Category Archives: Volcano Climbs

Gunung Lawu climb – a misadventure on all counts…

Having climbed Merbabu once and Merapi twice, I would see Lawu towards the east, often shrouded in clouds. My friend, Jack, had told me that Lawu was the easiest volcano to climb, in Java. Several years ago, he had made a solo summit with a full backpack. He came back and told me that he needn’t have carried all that food, because there was even a warung, quite close to the summit !!!

My misadventure started even as I booked my tickets to Jogja. I could’ve caught a flight to Solo instead, but the AirAsia schedule suited me better. I also have this romantic thingy with travelling in trains. These days, air travel has taken over, as it saves so much time. But I also thought that by flying to Jogja and then taking a train to Solo, I would kinda add to my adventure.

So, where did it all go wrong ?

I chose the last weekend before the month of Ramadan, to climb Lawu. What it meant was that I would have at least a few hundred university students as company on the summit !!! I admire the kids, so many of them grossly unfit, even then they make it to the top of the mountain !!! That calls for some courage.

Next, I wanted to try out a different guide and porter. So, I found one guy who was recommended on GunungBagging site. Contacted him and he told me that he would sort out everything, and that I can be rest assured.

My misadventure began from the time I landed in Jogja airport. The guy came late, he took me on a motorbike to his place, where one of his friends came later on another motorbike. We had lunch somewhere and then went to the train station to buy tickets. The guy hadn’t even bought tickets !!! Obviously, the trains were all full. So, we decided to go to Solo by bus. Another motorbike ride ensued. We left the bikes somewhere, then jumped into a running bus. It took forever to reach Solo, dropped us in some unknown part of town. We grabbed some dinner, sitting on a mat on the roadside. It was all fun, no doubt. By then, I was seriously tired. So, I suggested that we fix a taxi to drop us off at Tawang Manggu, the starting point of the trek. We did that, reached Tawang Manggu around midnight. As a regular climber, I would have expected this guide to have enough contacts for accommodation, that he could have called ahead. Instead, the guide and his friend left me by the roadside and went in search of accommodation. They came back after 10 minutes and we were ushered into someone’s house. We would sleep in the living room on the floor and the family would sleep elsewhere. All nice and fun, but I expected something more organised. Isn’t that the reason why you fix a guide beforehand ?

Anyways, we started the trek the following morning, via the Cemoro Sewu route. I kept mostly to myself, as I set my own pace.

I found the trek quite boring. There are no views, whatsoever. In terms of views, nothing can beat Merbabu.

This one is mostly through jungle. Somewhere along the way, I met a few other trekkers. And as I was ahead, I went off till the warung. I was resting there when one of the trekkers told me that my guide was looking for me behind. How could I be behind, when I had forged ahead ? Anyways, we had lunch at the warung, and then made our way to the summit. We found a place near the monument on the summit, to pitch our tents. We then went to the summit, for the customary pictures, and then made our way down to the piece of land that juts out to the west. We were above the clouds and I could easily see Merbabu and Merapi in the distance. We got back to the summit, some more pictures and then pitched the tents. Made an attempt to cook dinner, these guys weren’t simply equipped for all that. In the meantime, clouds gathered above us, and my mood took a beating. I went out at night to check if I could see anything. Nothing, apart from lightning in the distance.

At night, it started to rain. The water started to seep through the tent, the boots were getting wet, and it was terribly cold as well. No 3000m++ high mountain should ever be underestimated. All through the night, I could hear lots of noise – of other trekkers who were making their way up to the summit in the darkness of the night.

By morning, it was a circus. The rain had stopped, the sun had risen, but my mood was the crappiest of all times.

There was hardly any inch of space left on the summit. Even the piece of land that juts out into the west was teeming with people. On a rough estimate, there would have been at least 500 odd people on the summit that morning. And the noise was unbearable. Even though its physically demanding, I climb a volcano for two reasons. One for the views, and second, for the peace and tranquility. I had a similar experience on Mt Penanjakan. Why do people need to talk so much ? And even if they have to, why not keep the decibels a bit low ? What is the need to yell and scream so much ?

I started to feel unwell with the entire experience. I developed a bit of nausea and headache. Might have been a combination of everything. The strain of travelling and the altitude and the overall experience.

I vomited a few times, until there was nothing left in my stomach. Drank some water and ventured out to witness the circus. My cameras were well packed in the bag, and I had no mood for any sort of photography. Decided to break camp, and get down. I think we came down by the Cemoro Kandang route. It was longer, plenty of switchbacks, and was bloody slippery, because of the overnight rain. Somehow made it down to the blaring of horns from cars, buses, motorbikes and trucks. I didn’t realise that we still had to walk a fair distance, a km or so to the homestay near the starting point of the Cemoro Sewu route. Bought all of us a can of coke each, I was hoping that the coke would kill whatever bugs I might have picked up with the street food the previous day…

Reached the homestay, showered, and tried to make arrangements to get back to Jogja. I was not in the mood for public transport. My mood was already so terrible. I had to coax the guide into making the arrangements, he was somehow in his own world – obviously still very inexperienced.

We made it back to Jogja at night. My regular lodge was full, so I checked into Grand Tjokro, a hotel that I saw when driving aimlessly, once we were in Jogja. Paid an exorbitant sum of money for the average room, settled the score with the guide – quite disappointed with his service, but let bygones be bygones…

I ordered a vegetarian pizza, while I showered, scrubbed myself clean, and freshened myself. In some ways, I was becoming like my bro, Leonard. Unlike him, I don’t need a lot of luxury. But I do need my comfort.

Gunung Lawu. Probably the easiest volcano to climb in Central Java, but my climb was a forgettable one…

 

Gunung Semeru Climb : Day 4

Morning came, the sun rose, for a change the sky was clear. After a quick breakfast and coffee, we broke camp. The plan was to use the older route and get to Ranu Pane by noon. The older route goes through the savannah, up a steep climb, and down the other side through the fields which are cultivated by the local farmers.

The first section involved skirting around the lake, and then out in the savannah. It was beautiful and I was glad we took this section. At least there was a beautiful view, and as we made our way up the hill, we could see fellow trekkers below us as tiny ants.

By the time we made it up to the ridge, I was drenched in sweat and thirsty. All I wanted to do was finish the damn trek. My mood brightened when I heard the sound of motorbiked in the distance. I thought I would hitch a ride from one of the farmers and pay him a tip. This is where the Indonesians are at their enterprising best 🙂 It seems as if they wait all day for such an opportunity. There they were happily smoking and idling their time away. When we asked them if they could drop us at Ranu Pane, they readily offered to do so. For USD 20. Its not as it I was asking them to take me to the other side of earth. It was probably less than 4-5 kms away and I could easily have covered that distance in an hour or less. They just sense an opportunity and go for the kill – all or nothing. If they had charged me USD5, I would have gladly taken up their offer, and it would have been a win-win for both the parties. Never mind. I got pissed off, even more. I decided I would walk the distance.

Finished the trek, showered, had some lunch and it was time to repack our stuff and hit the road.

We returned to Surabaya by night, stopped somewhere for dinner. Found a hotel near the airport. The hotel was a dump. Paid up whatever charges Sony came up with in his calculations. I was in no mood to even talk. All I wanted to do was shower and hit the bed. I had an early morning flight to catch.

And thus ended my Semeru adventure. The highest volcano in Java. One more off the list.

Until the itch would begin, to climb Gunung Lawu…

Gunung Semeru Climb : Day 3

Glondor woke me up around 230AM. I got out of the tent, and the clouds seem to be clearing up. We could see the headlamps of the trekkers who had left Kalimati around midnight, halfway up the scree slope. I could see the Milky Way up above me. We decided to attempt the summit, knowing very well that we wouldn’t be able to make it in time for sunrise. I made a few frames with the summit and Milky Way, and of the summit with the tiny headlamps of the trekkers making slow progress through the scree. 3 steps up, 2 steps down. That would be my story in a short while.

We packed up for the summit climb. The guide from Ranu Pane would stay back at the tent. After going through a pine forest, where we briefly lost our way, we finally entered the section from where it was a near vertical ascent on scree. I knew it would take forever, but I simply blanked my mind out. I didn’t even bother to look up. Just prepared myself for slipping and sliding. And cursing. he he he…

The hiking stick did offer some support whenever the going got tough. At times, there would be a mini avalanche of sorts – nah, just kidding – when a small rock would start rolling down when a trekker would’ve stepped off it, and it would bring down scree and dust with it. Had to watch out for those moments.

I was probably half-way up, when the sky started to brighten up. I decided to rest and enjoy the majestic moment. The sun rose after a while, even as I tried to pick up my pace. After what seemed like eternity, probably around 8AM, I reached the summit. Amidst high-fives and hugs, I opened up a pack of dried mangoes from the Philippines, which I had carried all the way up. That was a little celebration.

There were many trekkers on the summit, and it was almost like a carnival of sorts. Everyone taking photos, jumping shots, hugs, yells, shrieks. I went away towards the North-Eastern side, to have a look at Gunung Arjuno.

While I was taking photos there and enjoying the view, there were screams all around. Semeru had let out another belch. I ran in the direction of the eruption, which was on the Western side of the volcano. It was amazing to see a volcano that close and personal. After staying on the summit for some time, we decided to descend towards the crater, but not get too close to it. The view from there was spectacular too. The earth would shake every time Semeru would belch. I can’t imagine what the impact would be for a full-fledged eruption.

As it was getting late, and the smoke and gases get more and more toxic as the day progresses, we decided to head back to the summit, and then descend all the way to Kalimati, and then to Ranu Kumbolo.

Getting down was a breeze – it just took couple of hours or less to reach Kalimati – slipping and sliding all the way. I decided that I wanted to shower and wash off the dust and ash. So, I proceeded to the place where there was water channeled from an underground spring. The water was therapeutic. Feeling clean and fresh, I got back to our campsite at Kalimati. We broke camp soon, and started our way back to Ranu Kumbolo. The weather was crap. It got clouded out most of the time, and we also encountered a couple of occasions when it drizzled a bit.

By the time we reached the meadow of purple flowers, the sky was showing a different shade of grey 😉

We reached Ranu Pane in the afternoon, and plonked down at the site where we would setup camp. Sony appeared out of nowhere with couple of bottles of Bintang. Apparently, he was getting bored at Ranu Pane, so he decided to trek all the way to Ranu Kumbolo, with a couple of bottles. Only Sony can do such things.

Dinner was prepared, and once again I brushed away thoughts of where the water had been collected. The weather was crap, and my mood was getting crappier. With nothing to photograph, I had an early night. Woke up onceat night, but promptly got back into the tent.

I couldn’t wait to get back home. Treks in Indonesia are like that. Once I am done with the summit, my mood kinda deflates. I mean there is no greater high than being on the summit, right ? At that moment, I wish a helicopter would appear from somewhere and pluck me up from the summit.

There endeth Day 3.

Gunung Semeru Climb : Day 2

Woke up early in the morning, with the sun bashing its way through into our tent, and it was soon becoming a sauna. I got out of the tent, and saw the sun’s rays dancing on the lake. Pretty spectacular, I must admit.

I went about with the morning ablutions, and breakfast and coffee was served. I didn’t want to think where the water would have come from.

After that, the camp was broken, and we set off to our stop for the night – Kalimati. This is a beautiful section of the trek, which begins with a short scramble up a ridge, from the lakeside. Once on the ridge, there are two ways to go – either walk on the left side, hugging the side of the hillock OR descend and walk through the fields of purple flowers. We decided that we would take the route on the left, and on the way back, we would walk through the field of purple flowers. As such, the sun was beating down upon us, and I wanted to use the shade from the side of the mountain…

After a brief stop, it was then a fairly easy trek, going through a pine forest. Interesting shapes and contours of the trees. Glondor and I took off on a race, but I was no match for him. Within a few minutes, he was getting out of sight. But the good thing was that I managed to keep pace with him and almost always had him within sight. It helped because I hate such sections of the trek. My main interest seems to be on top of the volcano for sunrise, sunset and to capture the night sky. Next time, I will hire a helicopter to drop me on the summit in the afternoon, and pick me up the following morning. I digress…

By afternoon, we reached Kalimati, which is considered the basecamp of Semeru. With an early start from Ranu Pane, Kalimati can be reached within a day. If you have no interest in Ranu Kumbolo, then you can easily save off a day OR use Ranu Kumbolo as a stop for the night, on the way back.

From Kalimati, the gray top of Semeru, offers an unobstructed view. There is a water source to the right of the campsite, around 20 minutes walk. That afternoon, we went to the water source for a wash, and to fill up our bottles for drinking as well as for cooking. From time to time, we would hear a little roar (more of a whimper than a roar), and we would see a cloud of smoke and gas being belched out by Semeru. The weather was perfect. Clear blue sky and as day progressed to dusk, the last light hit the summit of Semeru, and I prayed. Prayed for clear weather, and for strength to go up the near-vertical slope of Semeru, through volcanic scree.

Dinner was served, along with some hot ginger tea. There was some noise coming from the other trekkers, but thankfully, nobody had camped near us. I got ready to do some night photography, and prepare my sleeping bag to escape from the cold.

The plan was to wake up at 1230AM and leave by 1AM or so, such that we would have a chance of being at the summit by sunrise. I left two of my cameras to shoot star trails. Woke up around midnight and found that the summit was nowhere in sight. I looked up, no stars. There was a thick cloud cover. I have terrible weather karma. “Of all days, why did it have to be clouded out tonight ?” I brushed aside those thoughts, packed up the cameras, and decided to go to sleep. Glendora woke up later and called me out. I told him I wasn’t going to climb to the summit in that weather, and that we should do a check  at 230AM. I couldn’t sleep, I was generally very pissed with everything.

Day 2 ends here.

 

Gunung Semeru climb : Day 1

This was gonna be a super long day. We landed in Surabaya close to midnight. Sony was still on the way from New Selo. He came just around 1AM or so. We stopped at a couple of places enroute – once for supper, and then another time to pick up supplies for the trek. By sunrise, we had reached the caldera overlooking the savannah that leads to Bromo and Penanjakan. We were the other side of Bromo, not the side that most tourists see from Penanjakan. There was a chill in the air, and the effects of not enough sleep showing in our bodies.

We proceeded to Ranu Pane, where a local guide was organised. We re-packed our stuff, while a quick breakfast was prepared. While inside, I heard Tempo yell “come out. come out.” We rushed out and saw a minor eruption from the top of Semeru. Can’t even call it an eruption, it was just a belch of smoke and gas. Nevertheless, this is what we had set out to see, while being on the summit.

After breakfast, we took off for the trek. Permits was hastily arranged, some silly rules have been put in place by the Indonesian authorities. Won’t dwell on them, as its not really important. Sony would stay back at Ranu Pane, and Glondor, Tempo and the other local guide would go with us.

The trek was quite easy. A little undulating at times, but generally very easy… Just a normal jungle trek, which isn’t my type at all.

By early afternoon, we came out in the open, from where there was a spectacular view of Ranu Kumbolo. There were already several tents pitched on the other side of the lake. It would probably take us an hour to get there, but we were in no hurry. I made several images from the spot from where we could get a little glimpse of Semeru. Later, we ran down the slope and reached the lake shore. It was only in May that there would be a certain kind of purple flowers that would bloom. And now, they were in full bloom. Quite spectacular to see a bed of purple flowers. A bit of rest and several photos taken, we then proceeded to our campsite, the other side of the lake, with the lake in front of us, and we facing east. We chose a spot farthest to the right, for a bit of peace, but alas there is no such thing. Soon after, tents pitched all around us as well.

Glondor and Tompo proceeded to prepare dinner, while I chilled out, trying to catch a nap. Made some images during sunset, and decided to shoot star trails after most of the trekkers would have passed out. I didn’t want any stray light in my images. I can get quite finicky…

My only gripe about this day, rather the campsite is that the water from Ranu Kumbolo is used for everything – from cooking to brushing teeth, to bathing, to washing clothes, to washing dishes, and for other businesses too. The water doesn’t flow, so its kinda disgusting that while one person is collecting water to cook, another would be doing other business by the side and washing up.

By night, when most of the trekkers had crashed out in slumber, I got out of my tent to make star trails and shoot the Milky Way. That was probably the only special moment of the day.

Gunung Semeru Climb – Preparation

This craziness to climb volcanoes had started in 2005, when I had climbed Mt Fuji. Was terribly unfit then…

And then Merbabu, Merapi, Sindoro, Prahu, Rinjani happened…

Semeru was a wish, a dream, but was not sure if I had the strength and the will to climb Java’s highest mountain and suffer the volcanic scree, not after I had encountered Rinjani…

But then that itch refused to go away and I booked my tickets to Surabaya and then contacted Sony, the guy who runs Ratri guesthouse in Selo, if he could organize the trip for me. He offered to pick me up from Surabaya, drive to Malang, then onto Tumpang, and then to Ranu Pane (also spelt Ranu Pani) from where I would begin the trek. I asked for my guide and porter with whom I had climbed Merapi and Merbabu, to come along… How much would it cost ? Sony said he would figure that out later.

I read up a few blogs, read the information on gunungbagging.com

This was the plan :
Friday night : arrive in Surabaya airport late into the night
Drive overnight to Malang, Tumpang and then to Ranu Pane, reaching Ranu Pane by early morning. Only Sony would agree to do such crazy things, and only I would do such a crazy thing to catch a nap on a long drive in the car and then start the trek the following morning…

Saturday morning : Arrive in Ranu Pane and start the trek.
Saturday afternoon : Reach Ranu Kumbolo and camp overnight.

Sunday: Ranu Kumbolo to Kalimati

Monday: midnight start with the aim to reach the summit (puncak) by sunrise
Return to Kalimati, return to Ranu Kumbolo

Tuesday: Ranu Kumbolo to Ranu Pane, reach Ranu Pane by afternoon.
Drive to Surabaya, overnight in Surabaya

Wednesday morning : return to Singapore

That was all in terms of planning.