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Category: South East Asia (Page 1 of 3)

Climbing Arjuno and Welirang, East Java Indonesia

 welirang summit from arjuno

Climbing in Indonesia is a great experience. Indonesia is blessed with hundreds of volcanic mountains that are perpetually active. Climbing these volcanic mountains is an experience in itself and completely different from that of the Himalayas.

What it lacks for in snow and height, Indonesian mountains compensate with their absolute raw beauty in terms of tropical wilderness, thick vegetation, wild flowers and animals and a sense of mysticism. They are steeped in religion and history. Each mountain has some special cultural or religious significance that cloaks the mountain in mystic lure.

Arjuno & Welirang

One such mountain range is Mount Arjuno and Mount Welirang. Yes. Two mountain peaks that lie on the same range and are above 3,000m. Mt. Arjuno stands at 3,339m and Mt. Welirang at 3,156m. They are part of a group of strato-volcanoes that lie in the island of East Java. The mountains were not that high, which suited me fine as i haven’t done any serious exersice in the last couple of months. I didn’t want to push my luck too much.

I had written about these two mountains in my previous article on the 14 Volcanoes in Indonesia that i wanted to climb.

Mt. Arjuno is named after the Hindu god, Arjuna, who is depicted as the Receiver of wisdom from Lord Krishna in the epic Mahabharata. Welirang, on the other hand is the Javanese term for Sulfur – which it has in abundance, thanks to its still active volcanic crater.

So, i decided to explore these two mountains over a period of 5 days starting from 16th to 20th March as i had some days off from work.

I found out more about the two mountains through Gunung Bagging. This is one of the best websites to get information on mountains in Indonesia and is run by Dann P. Quinn. He also keeps track of reputable guides and local tour operators through his other website – Gamkonora. If anyone who wants more information on climbing Indonesian mountains, these two websites are the go to places. I highly recommend them to you.

I got hold of a local outfit through Gamkonora. They were quite responsive and had a very good spoken english.

I did a check on the weather and i seemed to have picked the wettest period to climb. The weather  forecast mentioned rain and showers on all the days we were to be on the mountain. But i was still determined to go.

Arjuno Welirang Weather Forecast

 16th Mar

prasanna and yoka guide

I took a flight out of Singapore and landed in Juanda International airport, Surabaya at 9am. The airport is quite modern and well maintained and processing was quite fast. The agency operator, Istikmal and guide, Yoka were at the airport. Both spoke very good english and we hit it off quite well. Both Istikmal and Yoka had climbed the two peaks quite often. After some pleasantries, i got myself a prepaid phone card with a 2GB data plan for 130.000 IDR. In hindsight, i should have got the card outside as it was cheaper. We hopped onto a van and drove all the way to Tretes, the closest village to the mountain range. Being a massive range, there are many approaches to the mountains and Tretes seemed to be the shortest and most easily accessible of them all albeit a harder trek.

Tretes, is a laid back town with a bit of dutch influence and lies 2 hours away from Surabaya and at an altitude of about 800m above sea level. It was and still is a holiday spot for former dutch colonial rulers and modern local tourists. Being just 60km from Surabaya, the town gets quite a lot of visitors over the weekend. The roads were pretty good but with a lot of traffic. On the way, you could see Mt. Penanggungan at 1,653m.

Penanggungan from kopkopan

Like all mountains in Indonesia, Mt. Penanggungan has a story behind it. According to the myth, Java was an island that was freely floating in the vast ocean. So, to make it stay in one place, Lord Brahma (The Creator) and Lord Vishnu (The Preserver) moved Mount Meru from India to Java to make it stay in one place. This is currently what is known as Semeru. However, since Meru was huge, the whole island began to tilt and as a result, the other gods went and pleaded with Brahma and Vishnu to do something about it. So, what they did was to cut off the top part of Semeru and place it at a point where the island will not tilt anymore. This small mountain is called “Mt. Penanggungan” – or the mountain that brings balance to the island of Java. There are nearly 116 Hindu and Buddhist shrines and archaeological artifacts on this mountain.

tretes basecamp for arjuno welirang
We arrived in Trete at around 11.30am. We waited for the guide and the porter to finalize their goods. In the meantime, i tried one of Tretes dishes which comprised of cooked rice, peanut paste and becel. It tasted quite delicious.
food at tretes
 Once the packing was done, we headed out to the trail at around 12pm.

basecamp starting point arjuno welirang

tretes to kopkopan

The climb up to our first camp site was about 3 hours. The pathway was mostly well laid stone  road inclined at a steady 15 degree angle which allows jeeps to travel to the top to pick up sulfur deposits packed by miners.

path to kopkopan from tretes

As soon as we started our trek, it started raining and we had to stop and put on our rain coats. After about 40 minutes of trekking, we came to our first rest point. It was one of the few concrete resting points.

first stop arjuno welirang

We rested there for a minute or two before we started our climb to the first camp site, which was called Kopkopan. Again, the climb was a constant gradient of 15 degrees. The well laden roads gave way to rock filled pathways and with the rains the path became slippery from the rain. The rain stopped as fast as it had begun and it became pretty hot in that humid weather. So, we dressed down to make the climb a lot easier. So, we took our time to climb by making frequent short stops for break.

break from climb arjuno welirang

Eventually, we were at Kopkopan by 2 hours and 15 minutes from the first camp site. Since it was quite early, we just rested and drank some hot tea. I spent my time taking photos of the surroundings. There were a couple of locals who were taking a bath in the stream near by. Soon they left for Tretes as they were going back down.

kopkopan at arjuno welirang

kopkopan arjuno welirang misty kopkopan arjuno welirang stream at kopkopan arjuno welirang

Yoka setup my tent in a comfortable place overlooking the town of Tretes. Unfortunately, the place was shrouded in clouds the whole time, so i couldn’t get to see the town at all. Dinner was at 6.30pm and after some small talk we retired off to bed. The night was pretty cold so, i put on some layers of clothing and went to sleep.

kopkopan bad weather

17th Mar

kopkopan morning

We got up in the morning at around 6.00am and had breakfast comprising of bread and cheese with hot tea. After that, we wound up and headed for our second camp called Pondokan, from where both the summits will be attempted. The terrain became even more rocky with long stretches of near flat sections followed by sections of 30 to 45 degree angles.

kopkopan to pondokan 3 kopkopan to pondokan trek 2 kopkopan to pondokan trek
The surroundings were absolutely beautiful and the slope was gradual. Luckily, it did not rain while we were on the trek and i managed to enjoy the trek up.
kopkopan to pondokan arjuno welirang
Pondokan is a tiny settlement of miners who go up to Welirang to collect Sulfur. They bring the sulfur from the crater back in trolleys and deposit them at the settlement before they are packed and loaded onto a dilapidated jeep that somehow manages to overcome the rough terrain and drive all the way to the settlement. There is a small shop where you can guy some snacks or soft drink.
pondokan sulfur miner settlement sulfur packing arjuno welirang
We arrived in Pondokan at around 11pm and settled down to have lunch. Our plan was to summit Welirang on the same day at 2pm to see the sunset at 5.30pm. Welirang is famous for its beautiful sunset.
   welirang summit trek
At around 2.30pm, we left for the summit of Welirang. Welirang is an active stratovolcano and still spews out plumes of sulphuric acid. The trek up was again not that steep with many areas with long flat sections. It was a long hike to the top and sometimes i wondered if it would ever end.

The steepness seemed to gradually increase towards the summit push and the rocky path made it all the more difficult.  But compared to Rinjani or Semeru, this mountain did not have loose gravel and so, there was no question of sliding. In addition to the steepness was the pungent smell of suflur that pervades the air. I used a muffler to protect my nose, but it did not do me any good. We had to wind our way through small sections on the ground from which hot, dry smoke was coming out. Some areas looked as if they had just erupted not too long ago with small lava domes jutting out.

prasanna at welirang summit
We reached the summit at around 5.30pm. The summit is marked with a metal pole with the Indonesian flag hoisted on it. On a normal day, we could have spent time there looking at the wonderful sunset. But this was not one of those days. The weather, which was already cloudy, was turning bad with strong winds. I could see flashes that did not seem like a normal lightning. From the summit, i peered into the crater. There was a greenish yellow lake that covered the crater and from the sides, there was a strong jet of sulfur spewing out making the sound of a jet plane’s engine. The whole place looked as if it was from a scene on Mars with no vegetation and plain rocks all around with smoke eerily coming out of the ground in several places.  I could not see anything and staying there any longer was fruitless. The winds drove the pungent air on the summit ledge and it was quite suffocating.
welirang crater
sulfur jet at welirang summit

We quickly made a decision to climb down fast before the clouds closed in and it started raining. We started down and made our way back to Pondokan. On the way, i took a few photos of the surrounding mountains before it got dark.

surrounding peaks welirang

When we reached there, it was around 7pm and was pitch black. I had fallen a few times during our decent and although, didn’t hurt myself, my knees were quite raw and knocking. So, i told Yoka that we skip the plan to start early for Arjuno the next day and take it easy. I don’t mind not seeing the sun rise. So, we decided to start later at around 9.30am.

I was in no mood to eat, so i just forced myself to eat some noodles and have some hot tea before i retired to my tent. I did not get much sleep with the rain making a constant noise on the tent.

18th Mar

I got up at around 7am and came out of my tent. The weather seemed perfect with clear blue skies. Yoka and the porter were up and had started a campfire. Since it was very cold, i went over and sat next to the fire and warmed myself. I felt much better now and was ready to start the trek up to Arjuno.

Arjuno, is a sacred mountain for the Hindus in Indonesia. Myth has it that, Arjuna, who had supernatural powers was greedy for more power. So, he climbed up the mountain and started meditating. As he did so, the mountain grew in size and height, nearly touching the heavens. Fearing the complete destruction of the heavens, the gods asked the care taker of Arjuna on earth to stop him as several attempts to stop his meditation failed. The care takers soon meditated themselves and became bigger than the mountain. So, they cut the mountain into two and threw one portion away. The thud that the portion made woke Arjuna from his destructive meditation. Having realized his mistake and the danger of destroying heaven, he soon decided not to meditate more and was happy with the powers he already had. Arjuno was the mountain on top of which, Arjuna had meditated and is thus named after him.

We left Pondokan at around 8.30am after a quick breakfast of hot tea and bread and cheese. We made our way slowly up to the summit. We crossed over the Lalijiwo forest. Lalijiwo, in Javanese meant, the forest of lost souls. Yoka told me that many people have died in the forest because they could not find their way through. Many bodies were not recovered at all. I found the forest to be quite scenic with areas that are exposed to the clear blue sky and some areas which had a very thick undergrowth of plants and trees. On several occasions, i stepped on a thick layer of leaves or placed my trekking pole on what seemed to be solid ground only to see my feet or pole sink right in. At other sections, the pathway is so narrow that you have to walk through keeping one feet in front of the other.

arjuno summit from lalijiwo forest lalijiwo forest towards arjuno summit

Once we were out of the Lalijiwo forest, the pathway became more steep. Soon enough, the clouds started moving in and we were constantly covered in mist. Although not that high in altitude or steep like Rinjani, the pathway took a toll on my knees and on several ocasions, i was wondering if i really wanted the summit so badly to put up with this torture.

arjuno summit from trek

We could see the summit of Arjuno on the way. It was mostly shrouded in clouds.  After about 3 hours of climbing, we reached the summit. There seemed to be several false summits that looked higher than the actual one and we had to pass through them to reach the main summit.

arjuno summit path

It was quite annoying to have the summit within view, but to get there, you need to climb up and down a few smaller peaks. Eventually, after much grunting and grumbling we reached the main summit at around 11.30am.

arjuno summit approach

arjuno summit

Arjuno is not an active volcano and there were no craters to be found. The summit was a pile of rocks and the peak was again marked with a metal pole on which the Indonesian flag was hoisted. There was a lot of static and occasionally i could feel an electrical surge going through my hair. The hair on my arms were standing on their ends. I did not get a good feeling about this and so, after some photo taking and videos, i decided to climb down.

On the way down, it suddenly started raining and we found a small cave where we hustled together and stayed till it finished raining. Soon enough, the rain stopped and we made our way quickly down the mountain. We took a wrong turn at the start which lead us down a different path. Luckily, the porter corrected us and we had to retrace our steps to join the correct path. Thanks to the GPS, we were able to find our way in the thick fog. Once the fog cleared on the way down, we could see the beautiful terrain and Mt. Welirang from afar. It looked eerie with smoke bellowing from the crater and its sides. I was quite amazed at myself in thinking that i was just there yesterday.

arjuno summit trek

welirang summit from arjuno

arjuno summit trek 2

By the time we reached the Pondokan, it was around 4pm and i was really done spent. My knees were aching even more than my trek to Welirang.

Our original plan was to come down from Arjuno and make a beeline directly to Tretes. But given that it was raining and the risk of falling in the dark, we decided to spend the night over at Pondokan and come down the next day.

pondokan to arjuno

I never got out of the tent that evening and i just slept the whole period. I skipped dinner and continued to sleep through the night.

19th Mar

I was up by 6am and after some hot tea, we packed up and left for basecamp. I was in decent shape to make the trip all the way to Tretes. We walked down pretty quickly as the day was clear and the path was not that slippery. We made it to Kopkopan in about 2 hours. We rested there for a while watching a group of about 30 people congregated together to perform worship. There was a priest who was giving a sermon.

kopkopan gathering

From there we started down again and in a span of about 3 hours, we were back in Tretes. Istikmal, our agency operator was welcomed us with some hot tea and some snacks to eat. Although i was in pain, i was glad to be back in civilization.

Unfortunately, throughout the trip, there was absolutely no signal so, my purchase of a 2GB data plan was more or less useless. The only place where you could have got a decent signal was in our first resting place – Kopkopan. But due to bad weather, it didn’t work out.

arjuno welirang trek

 After hanging around Tretes for some time, Istikmal drove me back to Surabaya and dropped me off at my hotel. I reached the hotel, IBIS BUDGET HOTEL that was inside the Airport compound. We said our good byes and i went to my room. The first thing that i did was have a bath after 4 days. Then i made a trip to a nearby shopping mall to gorge myself on a large pan cheese pizza and a chocolate milk shake. Once that was done, i came back to the room and watched TV till i slept. I was to wake up the next day and catch a flight back to Singapore. Quite an uneventful evening that left me wondering when i will be back again to visit another of these wonderful mountains.

GPX Files

I have provided the links to the GPX files for the entire trip. Please feel free to download them.

Climbing Kinabalu – New Ranau GPS Trail Route

I wanted to discuss a bit more about the new Ranau trail on Mt. Kinabalu. I had tracked my trekking using an App and managed to get a GPX from Timpohon Gate (more like from the first Pondok or “Rest Point” as i had used another useless app that did not track my GPS from Timpohon to the first Pondok).

To Panalaban

To Panalaban

The track does not show much difference from the previous trails. It winds pretty much through the same route to Panalaban (Formerly, Laban Rata).

However, the Ranau route from Panalaban to Low’ Peak has some completely new sections up to Sakat Check Post. A bird’s eye view of the trek is shown below.

New Ranau Route

New Ranau Route

A closer look at the new section using Google Earth will show you the direct approach the new route takes compared to the more windy route of the old trail.

Ranau Trail Deviation

Ranau Trail Deviation

The white lines show the path of the old route and the blue lines show the new Ranau route. The Ranau route follows the ridge while the older trail is in the valley, protected by trees on both sides. This provided good cover from the elements but did poorly for the view. The new route follows the ridge line and is exposed to the weather elements and the cold winds and also does a direct approach to Sayat Lodge. However, the views are breath taking if you can just stop for a moment without worrying about the climb or descent and adsorb the surroundings.

The old route is completely destroyed by fallen trees and boulders and not much evidence is there of a route at that site.


The image above shows the elevation gain in the Ranau route. There is no respite from the constant elevation gain and this can pose challenges for people who are not adequately acclimatized or fit enough. Unfortunately, i do not have the elevation gain of the older trek to make any reasonable comparison, but i would guess that it may be a little less steep at some sections leading up to Sayak Check Post.

You can download the two GPX files here:

From Timpohon to Panalaban

From Panalaban to Low’s Peak

 PS: Will appreciate if anyone could pass me their GPX file for Kinabalu before the earthquake.

Climbing Mount Kinabalu (New Ranau Route)

Mount Kinabalu

It was a really emotional moment standing on the summit of Mount Kinabalu once more. It was the first serious mountain that i had climbed. It opened me to a whole new world of climbing.

Unfortunately, in June 2015, an earthquake had devastated the mountain and caused several fatalities. Since then Kinabalu’s summit had remained closed.

When we heard about the planned opening of the mountain for climbers on the 2nd of December, myself and 3 other friends from our Elbrus climb, Uantchern, Benson and Boon Leong, wanted to be one of the first to climb the new trail which was considered harder and more exciting. We got the ball rolling and made some arrangements. Fortunately, our request was approved and we were one of the 53 tourists to climb Kinabalu on the first day of the opening. This article is about our trek to the summit.

The plan was to climb to Laban Rata on the 1st Dec and attempt the summit on the 2nd of Dec. We arrived in Kota Kinabalu on the night of the 28th and spent the rest of the day in town visiting the weekend street market and exploring some places to eat. We capped off the night at the Kinabalu Waterfront Market and retired to our hotel.

30th November

Kinabalu National Park Lodge

We arrived at Kinabalu National Park at 6pm and stayed at one of the lodges. The weather had been favorable throughout the day with warnings of rain the next two days. We were mentally prepared to have a wet climb to Laban Rata and to the summit. Dinner was at Balsam Cafe and after that we returned to our lodges for some chatting and sleep.On the way, we ran into Ravichandran Tharumalingam, Ravi for short. Ravi is very widely known in Malaysia as an adventurer and mountaineer. He had been invited to attend the opening ceremony and flag off of the first group of tourists and climbers by State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun. We got chatting and felt a level of comfort and familiarity with each other.

All the while the weather looked good with clear skies. In the distance we could see lights at Laban Rata. Laban Rata, was still active with tourists allowed to climb till there.

1st December

We got up at 5.45am and proceeded to the Registration centre at 6.30am. We were assigned our guide, Bungin Kombiong, a native Kadazan who had climbed Kinabalu more than 200 times.While waiting for the registration to complete, we managed to take some photos of Kinabalu. Below is a comparison before and after the earthquake. A large portion of the mountain was sheared off by the quake leaving the internal rocks exposed in white. Some prominent features of the mountain has also been destroyed.


Before Earthquake

Mount Kinabalu After Earthquake

After the Earthquak

With all arrangements made, we went to the Timpohon Gate and started our Trek at 7am. The official flag off by the Minister was to be at 8.30am but we did not want to wait that long, so we decided to leave early so we can have a head start and be one of the early ones to “break trail”.

Newspaper Article

The trail was the usual and we took about 6 hours to reach Laban Rata. At some sections of the trail leading up to Laban Rata, new routes were placed. But these were very short in distance. Almost 95% of the route remains the same with the ususal resting places called Pondoks still in place. The picture below shows some new sections of the trail before reaching Laban Rata.

New Section

New Section


Laban Rata now called Panalaban

Laban Rata now called Panalaban

We reached Laban Rata at 2pm. Laban Rata was renamed as Panalaban now and a poster indicated that the Minister shall arrive at Panalaban at 8.30am the next day to welcome climbers from their trip to the summit. At spent some time at the cafeteria eating and drinking. We went out to take some photos of the mountain once the clouds cleared. The photo below shows the before and after of the earthquake.

Before earthquake

Before earthquake

After the earthquake

After the earthquake

Again, the terrain of the mountain is changed with rocks eroded and internal white rocks exposed. Dinner was quick and light and by 7pm we went back to sleep before our climb the next day at 2.30am.

2nd December

Got up at 1.45am and got ready to climb towards the summit. With very little appetite, we just had coffee. Fortunately, the weather man was wrong and the skies were clear. There were no clouds in the sky but it was quite cold. The temperature showed about 5-10 degrees. There were not a lot of people as the parks had restricted the climbers to 135 which included 55 tourists, paragliding team, rescue personnel, media and reporters. We seemed to be the only group from Singapore and there were some western tourists and most of them were Malaysian. I wore a base layer and an outer shell.

Before starting our climb at 2am.

Before starting our climb at 2am.

At 2.30am, we kicked off the climb to the summit and were doing pretty good on time. The route from Laban Rata to Sayat check post was considerably damaged. As a result a new route had to be established. The new route follows teh ridge leading up to Sayat check post. The new route is near vertical with steep sections of wooden stairs of 70-80 degree incline. Some sections did not even have wooden steps and you need to haul yourself using a fixed rope over large boulders. Not for the faint of heart but still doable. Unlike the previous trail, which was in the valley, protected by the trees, the new route is quite exposed to the cold winds. So, speed is also of the essence. Waiting in this section, which inevitably has to be done, can be quite uncomfortable. Another challenge with this route is the rapid gain in height over a short distance. The older route wound its way to the check post while the new route cuts directly to the top. This could potentially lead to AMS (Accute Mountain Sickness), which we saw for a few climbers, who had to turn back. Overall the route seemed shorter and steeper, but the climb is slower, so it takes about the same time as the older route.

We reached the Sayat check post in about 2 hours, which was quite fast. We seemed to be in pretty good shape and we climbed all the way to the check post without taking any break. After the hut, there was no change in the route compared to the old one. There were new ropes placed to guide the climbers all the way to Low’s Peak. Since we were climbing pretty steadily, we estimated that we would reach the peak at 5.00am. We would then have to wait for the Sun rise at 6.00am. So, we slowed down our climb and took short 10 minute breaks in between.


Soon, by 6am we were at the Low’s Peak and had our summit photo taken. Ravi was just behind us and we managed to take a photo with him as well. Again, there was no change in Low’s peak as such and it seemed like new guard rails and summit post was setup.

Low's Peak

Low’s Peak

Photo with Ravichandran

Photo with Ravichandran

We surveyed the surroundings and so much of the iconic structure had changed. The Donkey’s ears was destroyed and many sections of the rock faces showed visible damage.

Donkey's ear before earthquake

Donkey's Ear

Donkey’s Ear after the earthquake

The way down was much more enjoyable due to daylight as we could see the trail that we had taken.


Some of the photos of the new Ranau trail is shown below.

Ranau Trail Descending 1

Ranau Trail Descending 3

Ranau Trail Descending 2



View of surrounding from Ranau Trail

Wooden Steps on Ranau Trail

Trip down took about 2 hours and by 8.30am we were back in Panalaban. We heard that the Minister will be there at Panalaban to welcome climbers from their summit trek, but unfortunately, there was no one to “receive” us. Apparently, the minister had other pressing engagements that his trip to the Panalaban was cancelled in the last minute. Still everyone was not dampened by the disappointment and celebrations for Christmas was well on it’s way with people singing Christmas Carols and some cake cutting.

After some rest we started down to the Timpohon Gate and since all of us had wobbly knees, hurting from the descent from the summit and again coming down to Timpohon, we took out own sweet time of about 5 hours. Still we made it in good time and in high spirits.

Back to Timpohon Gate

We continued on towards Kota Kinabalu after collecting our certificates and thanking our guide. He was a wonderful chap and took the patience to follow behind us inspite of our slow climb and never once did he leave our side. Kudos to all those guides who have been through all those difficult times in the past 6 months and still their spirits were high.


The new Ranau trail is an exciting path to the summit. It is steep and quite exposed. But it offers a panoramic view of the surroundings. Most important is that, you will need a lot more arm strength to haul yourself up using the ropes and you will need to be extra cautious when coming down, especially when it is raining. The wooden steps and rock faces can be quite slippery in the morning due and so, extra caution need to be taken.

Overall, with the new Ranau Trail, Kinabalu has opened up an exciting opportunity to revisit the mountain again and to experience the more fun and challenging route to Low’s Peak. We had great fun in climbing this mountain.

I will post some more pictures and the route in another blog. So, please stay tuned.

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