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WHAT I LEARNED CLIMBING A VOLCANO
December 08, 2015 * by Ly Harriet Bui

Mt. Agung in Bali is an active volcano 9944’ above the sea level. The death toll was up to 2000 people from its last eruption and climbing accidents. In Bahasa Indonesia, Agung means big. If you think wanting to night climb that huge volcano for sunrise is crazy. Let me tell you wanting to find a friend who agree to do it with you sounds even crazier. My friends who had done it did not recommend me to go. My friends who had never done it was like: “Harriet I love you... But not that much.”

Because no-one I knew wanted to go with me, last summer I decided to gather with strangers to climb that highest volcano in Bali without a local guide. Those strangers were two French brothers, William and Marc, who were on a backpacking trip.

Although I had been chatting with William for more than a month online, it never occurred to me that I would trust going into such a dangerous climb with two people I had never seen face to face. Until the point when we were looking for warm coats together in the supermarket, three of us were still joking that we needed to prepare in case we got lost on the volcano. What we were laughing at could easily have turned into reality.

I had little climbing experience at that time. Reading the WikiTravel, I saw the warning “Do not climb without a guide” repeated 3 times. I asked William: “Are you sure we should climb without a guide?”. He responded enthusiastically: “No guide, stars will guide us.” I remember thinking to myself: “Oh man, he is crazy.” And, so was I. At about 11:30pm, we took off.

I was slower and William and Marc but they were very patient with me. As we reached halfway to the top, I saw so many stars that I could not believe in my eyes. If I had stretched out my arms, I could have touched the milky way. When I could see the top of the volcano, there were no dirt roads underneath my feet anymore. There were only hard big rocks left between me and the destination. I thought about giving up multiple times. The destination looked so close but it was actually so far away. I tried to climbed and climbed on both feet and hands. When I turned to look behind me, I saw myself literally hanging off the cliff and could fall at any missteps. The lack of sleep also kicked in and my body screamed for rest all the time.

Looking back, I keep asking myself a question: “Why did I have such courage to do that night climb with two strangers?” And then I realized there were many similar volcanos in life that I have climbed. Choosing my major in college was one of them. Climbing the volcano, I did not know if I would get lost or if I would strip and fall off the cliff. Choosing my major, I did not know whether art would bring me financial security.

I knew deep inside what I loved and what I did best was arts. My passion for creativity was inspired by the fact that I won the best of show in 2D in the Northern Arizona Watercolor Society competition. A judge for my senior painting exhibition told me that: “You have such talent. You need to keep painting. ”

However, as I entered the third year, I had to decide a major for my Bachelor degree. I looked at the Bachelor of Fine Art, a B.F.A degree, and said to myself I wanted to conquer that mountain, to see endless stars and the sunrise after the dark. But at the same time I heard voices saying: “How would you make a living with an art degree?” , mostly from my family and friends. They were telling me not to climb that mountain without a local tour guide, without a guarantee.

I gave up climbing that B.F.A mountain I loved. I was afraid of the uncertainty and chose a safe path that would ensure my survival. I doubted my own artistic ability.

Climbing Mt. Agung in Bali forced me to face with such uncertainty once more time, to choose between a safe choice: listen to the similar voices and stay home or to take a route that was least taken, having higher risk and unforeseen outcomes. This time, I chose to see the sunrise. With encouragement of Marc and William I reached the top of the volcano. However, the journey did not end there.

It was 8 hours climbing up and another 8 hours climbing down for us as I were too tired to walk faster. There was no sleep in between. The climbing up was hard. The climbing down was even harder as the road seemed to stretched nonstop. We were all nervous that it could rain at any moment. The steep road could even become more dangerous. Luckily, We never got lost. It did not rain and we made it down safely.

After such a memorable experience, I would like to tell my old self “not to be afraid”. I would tell her to not be afraid to choose that B.F.A degree. Climbing Mt.Agung has made me realized the safest path in life is not to go where the mass do but to stay true to myself and to believe in myself. If I did not believe in myself and my partners, I would not have seen the gorgeous sunrise on top of Bali, and made it home safely.