” With my current speed, what time do you think we can reach summit? “
I remember that. I still remember vividly the feeling when I was on this mountain, Mount Agung, a year ago. I am back again this year with another group of friends. Same mountain but back with different stories. This time, there are 22 of us – mixed of seasoned and beginner trekkers.
Stepping Into Darkness
The road was dark and empty, and we could only see a few people mingling around the side of the road every few kilometres along the way. Probably, it was to inform us that we were going in the right direction to Mount Agung. We arrived after having our dinner at Jimbaran. I was sitting in the front seat, next to our driver. Pak Andy, that’s what I called him. He was a chatty guy with good driving skills, no doubt. He had years of experience in driving.
We could see that the further we went, the quieter the road was. Again, this was not strange; people were not supposed to be out anymore at such a late time. But we were there, at the starting point to the highest and holiest mountain in Bali, Mount Agung. The South of Besakih route, I was told. Not the toughest route, but tougher than the Pasar Agung route which I went by last year at the same time.
We put on our headlamps, masks and jackets and kept some food and bottled water in our backpacks. It was around 12 midnight when we began our trek with five experienced guides who led us throughout the journey to the summit. And not far from the post where we received a briefing earlier, we saw an edelweiss field on our left side. Again, it was quiet; only our steps, voices and some night animal sounds were heard.
I took a deep breath, bearing the pain on my knee caused by the wounds I got from parasailing– quite badly kissed by the rocks. I covered it with the Band-Aids that I bought from a small convenience store near our hotel in the afternoon, with the hope they would ease the pain when the wounds rubbed against my long pants.
” I brought them here; I have to be with them for this journey. “
That’s what was in my mind at that time. It sounds heroic but NO. A sense of responsibility, perhaps? Those who walk fast far ahead of me, while a few were behind me – far behind. I was neither fast nor slow, so I was in between them. Because of this, I was with no guide.
A Lesson On The Mountain
That lonely moment didn’t last long; one guide caught up with me up from behind. I couldn’t see his face clearly although my headlamp was on. I also didn’t remember his name at the time. He only told me that a few people had made their way back to the post because they felt uncomfortable with the path.
I was not sure if he should lead me or protect me from behind in case I slipped, but I suppose he acted in both roles. We chatted once in a while and gasped for fresh air while climbing up. We took a break a few times and one time we stopped for longer and rested on flat ground with an unblocked view of Bali in front of us.
Suddenly he stretched out his arm and pointed a finger at one place far in front.
“You see those lights?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, nodding my head.
“That is Pura Besakih,” he continued.
My eyes followed where his finger was pointing and I saw a huge complex of temples. I say huge because I saw it from a far distance and the complex still looked that big to me. The complex was lit up with many light bulbs which were yellowish in colour, which added the sense of something mysterious and sacred.
And then he pointed to another group of lights farther away from the temple.
“That is Ubud,” he said.
He was not showing me Google map or Google Earth; what we both were looking at were the real places! It was like I was attending a geography lesson on the mountain. It was fun to get a lesson live like this. We chatted for a while more, and then we continued our journey.
The path ahead was getting harder – uphill, narrow, and we had to climb over a few fallen trees. Although it was windy and chilly, I could feel sweat rolling over my wound and that tingling sensation was quite disturbing. I was getting much slower. My guide didn’t know about my wound and he thought I just couldn’t walk faster.
And that was when I popped him with that question.
“With my current speed, what time do you think we can reach the summit?”
And without any delay, he laughed and replied, “Even after 7 am, I doubt we will reach there”
“Oh..well..” I just laughed.
Standing At 2000 Metre A.S.L
About 2.5 hours later, I bumped into one of my friends in the group. He was alone, resting on a rock and later he told me that he would get altitude sickness if he climbed over 2000 m a.s.l. I didn’t know exactly how bad that was, but I saw it was necessary to bring him down as soon as possible. Without thinking twice, I asked the guide to bring my friend back to the post. Although he was worried about letting me continue the trek alone, he had no choice. My friend needed him urgently. I knew why worried so much: I am clumsy. Period.
I saw the path in front of me – dark and quiet. I was alone again. I could only see as far as my headlamp light could go. I saw big rocks, trees, bushes, and when I looked up, no one was there. I was still seeing no one.
I heard the sound of the wind. It blew gently. I felt the leaves on the trees were clapping, cheering me on to keep going. It reminded me of what Mr. Agung, the guide who led us on our previous trip, had said:
” This is how Mount Agung communicates with you. “
I stopped and felt the wind blowing over me. Calm and peace, I felt that. I smiled and kept going. Somewhere amongst the trees, I saw a flickering fire in the tree branches beginning to subside. I supposed it had burned because of the hot and dry weather in Bali during that month. There was no rain although it was the rainy season.
I was hoping to see glimpses of headlamps from my friends ahead of me, but the brightest was still the moonlight. I started seeing stars in the sky more clearly; Beautiful big and small stars, I could see a lot of them. But, I couldn’t help. I had slept for only 3 hours in the past two days. I was sleepy and my steps were getting heavier. The path was getting steeper and my eyes were not compromised either. I felt drowsy.
” Enjoy each of your steps as you are walking back home. “
I suddenly remembered what Mr. Agung said AGAIN. I recalled how Mr. Agung walked. His steps were stable and not hurried. I remembered he had a big backpack on his back and still walked calmly without burden. I also remembered when he said that whenever he comes to this mountain, he feels like he is home; Mount Agung is like a home to him. He felt no pressure walking along the path because he knew he is about to reach home.
“Yeah..I am going back home!” I told myself. Not my real home but it’s a place I wanted to go – the summit. That’s the reason why I came back here for my 2nd attempt! I should keep going instead of letting my body drag me down!
I Lost The Race
Around 4:30 am, I bumped into another two of my friends in the group who decided to stop there and wait for the sunrise. I didn’t know how far I had gone since my last stop, so I just kept going. The wind was stronger and the temperature was dropping. The wind kept blowing every few seconds and I had to stop once in a while. I kept going and going until I realized that the sky was already bright. I lost the race with the sun. The sun was out before I reached the summit.
The sun was rising on the other side of the mountain. However, I still could see the color of the sky slowly turning warmer. It was as beautiful as I remembered. People say the views from mountains are all the same; I doubt it.
” Maybe this is my limit?
Maybe it’s just not my time yet to be up there. “
I sat down and looked at the view in front of me. While the wind was still blowing once every few seconds, I felt happy. I knew I had done my best and that was enough for now, my heart said.
Because I had to walk slower because of the wound, I descended earlier. It was only around 6:15 am. Some people think that going down is faster and easier, but actually that is when the real challenges begin. It never crossed my mind either that I would have unexpected experiences when I walked down the path to the finishing point.
I saw something. And the story is not over yet.
[ Read: Fata Morgana on the Mountain ]