We were woken up at 2 am by Josi. I was pretty tired since it took me a while to fall asleep from all the other campers talking and I kept waking up from the cold.
We were handed one pancake each as our pre-summit breakfast.
I got out of the tent and looked up at the stars– the entire sky was covered, and it was incredible. I am always so mesmerized by them.
We left our backpacks in the tents since we were going to return back here after summit. We put on our headlamps, grabbed our trekking poles and water, and started the hike at 2:30. Even the first tiny hill we had to climb was killing my lungs, which made me a bit nervous about the rest of the hike.
We walked about 20 minutes to the first challenging bit. It was a big hill of loose gravel (called “scree” in the mountain world). Every time I took a step up, the rocks would pull me back down. It was so discouraging because every time I’d try to progress one step up the mountain, I would take two steps back. We essentially had to climb the hill one and a half times.
When I eventually reached the top of that first hill, I was exhausted. I thought that would be the hardest part and the rest would be a bit easier, but little did I know this was only the beginning…
The next 10 minutes or so were ok– just your standard uphill climb, but no annoying loose gravel to make it 3 times harder.
And then it started– the most grueling 2 hours of my life characterized by steep, quicksand-like, loose-gravely hills.
It was especially hard because we were in the dark, and really had no idea how much farther we had to get to the top. And to make matters worse, I was feeling nauseous, which made me dizzy, and in turn made the whole thing much more difficult.
We kept thinking we were close because we could see the headlamps at the top– we were thinking we were maybe 30 minutes away or so. However, as we kept walking, those headlamps kept getting farther away and we realized we were not close at all.
At one point, when Anne and I were completely exhausted and running on empty, we asked one guide how far we were. He said halfway. I almost cried.
We couldn’t believe it because we really thought we were almost there, and we had already been climbing ridiculous hills for one and a half hours.
My mantra became, “This is just one hour of your life. You can do this. ” Then, “This is just 40 minutes of your life. You can do this. ” And then eventually, “This is just 20 minutes of your life. You can do this.”
For the rest of the climb, I could physically only take 2 steps at a time. It was so crazy and ridiculous. I really thought I was dying. I’ve never felt so unfit and helpless before. There were times when I doubted if I’d make it to the top. If I did make it to the top, I seriously doubted it’d be before sunrise.
But I eventually did– it was 5:40 when I saw my group just below the summit, hanging out under a boulder for shelter.
I completely collapsed when I realized I had made it. I was exhausted, relieved, and still a bit nauseous. I couldn’t believe this moment had arrived. I was here. At the summit. Before sunrise. My legs carried me here. I did it.
This was probably the second hardest thing I’ve done after the marathon. The marathon was probably just a little bit more challenging, both mentally and physically.
Josi gave me some cookies, and we sat there in the cold, waiting for the sun to come up. I asked him if he’s ever had climbers who didn’t make it to the summit, and he said it happens a lot. He also told me he had one group who made it to the summit at 10 am, which I found pretty amusing.
We walked up a few meters to the “real” summit around 6 am, just before sunrise. I took some photos and tried to enjoy the moment, but in all honestly I was freezing and having a tough time staying present and happy.
We started our hike down around 6:30.
The way down was easier because you could essentially just ski down the gravel. I fell a few times because it was quite slippery, but the falls didn’t really hurt since the gravel was soft.
It was insane seeing what we had just accomplished in the daylight. The hills were steeper than I had even imagined. And the path was so narrow– it would be so easy to fall off into the crater. I really couldn’t believe my eyes.
The views around us were absolutely incredible. The mountains below, the lake and volcano beside us, the valley to the right… it was all so gratifying after the craziness we had just been through.
We got back to our tents one an a half hours later at 8 am. I was still not hungry due to the nausea, which I was a bit grateful for because I know I would have been hangry otherwise.
The porters gave us our breakfasts: honey sandwiches and another banana pancake. It wasn’t quite enough food considering we had just hiked 5 hours, but it was good enough for the time being.
We got going again at 9 to hike down to the lake.
We said bye to the French couple, who were only doing a 1-night trek and had to climb back down the mountain. I was a bit sad that I couldn’t really get to know them since their English wasn’t good enough to allow for it.
As we were descending, we walked by three Indonesian men who called us “beautiful ladies.”
There is definitely a lot of catcalling in Indonesia– this wasn’t the first time men have shouted things at me here. However, Indonesia is the first southeast Asian country I’ve been catcalled in. I did not miss it.
The way down took so much focus; there were so many dodgy steps and slippery areas, I really had to make sure I was focusing with every step or else I would fall.
I met a guide named Ali on the way. He asked me if I’m Vietnamese, so I told him I’m half Japanese. His response was,
“Oh! That’s why you look sort of like a local and sort of like a tourist.”
I thought it was a really funny way of putting it. Definitely the most interesting response I’ve heard thus far to the daily “I’m Japanese” explanation.
It took us two hours to get down to the lake. I was really tired when we arrived even though it was all downhill. That summit took a lot out of me.
We rested for a few minutes and then walked five minutes farther to the hot springs.
We got into our bikinis and waded in. It felt SO nice to be in nice, warm water and recover our bodies a bit. We had also accumulated mass amounts of dirt and sweat over the past two days, so we really needed a good washing.
We went back to the lake to have our lunch, which was fried noodles. There were peanuts on top, so I told them I was allergic. Josi said he would take them off, and went back to the cooking area. He came back with a semi-peanut-free dish. There were still bits and pieces tucked away in the noodles, so I asked him if he could just replace the top half of the dish with new noodles.
He told me he’d just make me a new plate and went away. I felt a bit bad for making him go through the trouble, but I really didn’t want to have an allergic reaction on top of a mountain.
He came back with just a bowl of plain noodles– there were no more veggies for me. It was a bit sad, but oh well. I’m grateful he made a new bowl for me.
After lunch was the moment we’d been dreading ever since we got back from the summit: 3 more hours of uphill hiking. We were all really tired and unsure that we’d make it through this last bit.
However, it turned out to be a really great climb for me. There was a lot of fun rock climbing and jumping; I just really love hikes that involve using your hands and climbing on all sorts of terrain.
I was physically tired but mentally fine, so I had a lot of fun.
A lot of porters passed us along the way– it’s so crazy that they do all this climbing and hiking without falling. I literally didn’t see a single one of them fall once.
I talked with Josi for a bit. He told me he’s 24, has been a guide for 6 years, does it because he doesn’t want to work on a farm, and that he has no days off. He can only take off if he’s sick, and even then he needs a doctors note. So insane!
We got to our camp site at 3:15, which was way earlier than expected. The hike was supposed to take 3 hours, but it took us just under 2.
I was really freaking happy to be done walking for the day. We were all dead, including our guide. I was proud of us for getting through it all.
The porters set up our tents. The four of us chilled on our little picnic mat, eating crackers and talking until sunset. I ate half the box of crackers and I was still starving. I hadn’t felt hunger like this since marathon training!
As I walked up the hill to get a better view of the sunset, a guide asked me where I’m from. I immediately just told him I’m Japanese in order to avoid the usual “I’m American” “But you look Asian” “Oh I’m half Japanese” routine.
He said, “Arigato” in response. I’m loving all these reactions! You never know what you’re gonna get.
I saw Nancy looking out at the sunset, so I joined her. She pointed out to a mountain close by with trees lining the top, and said they reminded her of the people climbing to the summit this morning. It was so true!!
A few minutes later, Josi walked up to let us know dinner was ready.
We got dinner in our tents again: tonight was fried rice with tempeh. Stephanie wasn’t very hungry, so she gave us her almost untouched plate of fried rice as well. I ate mine, and then most of hers too.
We went back up the hill to catch the last of the sunset. It was amazing. Once the sun was below the horizon, the clouds slowly turned purple, then pink, then red.
We went to bed around 6:30, when it wasn’t even completely dark yet, because we were so tired. I think this was the earliest I’ve ever gone to bed, other than times that I’ve been sick/jet lagged.