I got up early and got out of my nasty hotel room to climb an active volcano. To do so, I had to go all Viggo Mortensen on it.

Bali, Indonesia

I passed the gauntlet of guides on my scooter; I’m sure they’re good guides and I bet it helps the local families,  but my hiking pride just couldn’t really justify a guide for a two hour hike up and often-hiked trail.

As I scooted up towards what I thought was the trail-head, a local guy told me to go a different way and offered to point me in the right direction. Many of you will understand that I was wary, but the guy did just as he said, pointing me in the right direction, without offering to guide, without soliciting anything, and drove off.  I parked my scooter near a temple and headed up.

The trail was clear, so when I bumped into a guide with a middle aged Japanese man in tow, I denied his adamant requests that I hire a guide. He said the trail could be dangerous and confusing and that if I went alone and got hurt, no one could help me. True enough, but I turned him down anyway and kept on, realizing that now if I got lost, I’d feel particularly silly.

Lake Batur, Bali, Indonesia, Mount Batur, Volcano

Indeed, about 15 minutes later, I reached a triple fork in the road, and it seemed all the paths eventually went UP. I walked up each for a couple minutes to see if there were any obvious clues, but all looked equally likely to get me either up or off track. Then, in a moment of Lord of the Rings-fueled inspiration, I channeled my inner Strider and started looking for bootprints. I’ve never tracked anything in my life, but after tracing what looked like hiking boot prints, looking at the way the bushes bent, and sampling a little dung, I determined that I was on the right path.

Surprisingly, I actually was.

The trees eventually disappear to desolate, slippery volcanic rock, which makes the going slow and hot. But MAN is the view excellent.

At the top, I was rewarded with two spectacular views – one of the surrounding country, including Lake Batur and the not-so-distant-ocean, and one of the caldera within the caldera. It was mostly green inside, but there was also steam rising from various points around the rim, reminding us that Batur is indeed still active. I approached one and held my hand in front and felt the heat of the inner Earth. Luckily, it didn’t explode in my face.

A local man sold me some exorbitantly priced tea and took my picture; I then went as far as I could around the semi-circle rim, looking for the highest point possible.

Lake Batur, Bali, Indonesia, Mount Batur

After all these years of travel, I think I can safely say I won’t get tired of climbing mountains. The views, the physical test, the tangible sense of accomplishment – it’s hard to beat. And after my successful initiation into tracking, I predict that I’ll either get better and better, or my unearned over-confidence will get me hopelessly lost.