the summit.

Also read: 10 Hiking Tips to Always Keep in Mind

Image credit: Ash G

Sunrise on Mt Agung

It was an ethereal experience, seeing the sunrise from the mountain, even though I was only close to the peak and not on it. As I walked towards my goal, the sky lightened up and I could see everything… Every. Thing. The sea, the towns, the curvatures of Bali. It was an illumination from the Universe. That’s when I started tearing up; not when I was struggling to ascend, not when I ate shit a thousand times, not when I was exhausted out of my mind and felt like my legs could never take another step. All I remember while sobbing to myself as I continued to climb, was the constant thought of how amazing this Earth was, how humbled I felt, and how a universal love was swelling up within me.

Also read: 5 Mountains in Indonesia with the Most Spectacular Views

Image credit: Ash G

Hiker on the summit

A little white dog had hiked the mountain with us through the night, and sat with us on the summit, basking in the glow of the morning sun!

Image credit: Ash G

Plaques on the summit

We sat there as the sun slowly rose up to greet us, waiting and caring for nobody yet providing life time and time again. Hikers came and left. We greeted each other with satisfied and understanding smiles, knowing that we had struggled the same struggle to get to where we were, and appreciated the moment for what it truly was. Gede made us coffee and we fed our famished bodies snacks and breakfast. We weren’t on the top of the world, but it certainly felt like it.

Image credit: Ash G

Hikers and the shadow of Mt Agung from the morning sun on clouds 

The way down is arguably harder than the way up. Descending is hard on your knees because of the impact it has to take, and because of how steep and slippery the volcano was, everybody took a tumble every couple metres. It was definitely more dangerous and technical than going up, which just required body strength and willpower.

Also read: 17 Southeast Asia Trails on Every Hiker’s Bucket List

Image credit: Ash G

The way down 

It took 14 hours to ascend and descend this beast of a mountain. It was an approximate 2,000m elevation rise, and it was easily the hardest and most technical hike I’ve ever done. I remember sleeping for 14 hours when I got back to my room, passed out and dead to the world. Now that my muscles have slowly recovered from the torture I had put them through though… The feeling of conquering such an incredible land formation is addictive. I am definitely not stopping here.

About Author

Ashleigh Goh
Ashleigh Goh

Ash is a self-identified feminist hippie filmmaker and loves the mountains and trees. She has travelled extensively through the US and has spent some time working/living/studying in Montana and Austin. She is constantly on the pursuit of personal growth, and travel gives her exactly that.