It was still dark when the alarm went off. In fact, the sun had only just set a few hours ago. It was one thirty in the morning and we were getting picked up at two. I hoped we were at least – we’d paid some guy on the street for this tour without really knowing how legitimate he was (something my dad would normally yell at me for doing, yet this was his decision…). But we walked out at two and there was our chauffeur, right on time. Phew.
We drove for what seemed like hours. Others slept; I tried to keep my eyes open for fear of missing anything cool (despite everything outside the beam of headlights being entrenched in the blackness of night). When we finally arrived, all the men laughed at me.
“You be cold up there!” they kept yelling as I stood in my athletic shorts and tank top. I had been scorched by the sun the day before; I wasn’t expecting a tough hike up a mountain to be cold. Begrudgingly, I paid 10,000 Rupiah to rent a jacket from the men and soon we were off.
Even armed with headlamps, it was still hard make out where to place each step. Our guide was a seasoned pro who goes up and down the volcano multiple times a day. It was a struggle to keep up with him, especially for my then 61-year-old dad. Once the elevation began to really spike, we had to stop every 15-20 minutes to breathe. The trail was loose and rough, with a lot of roots to trip over and rocks crumbling beneath our steps.
Eventually, Dad felt like he was holding up the group and sent the guide, my sister and her husband on up the trail, and I stayed behind to help him.
“Just go,” he said, “I’ll move when I’m ready.”
“I’m not leaving you alone on a random mountain in Bali, Dad,” I replied, and we marched on. Dad took the lead and kept losing his footing. I tried to tell him to let me go first and show him where to put his feet but he was too determined.
The sky was just beginning to lighten up as we reached a flat picnic area where the rest of our group was waiting. “15 minutes to the summit,” he finally said, moving us along.
Dad declared he was happy to watch the sunrise from the picnic area, his energy levels spent. I was more comfortable leaving him here, a common area with more people (and monkeys) mulling around as opposed to a random section of trail.
The last 15 minutes were the toughest – with every step we tried to take up, the volcanic ash would carry us back down. But every moment was worth it for that sunrise.
And what do you know: spurred on by a couple new friends, Dad made it to the summit just a little while after us and we all got to enjoy the views together. He needed a few Band-Aids, but I was so proud of him for pushing so hard.
And yes, the men were right. It was cold. I should’ve thought that one through better – it is a mountain after all – but I was glad to have rented the jacket.
Once the sun was up and we had all the pictures we wanted, we slid back down to the picnic area where we ate our lunch – eggs and toast, cooked over the volcanic steam – and dodged hungry monkeys.
“At least it’s downhill from here!” we exclaimed, thinking we were in the clear. Not so much.
Going down seems to be almost just as hard as going up – needing even more attention paid to foot placement and feeling quite hard on the knees. Luckily our guide took us down a different way than we came up that seemed a little less steep, unless it was the same way but we just couldn’t see it in the dark – I’m still not too sure.
Back at “base camp” (a parking lot), our driver took us on the long drive back to our hotel. Again I tried my best to keep my eyes open. Now there was actually things to see – all the temples, the Buddha statues, the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But the fatigue finally got to me, and my eyes grew heavier and heavier until we were suddenly back at the hotel.
My first summit was in the books. It may have only been 5,633 feet, but hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?