Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The alarm goes off at 215am. Strangely, 5 minutes later, I hear the alarm go off in Gus’s room next to mine. I chuckle a little because it is the same ringtone my son Morgan uses. Sounds like the most obnoxious car horn: Honk! Honk! Honk! Soon I’m ready and Ketut, our driver, is at the door. Here comes Marsha, also ready. And here comes Gus, joining us after a late night invite from Marsha. Great! The more the merrier!
The drive should be about an hour, so we all try to get some shut-eye. It’s hard to sleep, though, with the bright lights of oncoming trucks and roadside ATM stations coming through my eyelids. We get there in record time, 320am, and pile out of the car. We persuade Ketut to join us on this trek; normally he stays in the car and sleeps. Ketut connects us to Nyoman, our guide, an extremely sturdy woman. We agree on the price and begin our trek up the mountain, fast-walking to get ahead of the groups still milling around in the parking lot. Everyone has a flashlight.
I get a chance to chat with Gus on the way up. He’s been working from his computer in Thailand and other places in Southeast Asia for money, but his passion is fitness and health. He’s in amazing shape and this trek should be a piece of cake for him. Hey, I’m in good shape, too, and I’ve climbed volcanoes in Guatemala and Nicaragua before, this should be fun! Even though the almost-full moon is out, it’s hard to see the top of the mountain, our destination, but soon we gain some height and can see the moon’s reflection on the lake below. Seems like we’re making good time. Why did we have to leave so early?
Then we really start to climb. After about an hour, the flat trail through the fields turns into rocky stairsteps. Not actual stairs, though, just climbing up the trail, over rocks, big and small. Ok, no problem. How hard can this be? We climb some, then rest, climb some, then rest. We leapfrog past other groups resting, then they pass us. Each resting spot under this full moon is more lovely as we can see more of the lake appearing below. Now we can see, pretty much straight up, a line of lights, some even at the top, of those ahead of us. Each time we stop, finding a “moon watching rock” we see the trail of lights lengthen below us. The stops are getting more frequent. My thighs start to burn. Some of the rocky stairsteps are so big that Nyoman has to reach down and haul me up. Geez, she’s strong! Sometimes she hauls Marsha up. When she’s not hauling me up, she asks, “Marsha, you ok?” When she’s not hauling Marsha up, she says, “Julie, you ok?” Ketut is bringing up the rear, also huffing and puffing. It’s his first time doing this, and I think, like me, he didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into.
After a little over 2 hours of climing now, we reach a spot where there is a platform and they are selling coffee and tea. I’m thinking, “We made it! Thank God!” My breath was ragged and my legs were a bit wobbly. Small rest, says Nyoman. Half hour more. Sure enough, I look up and around to see the trail of lights above us. Really? I had heard stories of some people not making it all the way to the top, but thought it would be just the out of shape and elderly. No, they are not here. I consider for a nano second just to stay here; the view is actually quite nice. But it’s not the top and my companions are ready to go. Besides, it’s just about half an hour. No time at alll, right?
The trail is different now. No rocky stairsteps. Phew! Now it’s sand. Sand is easier, right? But this is deep lava sand. The kind of sand that, when you take a step up, you slide back halfway. The kind of sand that gets in your shoes, under your socks, and between your toes with each step. The only way to make headway is to snowplow your feet and take it slow. This is truly torture, but I keep going. “You ok, Julie?” Yep, I’m ok. Finally, thankfully, we are back to a rocky climb (never thought I’d be thankful for more stairstep climing!) Ten more minutes! Climb, rest, climb, rest. Finally, with one big step that once again, I need to be hauled over, we make it to the top! The jackets and scarf that came off during the hike come back on.
The sunrise comes up over the clouds in front of us. Bali’s biggest mountain (we’re on the second biggest, Mt. Batur) rises up in front of us. The tops of the mountains of the island of Lombok float above the clouds. Behind us, the moon is making a descent. We try to take photos but the light is bad. Some things, though, are maybe better left just in memory. We are at the top edge of a huge crater and can see 360 degrees.
Once the light gets better, we begin taking photos: tree pose on the mountain, mountain pose on the mountain (not so interesting), group pics. We order coffee and hot cocoa and congratulate ourselves and profusely thank Nyoman for her strength and encouragement. She does this every day. Amazing.
Then the monkeys come. They live in the valley below but know that when the sun is up, it’s breakfast time. They are fun to watch, as long as they stay far enough away. Gus wants to take home the puppy that is wandering through the now crowded mountain top. Ketut brought some snacks for breakfast. We are a little too worn out to eat, but have some fruit.
We stay as long as we possibly can, almost the last group left at the summit. Then we head down. As I learned on Camino, climbing down can be just as hard, if not harder, than climbing up. So we gingerly take our time, protecting our knees. When we get to the lava sand, Nyoman starts running down, so we do too, lava sand surfing, laughing with abandon. Farther down, we stop at a cave where the steam is coming out of the rock. We breathe in air from the center of the earth. There are some monks there who trek up every day to leave offerings to the mountain gods. They let us take their picture.
We are all very good friends by now. You don’t share an experience like that with strangers. At the bottom of the hill, farmers are growing tomatoes. Nyoman encourages us to poach some for snacks. They taste real good, even the green ones. We look up to see the mountain we just climbed. We are proud. At 1030am, we are back at the car. The parking lot is mostly empty. We finish the snack that Kadek packed for us, got in the car, stopped a couple of times for photos, and make it back to the Nest by noon.
I hang out, write a bit, run a couple of errands, take a nap. Gus wants to go to the Yoga Barn for a lecture on fasting and I join him. We grab at bite at Mama’s and it becomes his new favorite restaurant. Mine, too!
You had better believe that I slept well that night!