I had been vacillating about climbing the volcano Mt. Agung in Bali. I had convinced myself that I didn’t want to wake up at 12:00 am to start the 2 am trek to the top to see the volcano. My inner driving force told me I would regret it if I didn’t go—I have never climbed a volcano before. I wanted to look into the crater.
I started the climb and overtook two climbers who were as unprepared for the hike as I was—a borrowed head lamp, no jacket, no hat. At least I had a scarf, leggings and hiking boots. As we ascended from the steep jungle trail to the tree line, the guide told us we had finished the easy part. It was not easy. It was rigorous by my standards. He explained we would climb for another two hours on a steeper trail. The last hour of the trail was rock climbing. “Let me know if you want to turn back” he said.
I forged ahead. As long as I am not afraid of falling, I can walk or climb for an inordinate amount of time. Soon the headlamps from the other two climbers vanished, and it was me and my guide scrambling over scree in the moonlight. At 5:30 we reached the bottom of the last leg of the journey. One hour to go to the top. The night was crystal clear. Every single star that could twinkle twinkled. The moonlight lit the clouds socked into the valley below me.
I started the third leg of the climb. It was still dark enough for me not to see the challenge that lay ahead of me, but I could feel it. I could also feel the strain on my butt from a hard fall I had taken down the slippery temple stairs the morning before. But I wasn’t afraid. There was no anxiety, which surprised me. My previous rock climbing experiences fill me with painful dread, and they take tremendous effort to overcome. I force myself through them, clinging to small branches and frayed ropes, and then do the same thing in reverse. There is nothing enjoyable about it.
Here I was again with no small branches or frayed ropes to help support my free climb. I was calm. I climbed ten feet and stopped. No, I said, I don’t want to do this. It was as if I needed the anxiety to be absent to make a sound judgment. We turned around and the beauty of the night was enough to feed my soul for a lifetime.
We huddled in the chilly morning air and drank tea. I watched the sun bathe the earth in its light as it rose on the opposite side of the volcano where I would have been if I had made it to the top. The night sky faded into pink. The moon kept its place and continued to reflect off the clouds below, challenging the sun to take its place. Once the clouds turned pink and the moon gave the sun its place, we headed back down the scree of the volcano, below the tree line, retracing our steps in the morning sunlight.
I hadn’t made it to the top. I didn’t need to get to the top. Sometimes that’s not always your best view. Sometimes the me inside of me wants to stop, and I need to listen to her rather than scrambling through the sunrise and seeing nothing at all. This morning I stopped and watched the sun and the moon trade places. I watched the sun tickling the side of the mountain until it was in the right spot to capture the shadow of the volcano in the clouds. There was a black triangle of light splayed out in front of me, a play of shadow against pink. The shadow was an illusion of light. The sun had risen behind the volcano, casting a black triangle over the clouds in the valley.