From Summit to Shore.
The dizzying heights and dizzying climb had me scrambling for a rocky seat amongst the other awestruck hikers. Having left behind the unrelenting gravel crunch of our 4 hour ascent, the deafening silence of the summit rung in my ears. My own two legs had earned me this precarious seat at the top of the world, and it was gratifying and exhilarating. Or it would have been, if I hadn’t been so exhausted.
The real work had begun less than 24hrs before that moment with 6 hikers, a guide, and 5 porters on a deceptively manageable trail through the tall, rolling grasses that began our adventure. Feeling a tad sheepish in my tightly laced hiking boots and laughably light pack, I watched our porters swiftly scale the trail ahead in flip flops with all our gear balanced awry over a single shoulder.
It wasn’t until after a leisurely lunch and an entertaining spat with one of the grey long-tailed macaques that shared our love of fresh pineapple that we began to really climb. The angle of the trail picked up at an alarming rate, and I found myself pausing to catch my breath and “enjoy the scenery” more and more often. As ill prepared as I was for what lay ahead, the surreal landscape kept my mind off the task. An eerie and blessedly cool fog hung around us all afternoon, at one moment engulfing us completely and the next dispersing to reveal a breathtaking view.
Ready to collapse from the stiff climb, I reached the rim just as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Surrounding the scattered group of hikers stopped to catch their breath, the mountains were bathed in the changing light of an unexpectedly stunning sunset. We lingered until the air grew cool before moving on to find the campsite set up by our porters- grateful and drained.
The jarring footfalls of eager hikers outside the tent woke me around 2am. Without much flat land to be found at that height, the trail doubled as a campsite, and the campsite as the trail. Around us campsites were abuzz with dazed hikers pulling on stiff boots, scrambling for headlights and a warm drink. I joined them, not as reluctant to leave the rocky bed than I would have been leaving my own.
The pre-dawn ascent was more difficult than I could have prepared for. Thanks to a trail that consisted of loose sand and gravel at what felt like a 45 degree angle, we seemed to loose more ground than we gained. The distance to the summit was maybe a kilometer, our guide predicted, but took us 4 hours to complete. But physical challenge aside, what a spectacular 4 hours. Ahead the lights of hikers bobbed and flickered as far as the trail could be seen, beacons towards our common goal. Being a holiday weekend, the national park was more crowded than usual, but the company didn’t upset me. Instead there seemed to me to be a sense of camaraderie as we passed one another, pausing often as the slope became increasingly brutal.
We hiked the first quiet hours under a canopy of stars that felt close enough to touch. With the milky way arching above us, we counted the abundant bintang jatuh (shooting stars in Indonesian) to pass the time until the first light imbued the horizon. The sunrise hit as we embarked on the final and most treacherous part of the hike. Struggling my way towards the summit, I saw the landscape around me for the first time as light bathed the caldera. It was a dramatic revelation to match the equally dramatic scenery- it felt as if I had awoken to another world.
Having summited my first volcano at around 7am, my day was off to a pretty remarkable start. The hike down was fairly tiring itself, and while it consisted of plenty of gawking, by the time we reached our tents I could barely keep myself upright.
Having accomplished what we came to do, we decided to scrap a visit to the lake and the long hike out it entailed in lieu of a shower and a beachside hotel in Senggigi- and Thank God. A dive in the ocean from one of Senggigi’s sleepy beaches was exactly what I needed to start feeling like myself again.
Check out more of my photos from the trip here!
I am not born for one corner; the whole world is my native land.
-Seneca, Epistles, 28.