Climbing the Sleeping Dragon. Mount Agung, Bali Indonesia
This week I took a hike, up a mountain that just happens to be an active volcano that last erupted in 2019.
It was a suggestion by my intrepid friend Cristina :
Cristina "hey we are gonna climb Agung on the 11th wanna come?"
Cristina "cool, we start hiking super early, I will book a homestay, are you cool to share a room?"
we see each other pretty much every week, but in a DM via Instagram 3 weeks later....
Cristina "also need warm clothes because its supposed to get really cold, maybe a raincoat"
This is the extent of our pre Agung Assault Strategy, there are three of us going,
Its Elena the instigators birthday, Cristina has been roped in and I just slid on in the back, it sounded like a good idea. I vaguely recall scribbling this idea in faded pencil on a bucket list I conceptualised somewhere at some point in time, i think it was in my 20s. Cool, I can finally tick it off, I consider it done.
In true "sheel be right mate" Aussie style, I figure it will all be all right on the night. In my defence I have climbed Mount Batur, Bali's other volcano 4 times and strangly think that havin considered planning a trip to Mount Bromo at some point in time like hopefully this year. part of my assault strategy lol.
As I type this I am questioning the probability of that adventure, but here is a Ganesha statue up the top of Mount Bromo which is a big draw card.
Mount Agung Bali Indonesia is 3031m above sea level. Pura Besakih, high on the slopes of Gunung Agung is one of Bali's most important temples. Mount Agung is believed to be home to Mahadewa, the supreme manifestation of Lord Shiva, God of destruction destruction allowing for rebirth, getting rid of what no longer serves us to make room for what will.
Gunung Agung is home to the mythical Besuki Dragon. Balinese legend says the Besukih Dragons scales are made of gold and his armpits are filled with diamonds. I like him!! I heard these tales, told in by our enthusiastic story telling guide Wayan as we trekked through the darkest hours of the morning.
Balinese folk lore tells us that Gunung Agung, is a replica of the holy Mount Meru in Tanzania. In Hinduism, Mount Meru is held as the centre of the entire physical, metaphysical and spiritual universe. There are mythical stories that see the Besuki and Anantabhoga dragons guide the replica of Mount Meru on the back of the Atlas turtle all the way to Bali.
Gunung Agung is the silent sleeping dragon giving gifts of abundance and fertility to its sloping lands, to its surrounding villages and their people. It will slumber in silent stillness for years and then in a matter of moments take it all away. As it has done in 1963 which blew 2 days off the hike to the top time, wiped out villages and killed 1600 people and more recently between 2017 and 2019 where a series of explosions ash and rock closed the island of Bali and ceased all air traffic in the region.
So two weeks before we go , I think to myself "self, this Agung thing is gonna hurt, you might want to do some sort of training" Enter the "Jack Sparrow" Training Method which consists of me weirdly running through the the waves and the soft sand of Legian and Seminyak lifting my knees and up and over the waves, and squidging my feet. You are welcome to view this footage on my YouTube, Instagram & TikTok. Charlie is my trusty and very enthusiastic training buddy.
So we were 2 days 1 night in Sideman, plan is to drive out there check out a few of the sights eat some food, go to bed early and then get up at midnight. Drive 40 minutes to Agung have a dodgy Bali coffee pop on a headlamp, climb a volcano, celebrate the win hike back down and head home. Some how the fact that this walk up and painfully down the mountain was gonna take 12 hours had completely eluded me.
We pack some snax, jump in the car and head off the traffic is horrendous, we have to make a stop on the way. Its not just a stop its a massive detour in to Denpasar two pick up two birds that Elena will symbolically release at the top of the volcano when the moment takes her. The birds join me in their make shift cardboard home on the back seat. We arrive a few hours later in Sideman which is what Ubud used to look like 20 years ago. Its peaceful we take the car down some tiny roads we are told are accessible by scooter maybe, by car probs not. We find the Yellow Bridge we see rice terraces its picture book Bali.
We find the homestay which is absolutely delightful Giril Carik stay there, everything about it is gold stunning gardens, helpful staff and views of Agung from bed and the pool . We walk to a recommended warung and eat delicious local food. And its right about now that my trusty Nike Air Rif't's start falling apart. I buy glue. FML they are the only pair of shoes that I have with me. I get home and glue them back together, have a hot shower and attempt sleep. Cristina my roomie is making ginger tea, we are chatting and missing our fur kids.
The alarm was set for 12.30am, balls thats early. We tried to sleep through it a little bit but nervous anticipation dragged us out of bed. Cristina's plan was to go to bed in her hiking clothes so that was one less task in the AM lol. I was focused on making a coffee, it was not a great coffee, clearly I don't have coffee skills at 12.40am. We get in the car, Elena is driving and take a windy path through a magical bamboo forest to a carpark with coffee stand and a toilet (our last toilet for 12 hours) that says your are here, we trust the Google Maps pin.
1.30am Ready Set Climb: I have a tongkat (walking stick) headlamp and a back pack with a beanie, fleece ear warmers, wind breaker, snax and my two (full) stainless water bottles. Our guide is a happy Agung local named Wayan who climbs the volcano 4 times a week, I naively think this shouldn't be to rough then!
We start our hike up past the temple and into the woods. I think this is actually pleasant if its like this we will be fine.
BOW BOW WRONG
1.30am Sweet baby Jesus do these stairs go all the way to the top? Im gonna have a heart attack
2am stairs ended and lovely forest path begins. it smells fresh clean and forresty. I was grateful for stories, stops, sips of water the laughter of my friends.
3am Rocks ther are alot of bloody rocks and big steps but its all good. I am grateful for stories, stops, sips of water and a Beng Beng chocolate bar shared with friends
4am Are we there yet? dam these rocks are big, grateful for stories ,stops, sips of water, half my cocoa covered cereal bar and prayers that it will be over soon. Thank god for friends and Wayan's stories. My shoes started falling apart
5am Wondering where I can hide and cry. OMG the rocks. Wayan is doing his best to keep us motivated and we can see other headlamps that look like they are flying. fuck the top is so far away. My shoes have gone to shit. waaaaaa. I look for somewhere to hide.
5.30am I am spider climbing up the cliff face of an active volcano, with flapping Nikes. My brain has hijaked all positivity, I am plotting my own escape from myself, not telling anyone. I want. to throw my shoes off a cliff and hope there is a shoe store on the summit...surely???
I have lost my mind.
I am angry and disappointed at my lack of tenacity and discipline and shit shoe decisions.
I keep climbing and not looking behind me.
Cristina is in front of me Elena ahead of her and climbing like spider woman in the birthday edition of her own Marvel Mystery with birds in her back pack.
6am I am late for sunrise, I am the last up I am an utter failure. I am so disappointed in myself, in my brain trying to defeat me. My body was fine it was my mind that was the problem child. I take the elastics out of my hair and wrap them around my feet and my shoes to hold them together. Cristina gives me her lone hair elastic. I cry with gratitude.
I sit on the summit crying at my weakness at shit shoes that obviously want to kill me. I cried because I nearly didn't stay strong enough and wondered what other moments of joy I had missed in my life, because brain had hijacked them? I wondered why my practices didn't make me stronger. I was sitting on the summit of an active volcano. Its fucking freezing.
6.15am I come to my senses and start to mini celebrate this achievement. We drink tiny coffees eat peanut cookies and capture Insta worthy snaps of our achievement. Cristina and Elena look like super models. The sun catches you in moments like this, it touches you with golden morning light and blesses every cell of your being. Elena releases the birds, one is so outta there and the other wants a bit more love before it leaves. Its time to go down
6.45am I am frozen to the core and wondering how quick we can get back to the car, like its only 5 minutes away according to my frozen brain. The journey down is longer than the journey up. I didn't think about that before, I think about it now and want to cry again. My shoes are held together with hair elastics, its a national fucking disaster. Down we go, brave face, strong heart, frozen brain frozen knees.
The next 5 hours was loaded with knee pain, toe pain, brain pain, butt pain-because you slide down vertical rock faces on your butt, thoughts of the car, thoughts of a toilet, delirium, chatting, falling over, crying, wondering when its gonna be over, wondering when its going to be over, not remembering the path we came up, because it was dark and we couldn't see didly squat. the terrain changes, the light changes.
My feet hurt and I want to rip my broken shoes off my poor tortured feet. I eventually take my shoes off and walk back in bare feet its blissful, its the small things like freeing my toes, that make the carpark feel closer.
We see the delicious cement stairs that indicate the car park is mere minutes away. Elena is at the bottom videoing Cristina and I hobble down, we look like a pair of nanas waving our Nikes in the air like we just don't care. Our guide is long gone because he has to climb the sleeping dragon again that very afternoon.
I cant even contemplate a wee, if I pop a squat, I wont get back up. I just want to get in the car.
The shower that I have back at the hotel is the best shower of my life, it feel good but doesn't change the fact that I feel physically broken my legs are so tired, I will sleep for a week. I need to ice my my knees, I need to hug my dog I want my bed. I don't even want to eat.
After my sleep of the dead, my recovery wast as bad as anticipated, knees are pretty good right quad is a ouchie, had a hot bath, walked the beach... no Jack Sparrow inspired training this time. then off for a massage.
Climbing the sleeping dragon was a big adventure, It made me ask a lot of questions about myself. I remember using my breathing techniques, ujayi breath, long slow nasal breaths, recovery breathing. I remember wondering where my sthira sukham asanam, my steadiness and ease was? Why I couldn't stop the chitta vritti swooshing persuasively trying to rally the brain into their derailment program.
I am still a work in progress, but I have ticked both Agung and child birth off the list.
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