I've actually been to Gunung Agung (3031m) before, sometime back in 2001. But then I only reached the false summit on the wrong side of the crater rim. 12 years later I came back to finnish the business.
A scooter paradise, except from the very congested roads
I picked up a scooter in Kuta for only 50,000 IDR per day. This must certainly be one of the easiest and cheapest places in the world to rent a motorbike. Except from the scooters, Bali isn't particular cheap though. I rarely drive any motorbikes nowadays, but Emily didn't hesitate sitting behind me. We spent almost half a day cruising the busy roads from Kuta towards Selat, stopping frequently along the road. We safely arrived Selat in the afternoon, a small town on the southern slopes of Gunung Agung. Here we found a nice hotel (Puri Agung Inn) with a beautiful garden and decided to stay there. The room rate was not particular steep (200,000 IDR including breakfast), but the guide price was indeed shocking (800,000 IDR).
Emily had already opted out on this killer-hill because she had not yet fully recovered after the fever she got in East Timor. I got a green light from Emily to do it myself, as long as I was not alone on the mountain. Selat is not a place to meet any would-be-hikers, in fact we didn't see any westerns at all there. That left me with only one choice, to hire the expensive local guide. I made it very clear to him that I wanted to do the Besakih route, and not the shorter/easier route from Pura Pasar Agung. The latter only takes you to a false summit on the southern rim. I've already done that mistake back in 2001. From this false summit on the southern rim, it's impossible to reach the true summit, unless you fancy steep climbing without protection (rotten rock, difficult to place any safe belays).
Long route, early start
The young guide wanted to pick me up at the hotel around 22:00, but for me that was out of the question. I didn't see any reasons for starting so early in the night. We eventually agreed that he would pick me up at 02:00 instead. Transportation to/from Besakih was already included in the overall price (800,000 IDR). But when I saw that my guide only came with a motorbike, I decided to drive my own motorbike rather than sitting behind him. We spent around 40 minutes on dark roads, before we arrived the upper temple of Besakih, where we parked our motorbikes. This is the trailhead and the elevation is 1170 m.a.s.l.
We started to walk at 02:50, almost 4 hours behind normal starting time on this route. We kept a fast pace in the gentle uphills, and I frequently had a look on my GPS to confirm that we were on target to reach the summit at sunrise. After a while it got much steeper and my guide struggled a lot to keep up the pace.
My guide breaks down
When we reached the elevation of 2500 meters the guide was extremely exhausted and it became very obvious to me that I had to continue on my own in order to see the sunrise from the summit. The guide agreed that I should continue on my own. I got slightly off-route near some smaller cliffs and I wasted 10-15 minutes on this dead-end. After that there was no more problems. The ridge trail above the tree-line was easy to follow and eventually I arrived at the first summit. I met a group of young westerns together with two local guides there. I could see a second peak of similar height further east, and asked them if they had been there. They replied that the guides told them it was impossible to go there, and that it's too dangerous. But nobody was going to stop me, so I continued straight away to the second peak to check if that was higher or not.
The narrow path on the knife-edge ridge would maybe be dangerous in windy condition, but today it was not windy or dangerous at all. I reached the second peak 7 minutes later. The time was now 06:40 AM, which meant I had reached the summit in 3 hours and 50 minutes. The magnificent sunrise had already started and I could see the taller volcano, Gunung Rinjani (3726m), on the nearby island Lombok. A few feet away, the ground dropped almost vertical into the enormous crater of Gunung Agung. Better be careful here...
Incorrect elevation and dishonest guides
The summit marker states 3142 meters, but that is very exaggerated, because the true height is only 3031 m.a.s.l. according to Wikipedia. I also measured the summit to be around 10 meters higher than the first summit I had arrived at. A bit surprised I could see the group was coming after me. Maybe the local guides had allowed them to do "the impossible" anyway. I must admit, I'm getting really pissed at those local guides who tell that the false peak is higher, and that it's impossible to reach the true one. Maybe they are just being too lazy? Why are they telling this nonsense to someone who has already ascended 2000 vertical meters and are only a few minutes shy of the true summit? This is like robbing the summit trophy from somebody. If they were my guides I would literally beat the shit out of them. Sometimes it's better to avoid local guides, especially the greedy, overpaid and dishonest ones operating on Gunung Agung.
So what about my guide? I met him further down the slope. He was happy to see me again and he told me that he cannot walk so fast. No problem, I was not in a hurry anymore. I told him that he will decided the pace from now on. It turned out he wasn't slow at all. We were back at Besakih 2.5 hours after I had left the true summit. We had a long break there before we headed back to Selat on our two motorbikes. Emily was also happy to see me. We had breakfast together in Selat and headed straight back to Kuta Beach on our small scooter.
10,000 IDR = 1 USD (as of July-2013)
Link to my GPS-track at EveryTrail (also possible to download)