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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 Rinjani (3,726m), Lombok, Indonesia

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The most powerful volcanic blast since humans learned to write (1257 eruption).

In 1257 a large volcanic eruption caused an untold amount of gases being pumped into the atmosphere. It took a year for the gases to encircle the globe causing a global reduction in temperatures. The year 1258 was recorded as the year of the “Little Ice Age”. Recent research from analyzing sulphur deposits the world over, including Greenland indicated that they all came from the same source. For awhile there was speculation on which mountain caused such a massive erpution, impacting global weather patterns.

The Mountain

Mount Rinjani is the second largest volcano in Indonesia. It is located in the island of Lombok and stands at 3,726m. Rinjani is a very popular trekking mountain and there are many agencies that take you to the summit. It is also a sacred mountain to the Sasak People and the Hindus. There are yearly pilgrimages and prayers conducted on the crater lake to offer sacrifices to the gods. The top of the mountain is a crater that is about 6km by 8.4km caldera. The crater is huge with a lake called Segara Anak (Child of the sea) that is greenish blue. Within the crater is a smaller volcano that is more active and frequently erupts. There are hot springs near the lake where tourists go to take a dip.

The Plan

Rinjani was one of the few that i had shortlisted before i did the Kerinci Climb. So, once back, i was keen to go ahead with Rinjani. I had contacted several agencies and selected one of them based on the usual criteria for responsiveness, language and comfort level.

I was to do the trek from 25th May 2013 to 28th May 2013. A total of 3 days away from home. I had done sufficient research considering that there was a lot of material on the internet with regards to Rinjani. So, 3 days was just ok as i was not interested in any other sight seeing activity.

Due to work commitments, i did not focus too much on the exercise. This was completely wrong. I tried to maintain the same regime as i did for Kerinci with jogging/sprinting 3 times a week. But Rinjani requires a lot more.

The Climb

25th May

I boarded the afternoon flight to Lombok from Changi International Airport and after a 2 hour travel and a 1 hour timezone adjustment, landed in Mataram, the main city of Lombok at 6.30pm. Once again, upon arrival, i got my Visa On Arrival and was soon out. The trekking agency was waiting outside with a placard. After the greetings, we got into the jeep took an hour’s drive to the village near the mountain called Senaru. You could actually see the mountain on the way but since it was dark i could not see anything. Normally, people will stay at Sengigi, a larger town along the coastline with a beautiful beach and a lot of places to sight see. However, Sengigi is quite far from the mountain. You would have to drive for more than an hour to get to the mountain. I wanted to stay closer, so i choose Senaru. At Senaru, i was put up in a small resort of sorts with cottages made out of wood. It was a nice and quite place surrounded by lush greenery and with a beautiful view of the Rinjani mountain.The summit of Rinjani was covered in clouds so i could not see her full beauty.

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The guide had come down to introduce himself and we had dinner together at a restaurant owned my the agency’s boss. After dinner, i went back to my cottage and slept.

26th May

I was woken up around 6am and had breakfast at the cafe. The guide was at the cafe and we talked about the mountain. After getting ready, a 4×4 came to pick us up. I met the porters who also doubled up as cooks. It was 7am by the time we were on the way. The ride to the starting point of the trek was about 1 hour and went through a very forested area. The roads were quite well maintained.

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At the starting point, the guide registered us at a small office. There were quite a few groups going up the mountain and so, we had to wait for a while before we got our registrations done.

The trek is to last about 5-6 hours and ends at the Sembulan Crater Rim. There are several resting points on the way where we can rest. There is a lot of traffic with people going up and down the mountains. You get to meet a lot of friendly locals who chit chat along the way and even share their food and drinks once you get talking with them.

pic9

The whole trek can be broken down into 2 phases. The first phase is a simple trek along fields and through a forested area. There is very little vertical height gained here as we make our way through to the mountain. This is because we are not yet at the mountain but trekking towards it. The surrounding scenery is absolutely breathtaking with the vast fields and the clouds covering them.

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The second phase is a steep climb through forested area. The pathway is quite well defined and unlike Kerinci, it is not so muddy. You will be required to do some slight scrambling but that is nothing compared to the summit attempt that is yet to come.

We stopped at one of the resting points to have lunch. The rest point of our lunch was pretty packed with people from other groups. There was a nice group of school children from Singapore doing their outdoor activities here.

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The cook really showed his skills with a sumptuous meal prepared with fresh vegetables. Had a blast of a time eating.We had Pumpkin soup for starters followed by piping hot noodles, fruits and finally hot coffee.

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After a nice meal, you would hope that the terrain continued like what it was all the time. However, after the meal the climb becomes much steeper with a lot more angle to the the climb. All that good food becomes a burden because climbing on a heavy stomach is really not what i would like to do and it slows you down.

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The view becomes more beautiful as you go higher with the vast plains and the distant villages that you can clearly see, once the fog lifts ofcourse.

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We reached the Sembulan Crater Rim (2,639m) at around 5pm and our guides, who had gone ahead of us had setup the tents. The place was not well maintained with a lot of rubbish strewn all over the place. There was quite a crowd there with a lot of colourful tents and a buzz of activity. Some of them were there for the summit while the others were more interested in going to the crater lake.

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From my tent i could see the crater lake. The crater itself was a vast expanse. I imagined what an explosion it would have been to have formed a crater this size. The sheer volume of rocks, ash and toxic fumes ejected into the atmosphere would surely would have caused a global event that resulted in the “Little Ice Age”.

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On the other side was a view of the village.  On a clear day, you could actually see the path that you had walked through to get to the camp.

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After a wonderful meal cooked by the guide and porter, i was ready to go to bed. The plan was to get up at 2am in the morning and make our way for the summit. It was going to be a tough day ahead. Luckily, unlike Kerinci, i did not suffer any form of altitude sickness. I was feeling good yet nervous. I had read from other websites and also met up with people who had done Rinjani and they mentioned the toughness of its summit climb. With those thoughts swirling in my mind, i went into my tent to sleep. But sleep was a bit hard to find.

27th May

The whole night was spent twisting and turning in my tent. Finally i could hear voices from the guide’s tent. I knew it was time to get ready and leave. Soon enough the guide came over to wake me up and was surprised to find me already awake and sitting up in the tent.

Once again i refused to eat anything heavy. Instead, i settled for some biscuits, two bananas and some coffee. Soon we were on our way. I could see the line of headlamps ahead of me. Many already on a 30 minute head start. We left the camp at around 2pm. The guide expected that we would reach the summit by 6am. But he didn’t know how slow i would be.

The initial part of the climb was very steep. The climb leads to the crater rim, from where you need to walk along the rim to reach the summit. The starting was filled with loose fine-grained sand and trees. Climbing was quite tough with a lot of slipping. Once we reached the crater rim, we rested for a short while and then continued on our way.

The the gradual walk along the rim gave way to a loose gravel based climb. Like Kerinci, the ground is made of rocks and loose gravel making the climb extremely hard. Also, since we were climbing along the rim, we were completely exposed to the strong winds blowing without any cover. The only cover were the occasional large rocks that were on the way where we could huddle. But since there were so many of us going up the mountain, it was very hard to find and comfort from huddling together as they were occupied most of the time.

I had become very slow and the guide kept egging me on to go. I had to stop so many times to rest. As we reached the summit, there was a sudden formation of clouds which made visibility very difficult. We could not see anything past 20m ahead. Yet we kept climbing.The sky was already blue by now and we could see the lake and the pathway up the summit. However, we couldn’t see the summit at all. It was completely covered.

After what appeared to be ages, the guide mentioned that we were just another few minutes away from the summit. By this time i was almost on my knees crawling. The thought of giving up and going back down was getting stronger and his words did not seem to have any impact on me. I just kept putting one foot in front of another without looking up.

Finally we experienced a sudden flatness to the climb. At this point the guide shouted “Summit. We are at Puncak Rinjani”. Puncak meaning summit. I could hardly believe it. I sat there for a short while looking around and seeing nothing. I had taken nearly 5 hours to climb to the summit. For a fit person, it should have taken only 3 hours or so.

I was too tired and spent to even smile for any photo. We took photos on the summit but there was nothing but a complete whiteout. I would have spent about a  minute or two on the summit but i simply refused to budge from the spot where i dropped. I was tired, feeling extremely nauseous with a splitting headache and the cold wind was becoming unbearable. So, i indicated that i wanted to go down immediately.

The trip down was much faster with more sliding along the gravel. As we went down, the sun was much higher and there was this sense of warmth but the wind was still cold and strong. Several times we turned back to look at the summit and yet it was still covered in the clouds.

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After awhile i felt better with the headache and nausea gone. But still it was very cold i was shivering in my bones. I managed to start taking some photos of the surrounding. On the right hand side is the crater with the lake and the smaller volcano that is emitting smoke.

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On the right hand side is the vast plains through which we had trekked the previous day. It was quiet fascinating to see the terrain through which you had trekked from above.

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We could also see Mount Agung at 3,031m in the island of Bali which is right beside Lombok.

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Upon reaching the camp at around 11am, we had a nice lunch and then started packing our bags to go down. The trek down was pretty fast and by 3pm we were back at the starting point. The trek was slower at the start due to the steepness but in the plains we really picked up speed and the going was a lot easier. We did not stop at any of the rest points.

The 4×4 was already waiting for us as the guide had called the driver while we were on the way down. After another hour’s drive, we were back at the cafe where we unloaded our bags and had some snacks and coffee. I was to sleep over at a hotel booked at Sengigi. Sengigi was about 1 hours drive from the village but with traffic it takes about 2 to 2.5 hours. So, at around 5pm, i packed my bags and jumped onto the 4×4. By 7.30pm, i had reached our hotel and i checked in. The guide was also with me and he wanted to visit his family in Sengigi, so, he dropped me off at the hotel.

Once at the hotel, i had a shower and took a stroll along the road. Since it was already late, i had a quite dinner in the hotel with no mood to venture out. Having had no sleep the previous night and with a torturous climb, i was totally exhausted. I went back to the hotel and fell asleep.

28th May

The next morning, i had gotten ready and there was a vehicle that picked me up and drove me to the airport. This was prearranged by the trek agency and everything went smoothly. Soon enough i was on the plane back to Singapore. Not much of eventful day. I was glad to be home. Although i had reached the summit, i was not too happy due to the lack of fitness. I knew i had to put in more effort in my exercise regime if i wanted to climb more. The summit was purely out of will power and that cannot sustain for long… on higher mountains.

Reflections

  1. Rinjani is one tough climb. It is not for the faint of heart. You need a lot of stamina and hell more of determination to reach the summit.
  2. It can be extremely cold on the ridge as you are completely exposed to the elements. So, make sure that you have warm clothing.
  3. Exercise is absolutely important.
  4. Prepare for altitude sickness. It can hit you just when you are about to summit making all that effort worthless. So, do take precautions.
  5. The weather on the summit is totally unpredictable. Since Rinjani stands out and is huge, it has its own weather patterns.

Climbing Kerinci (3,805m), Jambi, West Sumatra, Indonesia

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia

There are depths of thousands of miles which are hidden from our inquiry. The only tidings we have from those unfathomable regions are by means of volcanoes, those burning mountains that seem to discharge their materials from the lowest abysses of the earth.
— Oliver Goldsmith

It was early January of 2013 and fresh from my success from climbing Mount Kinabalu i immediately started looking out for my next climb. By now i was more confident of climbing mountains and i knew that it was not a passing fad.  My interest was real. I started scouring the internet for another mountain to climb. After some initial surveys i zeroed in on climbing Mount Kerinci.

The Mountain

Mt. Kerinci, standing at 3,805m is the highest active volcano in Indonesia and the highest peak in the island of Sumatra. It lies along the belt of the “Pacific Ring of Fire“, the world’s highest concentration of volcanoes. To this day, it still spews out toxic sulphuric gases with occasional mini eruptions. In fact, there was a mini eruption on the day of the summit which i will explain later.

Check this video out to see Kerinci’s eruption in 2009.

The Preparation

The plan was to again do it with minimal impact to my working life. Kerinci is not located in a very touristy spot. To get to the mountain you will need to travel 7 hours from the airport at Padang, the Capital of West Sumatra. There were not a lot of agencies doing Kerinci trips as it is not so popular. Those that did do had pre-planned packages spanning 5-7 days with a lot of sight seeing thrown in. This did not fit my requirement of doing it fast. So, i reached out to the internet to search on TripAdvisor. Thankfully, there were a lot of very good reviews of this one guide, Mr. Endatno Een (+62 852 66 266 992 and email: endatno@gmail.com).

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia with Endatno Een

Endatno is a farmer in the village of Kersik Tuo, located at the foot of the mountain. He is also a certified guide to take people up Kerinci. So, i got in touch with him and he readily agreed. I liked the guy from the get go as he spoke good English and was again very responsive and we both liked Rock music (this i came to know much later during our climb). He had mentioned that he was part of a rock band in his previous life before becoming a farmer and a guide. The price was fixed and i had to make my flight and hotel reservation plans in Padang.

The climb was to be over a period of 3 days from 14th Feb 2013 to 18th Feb 2013. I was to leave Singapore on the night of the 14th and then arrive back on the 18th leaving me 3 days to climb the mountain.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia Trail Map

Having had a nasty experience with Kinabalu with regards to my fitness level, i did manage to put in some serious training. So, i was a lot more confident this time and a lot less ignorant.

The Climb

14th February 2013

Took a night flight on SilkAir to reach Padang. It is an hours flight from Singapore and before you know it, you land in Padang. The airport is relatively small and with very little traffic. I got a Visa On Arrival at the airport which is something like 50 USD. Once outside, Een and his driver friend was waiting for me in his vehicle. We immediately started to Kersik Tuo. He had a nice little home stay, a room in his house converted to allow up to 2-3 people to stay before the climb. So we boarded the van and were on our way. We stopped at a local eatery where we all had dinner. After a 7 hour drive through the night, we came to his house at Kersik Tuo at about 6am. We could see the mountain and a gentle stream of smoke coming out from the summit crater. The photo above was taken in the morning just before sun rise.

The plan was to start the trek in the morning at 10am. So after some tea, i took a hot shower from a bucket of hot water provided by Een and i hit the bed and was sound asleep.

15th February 2013

We woke up at around 9am and had breakfast that was made by his wife at home. It consisted of omelet, bread, soup and some local delicacy whose name i cannot remember. After a hot cup of local coffee, we got ready to leave for the climb. For lunch, there were boiled eggs, banana, snacks, juice and potatoes. Two bikes arrived at the door step and we got onto it and made our way to the starting point of the trek. The bike ride is about 10 minutes from his house and passed through rice and tea plantations.

After a 10 minute ride, the bikes detoured from the main road and we traveled on a gravel path for another 5 minutes before we got down and began the journey by foot. This was the starting point.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Starting Point

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Starting Point

The trek, unlike Kinabalu, is completely in the wild. It is through a very thick jungle. There are places which are muddy and your shoes get sucked into the mud making walking very hard. Some places, you literally had to scramble over muddy verticals, holding branches and trees for leverage.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Rest Point 1

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Trail Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Trail through the forest Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Trail through the forest

Along the way, there are some dilapidated shelters, numbered POS 1 to 3, where you can rest before continuing the climb. Maintenance of the shelters is completely absent. There is no sign of any governance on the mountain considering that is is within a national park – The Kerinci Seblat National Park.

Een mentioned that if we were lucky, we could spot some rare species of animals and birds. He was quite knowledgeable in the different species of plants and animals. He was even able to mimic some of the sounds of the birds and animals. We weren’t so lucky afterall.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Rest Point 2

At around 1pm, we stopped at a POS 2  and had our lunch. Then we continued with the journey till we reached a camping site (Shelter 2) at around 3,000m. The site was like a clearing on the side of the mountain. It was very badly maintained by locals who trash the place with plastic bottles and wrappers.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Camping Ground

By the time we reached the camp at Shelter 3, it had started to rain and we quickly setup the tent and huddled inside. I also had a headache due to the altitude i suppose. Too tired to eat, i just had a coffee and popped an aspirin. The guide did cook a nice noodle soup but i simply refused to eat. He became worried about my health and occasionally called out to me in the night to make sure i was ok. I simply responded with a nod and an occasional grunt. We were to get up at 1am and begin the climb to the summit. I guess that he was not sure if i was able to make it the next morning. My sleep was rather disturbed by the headache and the rattling of the rain on the tent. This was the first time i had ever camped on the mountain in a tent. So, it was all new to me and i did have trouble getting to sleep in the beginning. Anyway, sometime in the night the rain had stopped and i fell asleep.

16th February 2013

At 1 am, the guide tried to wake me up, but i refused to move and was pretty snug in the sleeping bag. He asked me if i was ok and if i wanted to make the summit. I nodded in the affirmative. My headache was gone by then and i was just too comfortable in the sleeping bag. So, i asked him if we could delay the departure by another hour or two. He agreed to that. So, i was back to sleep.

At 2.30am, he woke me up again and asked if i was ready to go. I got up and reluctantly said yes. With that, he began to make some coffee and noodles. I told him to drop the noodle and just make that coffee. He tried to coax me to have something to eat before we begin the journey. But i did not feel like eating. So, i just insisted on him giving me that coffee. After the coffee, we were ready with our clothing and shoes on. And we were on or way by 3am.

Kerinci is an active stratovolcano and it was still emitting smoke during our climb. Due to its frequent eruptions, the mountain is covered with ash, loose gravel and rocks. This makes getting a grip on the mountain slopes very hard causing your feet to slide down each time you apply pressure to take the next step. Meaning, its like 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Trail with Volcanic Rocks Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Trail with Volcanic Rocks Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Trail with Volcanic Rocks

These pictures were taken on the way down in broad daylight. You can’t see the terrain in the night during your climb. The terrain looks more like that of Mars rather than Earth. Its barren and there is absolutely no sign of vegetation. The ground’s color is a mixture of yellow and red caused by the different gases emitted by the volcano. Such a beautiful sight.

On that specific night, we were the only people on the mountain and so, there was no company, no fellow travelers. Only me and Een making our way to the top. In the darkness, you cannot see the summit with its sulfur smoke effusing from the crater.

On the way, we stopped at another camping site, slightly higher than our site. However, this site was quite exposed as compared to ours, which was shielded by the trees. We rested to grab some snacks and soon we were on our way again. Soon, the vegetation gave way to pure gravel and rocks. It was a hard climb to the top.

As we set out to the summit, we felt the earth shake slightly and a faint grumble, like that of a sofa being moved on the floor above. It lasted for a very short duration and then everything went silent. The guide didn’t think much of it and we continued our journey up the steep slope, climbing and sliding at the same time. It was a tedious effort. By this time the sun had arisen and we were not yet on the summit.

Then suddenly a thick white smoke of what looked like a cloud layer hit our face. As i drew some of the smoke into my lungs i realized it was not smoke but hot, concentrated sulphur. The smell was unbearable and immediately i started to choke. We were climbing against the wind and it was blowing the sulphur right into our face. The guide was a couple of steps ahead of me and he mentioned that we are just a few steps away from the summit. However, the smoke was too much to bear and i just turned around and sat down. Still, it did not help, with every breath, i was taking in these toxic fumes and my mind went blank. I just sat there for a couple of seconds which seemed like hours, trying to figure out what to do. Immediately, i simply started going down the slope sitting and sliding because i knew that just 1 minute or so before i could not smell the sulphur. So, by going down, i can move away from the zone where the wind was blowing the sulphur.

By this time Een realized that i was not following him and he immediately came down to me and told me to follow him. He was to circumvent the crater and move away from the direction in which the wind was blowing. I crawled for awhile till i felt that the smoke was no longer in my face. Then i got up and walked behind the guide. Within a minute or so, my guide shouted “Summit”.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Crater Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Crater

I did not believe him till i saw that i could not go any further and i was facing the depths of the crater with white smoke bellowing up. The crater, 300m below could not be seen as it was spewing out white smoke. On a normal day, you could see the crater with its volcanic lava bubbling. But on that day, there was a minor eruption that caused the crater to spew out more gas than normal. That explained the tremor and grumbling noise that i had heard while climbing up the mountain.

We could not see the crater at all and i had to take photos in what looks like a complete white-out, but is actually sulphur smoke coming out of the crater. On the opposite side of the mountain, everything looked clear. The weather was great and the clouds were sparse. We could see the village down below at the base of the mountain.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Surrounding View Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Surrounding View

After the high fives and the hugs, we sat there for 30 minutes taking photos and videos before coming down. The trek down was fast but quite risky as the loose gravel makes you slip and slide. Extra caution was need to prevent a fall. As we came down, we realized that we were walking along a pathway that was cut on the side of the mountain by lava flows from the previous eruption. The sides of the pathway were clearly cut and you could also see that the lava from the previous eruption froze in its tracks by either the cold or the rain. Layers upon layers of flow indicated that this is certainly an active mountain and the villagers and people living in the area are at the mercy of its eruptions.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Trail Volcanic Rocks

On the way down, we met a few of the locals who were attempting to summit, but gave up as they thought it was a bit too dangerous. They were quite surprised to see us emerge from the summit with a big smile on our faces.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit Trail Volcanic Rocks Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Summit TRail Volcanic Rocks

We reached our Shelter 2 at around 10am and had some snacks and coffee. Then we packed our bags and headed down to the village. The climb down was fast enough except for the occasional areas where you had to watch your step and make sure you don’t fall because of the mud. Towards the end of the trek, Een called his bikers to come and fetch us. By the time we were at the starting point at around 2pm, the bikers had arrived and we were on our way to Een’s home.

His wife had prepared a wonderful snack for us while we freshened up. The rest of the day i spent sitting in their porch enjoying the coffee and the children playing in the porch. I would have probably sat there for 3 hours without doing anything, reflecting on the experience that i had on the mountain. A thoroughly enjoyable and exhausting experience. But still, after all the physical and mental effort, i was as alive as if i had just woken up. Unable to sleep, my mind just kept drifting back to the summit, the sulphur and the barren land that i saw surrounding me. An unearthly experience.

At dinner, Een’s wife had cooked something not short of a feast with more than 7 dishes. I relished every bite of the food. As i and Een ate, he showed me some photos he had taken on Kerinci with the crater as well as some shots of the eruption on his previous trips. I requested him to send me some photos to which he kindly obliged. These photos are coutesy of Een and i an showing it here. I did not get to see the mouth of the crater due to all that smoke, but i was amazed to see it in these photos. Couldn’t imagine standing at the rim of an active volcano.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Crater Taken by Endatno Een Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Crater Taken by Endatno Een Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Crater Taken by Endatno Een Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - Crater Taken by Endatno Een

 17th Febraury

We got up at 6am in the morning to go back to Padang to check into the hotel. Since the check-in time was at 2pm and with a 7-8 hour journey, 6am seemed just about right to start the journey. It was still quite dark when we commenced our journey and as the initial dawn began to lighten the sky, we could see Kerinci, silently sitting there, spewing out smoke. The unnerving calmness shrouds the violent activity going on inside. A sense of excitement, achievement, fear and sadness encompass me as i leave the sleeping beauty to go back to civilization.

We stopped by at several places on the way to have breakfast as well as visit the Jambi Province Historical Museum, which was once the palace of the king of Jambi. We even met one of the king’s decendants who happens to live there.

After a long drive, we finally reached the hotel where i checked in. I had brought up the driver and Een to my room where we had some hot coffee. Soon we bid goodbyes and they were on their way to do their thing. I rested for the rest of the day without venturing out. Watching TV and finally having my cold beer.

18th February

The hotel organized a vehicle to pick me up and drop me off at the airport. As i was on my way, i missed Kerinci and wanted to see it one last time. But i knew being so far away, i will not be able to see it. But i was wrong.

On the flight, i could see Kerinci. Covered by clouds and the smoke, still making her presence felt. My eyes were fixated on her as we flew past her and she had disappeared from view. All the while, unable to believe that i was there, standing on the top. A deep sense of respect for the mountain overcame me as i flew back home.

Mount Kerinci, Indonesia - From The Plane

Reflections on climbing Kerinci

  1. Kerinci is a fantastic mountain to climb. It requires a good level of stamina especially towards the summit climb. So fitness is a must.
  2. The temperature can be between 0 to 10 degrees on the summit. So, warm clothing is required.
  3. Shoes with good foothold is absolutely necessary. Mine was a trekking boot and it did the job very well.
  4. Being 3,800m, there is a possibility of suffering from high altitude sickness. So, due precautions need to be taken. Unlike Kinabalu, there are no proper support structures in place if in case assistance is needed. So, make sure that you are adequently prepared to abort and go down if you fall sick or unable to proceed forward.
  5. The sulphur smoke is really toxic and many cannot bear the thick pungent smell. Make sure you bring some high grade face masks if you still want to do the climb.
  6. Volcanic eruptions are sporadic and unpredictable. However, to err on the side of caution, try to get information on the volcanic activity of the mountain from the internet through reliable sources.

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