In the early hours of the morning – at 2am more specifically – the alarm on my phone rang. I am not a morning person. Any other day of the year I would have cursed myself for setting my alarm at the wrong time and gone back to sleep, but this morning was different.
It was the morning of New Years Eve. I was on Intrepid’s 9-day Beautiful Bali tour, and my group and I were going to climb Bali’s Mount Batur (which is actually an active volcano) to watch the sunrise. Two and a half hours of hiking in the pitch black to the summit, and a two-hour descent. We were sleepy, in desperate need of coffee, and very excited, but also very nervous. Many members of the tour had never hiked anything like this before – let alone in the dark!
Despite our nerves and our varying fitness levels, we went, we hiked, and we conquered – and I can proudly say that it was nothing short of amazing.
If you’re looking to join the ranks of Mount Batur hike graduates, you’ve come to the right place. Here are a few helpful tips that you should know before you climb:
Expect it to be dark…. Reaaaaal dark
Have you ever experienced darkness so thick that you can’t see your hand in front of your face? That’s the kind of darkness that surrounds you for the majority of the ascent up the mountain. Since the goal is to be at the top of the mountain for sunrise, it’s necessary to begin the hike at the darkest hours of night. It is a unique sensation to hike through fields and climb over rocks without being able to see your final destination!
Because it is so dark, there are many safety measures in place to make sure that no one gets hurt. There is one guide for every four people, and they help you along every step of the way. There are also several stops along the journey to rest your legs, re-energize, or have a coffee chugging competition like we did.
Make sure your light source is legit
If there was one thing I was extremely thankful for during the hike, it was my flashlight. It’s nearly impossible to climb the mountain without a light source; the rocky terrain can be unstable and you need to see exactly where you are putting each hand and foot.
A word to the wise – a phone is not a flashlight! Cough up a few dollars and get yourself the real thing. I used a handheld flashlight, which was useful because I could point it directly where I needed to without having to move my head. Looking back, I would have also brought a headlamp to help create a wider berth of light around me. It is that dark!
If the battery on your flashlight dies during the hike, don’t stress; the guides bring spares in their bag. Amazingly, our guide didn’t even use a flashlight himself. He had been doing the same route every day for 10 years and told us he could do it blindfolded!
Dress smart and get ready to sweat
The night before our hike, our tour guide Deni warned us to dress warmly for the ascent, and so I wore the warmest clothes I had brought with me: a long sleeved shirt, sweater, and windbreaker. And he was right; it was chilly… for the first 10 minutes. Then you begin to climb, and boy, do you sweat. Soon my Canadian blood was boiling and most of us were shedding as many clothes as we could. By the time we got to the top, some of us were so sweaty we had to rock ‘the wet look’ for our photo ops. So, start the hike with a few light layers and be prepared to shed them as you go!
In terms of footwear, this is not the time to wear your dollar store flip-flops or your chic designer running shoes (although I did see a local guide impressively rocking her flip-flops while climbing up the mountain). While purchasing a pair of hiking shoes is not necessary, you should wear a pair of good, comfortable running shoes with a decent amount of tread on the sole. It’s dusty, dirty, and if it has rained recently then it will be wet. You will need all the traction you can get to handle those rocks!
Snack time is the best time
When I am sleep-deprived the last thing I want to do is eat, but you need a lot of energy to climb a mountain in the dark! Although there are two rest stops along the way where locals sell food and water, if you want to eat something other than chips and cookies then you should bring some food of your own for the trek. There are few things worse than having hunger or thirst strike in the middle of nowhere. Make sure to save some water and a snack or two for the way down as well; I found it equally as tiring!
When you get to the top of the mountain, beware of the monkeys. They are cute, they are intelligent, and they are little food pirates. I saw many mountaintop picnics being crashed by troupes of monkeys who were definitely not invited to the party. That being said, watching monkeys helping themselves to a gourmet meal on the top of a mountain is a pretty entertaining sight!
In other words: do NOT leave your food unattended.
Be prepared… to be floored by beauty
I must admit that hiking Mount Batur is not a walk in the park. It is challenging and it is tiring. My legs felt like lead, my muscles were sore for days afterwards, and I was so tired I went to bed embarrassingly early that night. But what you can also be sure of is that the reward is great!
In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, while most were sleeping cozily in their beds, my tour mates and I sat on benches in the morning mist at the top of Mount Batur, exhausted but beaming. I held a steaming mug of ginger tea in my one hand and my camera in the other, and my new friends and I exchanged smiles and glances as we watched the sun rise over Mount Agung.
That morning on the mountain, we experienced something magical. It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen in my life, and it was worth every step of the way.
Tempted to hike Mount Batur on the tour this writer went on? Check out Intrepid’s 9-day Beautiful Bali trip.
Want to experience the delights of Bali on a different tour? View our wide range of adventures in Bali.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Alexandra Frustaglio, Intrepid Travel x2, Alexandra Frustaglio x3.)