By Beth Whitman, on July 8, 2014

Hiking for sunrise in Bali

Our guide and driver picked us up from our hotel at 3:00 a.m. We sat in the backseat of an SUV. It was dark. We were tired. And as we drove the twisting roads of Bali, dogs crossed the street at their own risk. The vehicle swerved and braked throughout the 90-minute ride. Our guide had told us to “relax and sleep,” but that reality was about as far away as (my hometown of) Seattle.

We pulled into the parking lot at the base of Mt. Batur and were a little shocked by the number of people—mostly backpackers, but also local guides—who milled about. I was also surprised to see restrooms. The last time I was there, 22 years ago, I didn’t even see other hikers, much less restrooms.

We were introduced to our hiking guide, Wayan, a young man in his 20s who was licensed to take us up the mountain. We immediately scurried across the parking lot, outfitted with headlamps and daypacks filled with water and snacks.

It might seem strange to go to Bali to hike a mountain, but there are several reasons why I did.

Sunrise view from Mt. Batur

First, a person can only take so much white sand, palm trees, sunshine, and fresh fruit on a vacation to this tropical island. OK, maybe that’s not a reason.

Truthfully, the hubby and I are training for the Snowman Trek in Bhutan: a 25-day, 220-mile trek through the Himalayas. At times we’ll be hiking at more than 18,000 feet above sea level. We’ll cross 11 rugged mountain passes, many of which are more than 16,000 feet in elevation. With this in mind, the hike up Mt. Batur was part of our training regimen. It also was one piece of my storybook puzzle.

The first part of the hike was relatively flat. It started to ascend quickly. The path was narrow, rocky, and volcanic, requiring good hiking shoes (which we had packed). We were slow because of the dark but also frequently were delayed by those ahead of us. I secretly gave myself a pat on the back that, as one of the older hikers, I could still pass many of the young backpackers. Go me!

Though the night sky was somewhat cloudy, we still could see plenty of stars in the wee hours of the morning. Even then, we could only appreciate them once we took a break to catch our breath or sip some water. Otherwise, we kept our heads—and headlamps—down as we picked our way across rocks and rough terrain.

For us, the hike up was about 1 hour and 45 minutes to a viewing point where our guide served us hot tea and banana sandwiches. Though we enjoyed the warm drink, instead of the sandwiches we munched on our own protein bars instead to replenish our energy. Once the sun came up, monkeys swarmed the group and snatched what sandwiches they could.

Wearing a base layer and jacket, I was sweating during the hike up, but once at the top, I cooled down and felt thankful for the light covering.


Finally, around 6:30 a.m., the sun peeked out from behind the mountains on nearby Lombok Island. Most people stood in silence at the dawning of this beautiful day. After all, this is what we were here to see. Despite the clouds, perhaps because the clouds added color and dimension, the sunrise didn’t disappoint. But once it crested above the mountains, we were ready to head down.

As we descended, our guide led us along an easier path, one used by motorbikes to carry food, fuel, and water to the viewpoint. I appreciated that it was easier than the path up, but recognized that I would have felt cheated if we had taken that route to ascend.

Even though Mt. Batur is 5,600 feet—less than one third what we’ll encounter on the Snowman Trek—the climb was pleasantly tough. The higher altitude worked our lungs and the inability to see much farther than a few feet in the early morning hours provided added challenge.

Nicest of all, once down at the bottom, we could truly relax and sleep. And perhaps dream of more storybook endings.

How do you like to push yourself physically on vacations?