#42 Up Java’s Big Boss Semeru in 2D1N – Volcano Weekend Part 2

Climbing Mount Semeru was insanely difficult especially since it was my first official volcano trek. In fact, I was pretty sanguine because I had no idea what I was in for. Sometimes that sort of ignorance can be bliss since I would’ve fretted endlessly. With three weeks between having decided and actually going, even bringing the gym game super strong was barely cutting it for me. If you are a seasoned hiker who have done other volcanoes and a couple of multi-day treks, you should have no problems. In any case, the trail towards Semeru is mostly dry and through temperate forest, which is more enjoyable for me than rolling around huge buttress roots in a tropical forest which is often dim and muddy. At 3,676 metres above sea level, Semeru is the highest volcano on Java, and the 3rd highest in Indonesia.

Hillsides spewing gases - taken on the way back to Cemoro Lawang from Ranu Pane

Our trek up Mount Semeru to the Mahameru summit was a 2D1N journey. A few people have asked me if it was possible with the condensed itinerary, since this trip was commonly advertised as 3D2N, and the answer is yes!

(This is the fast and furious version as some of us cannot take too many vacation days and a longer trip was out of our budget. There is the usual version at 3D2N, where you set up camp at Ranu Kumbolo before continuing on again. Skip to the end of this post for the itinerary.)

Having a good night’s sleep the night before is crucial, since the next evening with no proper bed and the anticipation of the summit attack we barely got any sleep. On the day of the hike, we started out bright and early at around 8, with the Jeep picking us up from our hotel. We passed the Bromo entrance and continued on down toward the Sea of Sand, and then went a bit further.

We had two pit stops on this Jeep ride – the first one is the Whispering Sands and the second one is Teletubbies Hill, before moving on to our actual starting point of the hike – Ranu Pane.

These sands don't really whisper but they do get into your eyes!!!

The Whispering Sands, or Pasir Berbisik. There was a lot of ash and sand swirling in the air and we could not see further than 50 metres, let alone the actual horizon. We didn’t hear any whispering from the sand, just excited shouts of other tourists jumping off their Jeeps. The Mad Max sensation of crossing the desert was stronger here. After a few photos, we were choking on the sediment-filled air and happy to move on.

The Jeep lurched and jerked and rattled on.

Tinky Winky didn't come out to greet us.

When we arrived at the Teletubbies Hill, it was as if we were transported to a totally different land mass. Pristine air, rolling verdant hills, blue skies, sunshine. I was a little too old to have watched Teletubbies the TV series in my childhood but I had a good idea of what those hills looked like. And this place was aptly named. There was just enough time for us to dance about while our driver ate his breakfast with some of his fellow driver buddies.

Then it’s off to Ranu Pane. This last bit from the hills to the village of Ranu Pane was really long – around one hour. That’s the view from the shotgun seat in the Jeep bringing us there – I’m guessing most of the road from here on looked pretty much like that… but I wouldn’t know since I fell asleep. :p

Riding shotgun inside a VERY CRAMPED jeep

Arrived at Ranu Pane! A small, sleepy village indeed.

There is a small provisions shop and a family-style restaurant where we topped up our carbs by stuffing our face with fried rice and fried noodles. Here we also tried a Javanese beverage ‘es gembira’ – Coke mixed with condensed milk and ice. It was crazy sweet but gave us a sugar rush that we needed to kick off the trip. The owner/cook is friendly and helpful, and while he spoke little English he was happy to interpret our foolish-looking sign language.

There was not much to buy here in terms of snacks – luckily we bought most of our supplies earlier – but bottled water and basic biscuits can be found here. It would be a good idea to stock up on food and anything else you might have forgotten to bring, such as gloves, hats, scarves in Cemoro Lawang or the area near the park entrance. (If you haven’t paid as part of your package to have a cook who will prepare hot food at base camp, then just get some granola bars and water.)

Our lovely tour organizer Hafidz from Bromo Point Tour waved us off at Ranu Pane. He passed us our climbing permits (nobody checked them afterwards, just saying) and we embarked on our journey from the ‘post office’ in Ranu Pane.

Onward to an adventure!

The first two hours was a lot of plodding along a rather dense and humid tropical rainforest, that saw little light reaching the forest floor. The terrain was uneventful except for a few narrow parts that went through landslides sometime ago – it required extra caution to navigate. Apart from that, it was mostly flat with a handful of very short climbs. We peeked through the foliage and sometimes were rewarded with lovely views like this.

One with nature in this temperate forest!

It’s important to keep a close watch on the time since we were going for the 2D1N approach. We needed to reach Ranu Kumbolo – the lake / camping ground by 3pm to make good time. We arrived by 2.45pm so we had a couple minutes to chow down on some biscuits before moving off. It looks like a great place to build a little cabin hut and spend weeks doing nothing here. (But see this lake soon, it could disappear by 2025 due to silting from nearby vegetable farms. Link )

Ranu Kumbolo Lake

From Ranu Kumbolo, it would be another 2 to 3 hours before Kalimati Base Camp. Fortunately the trail was not very punishing either – not much steep slopes, mostly a soft and gentle walk through a beautiful forest.

My 'Into the Wild' moment here.

A great little ramble through nature’s greatest gifts before Kalimati Base Camp. I highly recommend just taking a few minutes to pause here and enjoy the silence… plus a first look at Mount Semeru.

And the vista opened up...

When the vista opened up and I saw this, I just about fainted. The thought of having to scale this in a few hours’ time gave me huge knots in the stomach, but mostly I felt this huge surge of adrenaline. Especially when I saw the poof of white for the first time. It was strange. It was very silent. It was amazing.

Night was coming fast. We hurried to settle ourselves down at Kalimati Base Camp. It was a clearing that was mostly flat with no trees and strategically ‘placed’ bushes that served as our toilet in nature. There was a rundown concrete roofed structure where another group has already set up ‘camp’ – no tents needed for them as it was already sheltered – and they made a bonfire inside to keep warm. We were outside, exposed to the elements, and as soon as the last ray of light went out, the temperature plummeted to below 10°C.

 

 

Our lovely porters pitching the tents for us..

Our porters carried our sleeping bags and tents to the base camp, after which they will wait for us to return from Mahameru summit and join us in going back to Ranu Pane. We ate a quick dinner and rested in the tents, trying not to freeze too much.

We could barely sleep since the ground was not a conducive sleeping environment. So we got up at around 11.30pm and decided to get a head start. It was pitch dark and our only salvation was torch lights. Headlights and gloves are highly recommended as later on we would be scrambling on all fours. A walk through a winding path in the forest lasted 45 minutes and then it was onward to the summit attack.

Climb organizers dubbed this portion the Summit Attack for a reason. It was nothing short of vicious. It was freezing cold the moment I stopped to catch my breath, which felt like every other minute, and there was only one way – up. Turning around to go down was next to impossible as I could not see a thing except my own hands and the ground directly before me.

It was three steps up and two steps down the whole way since the scree was powdery dry and gave way under the shoes almost as soon as I put my foot down. One way to gain ground fast would be to build momentum and practically ‘run’ up, but since it was quite steep – some people say 30 degrees – and the air rather thin here, so failing to gain much distance demoralized me fast. It was 80% mental and 20% physical by this point. There was also a lot of inhaling ash but I could not care less. By now, I was letting the adrenaline do all the work!

The final stretch was really surreal. There were some local guys sleeping behind giant rocks that shielded them from the bitterly frigid wind – they were already there since hours ago just awaiting the sunrise. I accidentally stumbled past their legs – for a morbid second I thought they had frozen to death (!!!) – and suddenly they all woke up from their slumber and scrambled to be in time for the sunrise.

At Mahameru Summit - extremely cold and too tired to think

The sun was starting to rise at around 4.30am. (Please check the sunrise time when you climb so you’ll be in time.) The tell-tale glow from the horizon was urging everyone to hurry up and get to the top. By now I have forgotten to check my watch. I was just happy to be alive and standing on the summit – Mahameru “the Great One”. It was sometime after 5.

These revered slopes drew sweat, blood and tears but it was worth all the while to say the least. And there was the crowd, waiting with bated breath for the eruption to happen. At irregular intervals of around 20 to 45 minutes there was a spectacular show of massive clouds spewing up from a neighbouring crater. If you could stand the cold, you might want to hang out on the top for a while longer.

Not us. We were freezing our hair off. So a couple pictures and we were going back down.

Gulp.

On our way back to Cemoro Lawang, everyone was dozing off in the Jeep, clearly exhausted, as the beautiful late afternoon light transformed the landscape into shades of amber, gold and bronze. In the distance, a couple of vents oozed smoke into the blue skies. Batteries flat, I watched, feeling dazed. Unreal. And already dreaming about the next volcano. ♥

 

Our 2D1N Itinerary:

Day Zero
Arrive in Cemoro Lawang from Surabaya, go see Bromo and get your supplies in order.
See my previous post about seeing Bromo for sunset, not sunrise.

Day One

8am – Travel from Cemoro Lawang (Bromo) to Ranu Pane, via Teletubbies Hill & Whispering Sands
11am – Early Lunch at Ranu Pane
12pm – Start at Ranu Pane village
3pm – Rest at Ranu Kumbolo (lake and camp site)
6pm – Set up camp , dinner and rest at Kalimati Base Camp

Day Two
12am – Summit attack
5am- Arrive at Mahameru summit
6am – Descend back to Base Camp
9am – Reach Base Camp, Pack up and rest
10am – Head back to Ranu Pane
4pm – Reach Ranu Pane village
5pm – Dinner and rest
7pm – Travel back to Surabaya (3.5 hour drive at least)

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