It isn’t easy climbing to the summit of Bali’s tallest and holiest mountain, Mount Agung (Gunung Agung).

It’s even more difficult when it’s the middle of rainy season, it’s so dark out that you can’t see your own hand in front of your face, and you’ve come woefully unprepared – sneakers with no tread, a pair of shorts, a thin jumper, no food and a small bottle of water.

Mount Agung By Kris Wigley 5

It certainly doesn’t help when the guide that was supposed to lead you to the peak has to drop out a mere 30 minutes before you start, and his replacement’s English vocabulary consists of “stop” and “go,” mixed in haphazardly amongst a frenetic series of facial contortions and points.

And it’s downright reckless to do so less than 24 hours after crashing your motorbike, leaving you with a badly sprained left wrist, road rash up and down your arms and legs and 12 stitches to close up the hunk of chin you left behind on the pavement.

Yet that’s exactly the situation I found myself in on the night of Wednesday 5 February 2014, along with my good friend and photographer Kris.

Mount Agung By Kris Wigley 7

We had decided to book the trip a few days earlier after arriving in Ubud. An old mate had told me about the spectacular sunrise at the top, along with unparalleled views of Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok to the east and nearly the whole island of Bali below to the south and west. There wasn’t much need for convincing after that.

The Tuesday morning before the trek had been spent rediscovering my love for primates at the Ubud Monkey Forest. Then, we hopped on our motorbikes and cruised over to the spectacularly unspectacular Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave), an afternoon endeavour that was bordering on total bust until we found a river at the bottom of a steep gorge lined with unexplored caves and waterfall hidden in the back of the complex.

Mount Agung By Kris Wigley 6

That night we headed to Napi Orti for dinner, a few beers and a reggae dance party. Kris decided to call it an early night for our Wednesday morning trip to the rice terraces of Tegalalang, but the furious dance frenzy I had whipped myself into simply could not, would not be stopped. A few hours later I headed back in the pouring rain…and that’s when everything went pear-shaped.

It happened in a flash: hydroplaning, panicked white-knuckle grip on brakes, locked wheels, bike down, chin vs. asphalt (asphalt wins!), comically long skid down length of entire hill. After a quick check to make sure nothing was broken, I got up and – after coming to terms with the fact that the bloody bike wasn’t going to drive itself home – slowly and shakily (but uneventfully, thankfully) made my way back to scare the ever-loving shit out of my roommate.

Apparently the 3 a.m. wake up call, combined with the heaving, pacing crazy man muttering “dude, I fucked up…” over and over whilst bleeding profusely from the face is what did it. Thankfully, he managed to pull himself together faster than I did. While he was busy waking up the guesthouse owner for a ride to the hospital, I found myself preoccupied by two simple and extremely unhelpful thoughts:

  1. Oh man, they’re gonna have to shave my beard to stitch this up.
  2. Well, there goes that awesome hike tomorrow night.

You know, just the important stuff. Priorities and all that.

After a few hours of iodine on open wounds and thread through flesh in the ER of a surprisingly clean and modern hospital, I was sent on my merry way with a boatload of painkillers and antibiotics and strict instructions to rest. I did my part admirably in the beginning, promptly slipping into a 14-hour coma back at the guesthouse that didn’t end until Kris got back from Tegalalang. But that’s when all rational decision making abilities left me and I managed to convince myself that it’d still be a top-notch idea to go ahead with the hike. I don’t need my face to climb, and I might never have the chance to do this again. Let’s go.

And so we went.

Our driver Ketut picked us up at midnight, and after some quizzical looks in Kris’s direction about the bandaged up dickhead in tow wearing bloody shorts decided that hey, if I wanted to climb in this condition then it was my funeral. He wasn’t a doctor. He just got paid to drive the van.

Mount Agung Bali By Kris Wigley

We arrived an hour later in the deserted village of Selat, and waited by the side of the road. A few minutes later, motorbike headlights appeared from the forest to the right and two men pulled up. One began a rapid fire conversation with Ketut in Bahasa, after which he turned to us and explained that he was supposed to be our guide, but his daughter was very sick and so he wouldn’t be able to take us; however, his good friend Wayan – who I can only describe as diminutive, and generously at that – would lead the way. There was only one problem.

Wayan didn’t speak English.

We decided that this constituted a minor hiccup. After all, we just had to follow the dude. How hard could that be?

Wayan, our Mount Agung Guide By Kris Wigley

Our ascent began at Pura Pasar Agung, where Wayan lit some incense and offered a small prayer for our safe passage to the top. The first few hours were hot and humid, a non-stop winding march through dense jungle up a slick mud path that was conspicuously low on break time. The wiry Wayan bounded upwards with ease, and seemed almost gleeful at the sight of the panting, sweating tourists trudging slowly behind him, the smug jerk.

About 2/3 of the way up we cleared the treeline and finally stopped for a rest. The temperature dipped 15 degrees in what felt like seconds, and we were left with a dilemma: sit here shivering, or keep moving. As we came to the conclusion that the break was worth the shakes, a series of black clouds rolled in and we turned off our headlamps, leaving us enveloped in a darkness and silence like that I’d never experienced before. Like the inside of a coffin on a moonless night.

That’s pretty black.

Mount Agung Fog, Bali - By Kris Wigley

As we continued towards the summit our lack of proper footwear became apparent. A misty morning dew was collecting on the rock faces we were trying to traverse, making each seemingly insignificant little step and foothold a potential fall-down-and-bust-your-ass kind of situation. Finally, after scrambling over a little scree, we made it to the top. There to greet us was a small Hindu shrine overlooking an absolutely massive crater, the physical manifestation of Agung’s furious past. We sat down on a rock and waited for the sun to rise…and promptly fell asleep.

In those 5 minutes we missed the sun peaking through to the east. We both woke with a start, slightly annoyed with ourselves, but quickly succumbed to the beauty of what lay around us in every direction. No one spoke, we simply took in the views and allowed ourselves to get lost in the moment. At last we decided we might as well snap a few pictures, after which Wayan began motioning downwards. And then it hit us. After 5 hours of hiking and 15 minutes at the top (1/3 of it spent snoozing), we were only halfway done. There was still the whole “going down” thing to contend with.

Monkeys at Mount Agung Bali By Kris Wigley 8

Thankfully the trip down went a bit smoother, as the sun dried the condensation on the rocks. We even got to see a few wild monkey friends along the way, although our guide was a trifle less ambivalent towards them than we were, hissing and throwing rocks in their direction to scare them off.

At the bottom we saw just how big and beautiful Pura Pasar Agung is in the daylight, and paused for a quick photo with Wayan. We woke the sleeping Ketut, who’d spent the night in the van waiting for us, and after 10+ hours were finally on the way back to Ubud.

Mount Agung Travel Information

Mount Agung Sunrise By Kris Wigley

At 3,142 m (10,308 ft.), the stratovolcano Mount Agung is the tallest peak on Bali and the 5th tallest volcano in Indonesia. It dominates the local landscape and strongly influences the area’s climate. The mountain takes water from clouds coming in from the west, leaving the western side lush and green while the eastern side remains dry and barren.

The Balinese hold great reverence for Mount Agung, believing it to be a replica of the mythical 5-peaked Mount Meru, the central axis of the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universe in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist cosmology. The Mother Temple Pura Besakih can be found on its slopes, and is the jumping off point for a second, longer hike to the top of the volcano.

Mount Agung’s last eruption in 1963, which killed upwards of 2000 people, was one of the largest eruptions of the 20th century. Miraculously, the lava flows came within mere yards but did not touch Pura Besakih, leaving the faithful to believe it was a show of power and mercy by the gods. Though there have been no more eruptions in the past 50 years, the deep crater on top still belches ash and smoke from time to time.

It’s possible to hike Mount Agung at almost any time of year, other than when important religious ceremonies are taking place. Dry season (April-October) is best, as it can be very dangerous during the rainy season. Although no technical skills or equipment are needed – and at just over 10,000 feet, it isn’t quite high enough for any kind of altitude sickness problems – it’s a steep, stiff hike that requires a considerable degree of physical fitness in the climber.

English-speaking guides can be hired for anywhere from 500,000 – 1,200,000 IDR ($45-105 USD), and this usually includes your ride to the starting point, some water, a few snacks and your headlamp if doing the sunrise hike. It’s also possible to do the trek on your own, although considerably more difficult to sort out all of the details. Be sure to bring lots of food, water, a torch and warm clothes for sudden temperature changes.

Mount Agung photos courtesy of Kris Wigley; kerolic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0);

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Alex Rathy

Alex is a writer, ESL teacher, baseball enthusiast and Hunter S. Thompson fanatic currently based in Sydney, Australia. He has previously lived in Canada, the U.S., South Korea and China and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. He enjoys hiking, spicy food, dance parties in the jungle, questionable hairdos, Vonnegut novels and has been known to appreciate a good hammock on occasion.

Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experiences. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time and energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.


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Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experience. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time & energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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