Every mountain is unique, that is what volcano lovers say. Mount Ciremai (3078m) is also different from the others, at least the way I anticipated our climbing. I heard stories about its eeriness, so tense I was somewhat groggy when encountered strange things in the villages.
Leaving Jakarta on Friday August 14, 2009, the traffic was light at 17:00. By 19:00 in Bandung, we directly drove to Sambal Dadak, the superb Sundanese restaurant a few minutes exiting the toll road. Afterwards, the ride to Majalengka via Sumedang was somewhat slow due to narrow, winding and busy road.
Sumedang, the nationally famous tahu (tofu) town of West Java was already preparing its rest, and 1 hour later, Majalengka was already quiet by 21:30, so we passed it quickly. It was good to see more lights in this retirees town now, than 7 years ago. At the south end of the sleeping town, we were directed by an extraordinarily kind bapak to take the right turn to Maja. His presence at the junction was a gift, because we would take the wrong direction to Cirebon otherwise. There were no sign at the major junction at the south-end of Majalengka. The small town Maja was livelier by 22:00. Our Kijang turned left and very soon the climb started along the narrow country road. It was paved nicely until a few km before the junction where we should have taken the straight direction to the east. Instead we turned left and lost our way, despite the GPS direction. After an hour and a midnight-door-knocking we found the right way. Thanks to the kind bapak & ibu who got up from their bed and whole-heartedly told us the right direction.
Another village, we stopped and almost decided to give up the night for it was already 00:30. I knocked a door and the man was totally nasal. He tried his best but I could not understand him. So we continued to the next village, fortunately it was Apuy. No one was around for it was almost 1:00 am. Suddenly a door was slammed open and a man ran out of from the house like lightning. We just did not get it, but we did not worry too long. We decided to sleep in the mosque. The gate and the door were not locked, so there we went in and spent the rest of night.
The small village of 1200m altitude was quiet although the sunray has been bright. We had some coffee in a small warung down the street. The main street in Apuy was narrow like the other villages in West Java. In the dry season like August, the dust easily flies when people walk fast or motorcycles roam.
We were shown pak Ubuh’s house in a small lane opposite the mosque. Pak Ubuh’s house was the most modern building in the village. We had our breakfast over there, packed our stuffs and then waited for the pickup car that would take us to Pos-1. There are 2 roads from Apuy to Pos-1 that were accessible with car but the shorter route was really bad at that time we had to take the longer route. But it turned to be a blessing in disguise.
Apuy to Pos-1
By 9:15 we left pak Ubuh’s house on the back of the pickup car. The Mitsubishi L-300 was superbly powerful and right for the road to Pos-1 that was winding uphill along the steep farmlands on the hills of Apuy. The road was narrow and at parts having deep potholes. The pickup driver was really a match to those famous world class auto rally drivers. We did not worry a bit albeit the should-be-scary cliffs at our right side. The views along the route were top class. Mostly vegetable, the steep hills of 60° slope had been transformed from woods to farmlands. One rocky hill was standing proudly ahead of the main road, with hundred meters valley down below nesting the locally famous Curug-Apuy (Apuy-Waterfall).
After many turns we spotted the Tenjomulya village which was famous for its wealth. The village was only of 50 houses but all of them were of concrete. The roofs were even gradually replaced by flat concrete spreads. Thanks to the successful onion farming over there.
The road became very narrow across the village, the driver had to negotiate the winding and just-enough passages between the houses side walls. Not to mention the steep ascents. Outsiders are recommended to hire the local rally experts for passing the road.
Then gradually the view changed to pine woods that were different from the other places. The pine trees, many of them were not straight upward but curving like buckled columns. Some passes were very difficult to cross due to road breaks, made us admire the driver more. Then the Pos-1 (Blok Arban 1600m altitude) suddenly materialized in front of us. It was a small plain with a roofed shelter and a small vegetable farm block. The dusty path ascending to Mount Ciremai peak started there.
Pos-1 to Pos-2
It was 10:30 when we started our hike to Pos-2. After the short dusty strip directly the trek entered the cool forest. The trees were tall and the leaves formed canopies. The sunrays could not dry our wet bodies so the cold gradually crept. The slope was fine, none was difficult and the path was clear. Very few obstacles, so the trek to Pos-2 was quite easy overall.
We arrived at Pos-2, 1900m at 11:30 and actually already felt the hunger. But Agus was not content with having lunch that soon, so we continued our hike to Pos-3 after a short rest.
Pos-2 to Pos-3
The trek to Pos-3 was still similar both in slope and clarity. The woods were still quite dense, so it was quite cold walking in the shade. Before Pos-3 we stopped at a square plain half a badminton field size. Lunch at 12:30, it was superb with the rice from Apuy and the mackerel fish. Having a short doze, afterwards we hiked again towards Pos-3.
The Pos-3 actually was not very clear for us what it was like. The porter said we passed it, so we took it for granted, meaning we hiked fast. Then approximately it was 13:30 when we passed Pos-3. So we did not really know what was the altitude of Pos-3.
Pos-3 to Pos-4
The woods were less dense when we approached Pos-4. The ascent was quite gentle with no really knee bending steep part. At a flat plain we saw a wooden board mark “Pos-4at 2600m” but we doubted it for our GPS still at 2400m. The wooden board was not secured on the tree but was only hung on a branch.
So we continued to Pos-4 and it was nice because the sun shined brightly warming and drying the wet bodies and shirts. When it was really becoming hot, we spotted a large tent from a distance. Then the Pos-4 appeared in front of us. We were not very sure but the Pos-4 wooden board and the GPS should be right because they were similar this time at 2600m. So we stopped and had a chat with the 2 campers who we wondered why they camped there at that time of the day.
From Pos-4 the milieu was clearer than before. Less trees and more bushes. Amidst the occasional wind chill the bright sunray was very warm and soothing. We sat, chatted and ate some dates (kurma). The sweet dry dried fruit was very quick in returning our spirits. We indeed ate more than usual because pak Ubuh told us the ascent to Pos-5, then Pos-6 and then to the Peak would be torturing. Some extra energy was mandatory, he said.
Pos-4 to Pos-5
By 15:00 we left Pos-4 and pak Ubuh was right, the ascent was steep but fortunately still manageable. Actually I experienced a strange thing. Suddenly after started the hike just after Pos-4, my right thigh cramped. I sat and Agus straightened my leg like what people normally do. Afterwards I stood and walked again but the cramp came again. After 3 times I sat, prayed and in heart apologized to the spirit over there if I said something nasty before. Believe it or not, when I stood the cramp vanished and I walked quickly like lightning. Agus asked me how come my thigh got well so quickly.
The open area from Pos-4 to Pos-5 was hot and the trek was dusty. The other 2 hikers did not want to walk closely behind me for the flying dust. The trek was good although quite steep. Some parts were stony, made good basis for quick hike. By 16:15 we reached Pos-5, if it was right. The area was already open with bushes everywhere. There was a sign directing hikers to Apuy and Palutungan. The plain was stony and there was only a small plot of camping site. We took a short rest at Pos-5 (2800m) and then hiked to Pos-6 where we wanted to camp.
Pos-5 to Pos-6
Pos-5 to Pos-6 was short, only less than 30’. Pos-6 was wide and allows us to camp at many places. Down below, there was the well known Goa Walet (Swallow Cave) where many hikers prefer to camp for it has water and is protected from the wind. The cave is located in a small valley actually.
There were already some tents in front of Goa Walet and we knew that Goa Walet is preferred for its lower and thus shielded location. So we decided to camp at Pos-6 just above Goa Walet. There was already 1 tent and we erected our tent nearby. The sky was bright at 17:00 and I was tempted to go up to the peak for it was so close. I figured it would be less than 30’. But I did not want to go up alone, so we stayed at Pos-6 enjoying the sunset.
Some other hikers arrived and joined us sitting around the campfire. Some even had not set their tents. For the evening was cold, the sky was clear, the stars were bright, the milky-way was waving but fortunately the wind was not blowing. The chats were lively starting with the exchange of Mount Ciremai routes conditions, other mountains, lives in the cities, Sundanese language lesson, hiking shoes quality, paraffin vs. gas, anything in our heads. Off course we shared tea, ginger and noodles. The hot ginger was the most wanted fluid overall. The distance was almost none amongst the hikers, only the thin air and the thick jackets. In hearts we were family.
By 21:00 we slipped into our sleeping bags. I did not want to, but the campfire became quieter for they went to their tents one by one and the morning after we would have to climb to the peak for sunrise and early descent to Palutungan. Agus actually enjoyed the chats in different way. He dozed by the campfire. Masood went into our tent earlier for the Sundanese chat must be difficult to follow. It was pass 23:00 when the campfire gathering became silent and everyone seemed to sleep.
Five am, Agus woke us up and very soon we sat around the campfire again for a quick breakfast. The trek to the peak was steep but not very difficult although it was still dark at 5:30. The loose sand was reinforced by the large rocks, so our steps were good and the edelweiss and grape bushes made good holding. Closer to the peak some spots were flat and some hikers camped there. It must be ice cold in the night although the bushes break the wind a little bit.
By 5:50 we reached the Mount Ciremai peak. There were we, the 3 musketeers at the lone magnificent peak of Mount Ciremai. The peak was actually a round crater rim. The rim was quite navigable and it was even possible to go down the crater through a 45° slanted crater wall at the southern side. The northern side was 90° steep and there was where the Linggarjati approach ends.
We walked to the south-east rim where a local prominence stands. The 5’ walk was nice, the trek passes Ciremai bushes that in other mountains we call blackberry or mountain-grape. Unfortunately the ripe grapes have been all eaten by the birds. The mighty Mount Slamet loomed in the distance right in the east, its foot was surrounded by white clouds. The magnificent sibling was backed up by the rising sun, the red morning sky was waiting for us to gaze and possibly a flight to have a breakfast over there. What a beautiful morning on the summit of Mount Ciremai peak. So beautiful I did not pay attention to Agus when he mentioned his GPS altitude. Finally I heard it was 3070m or something, but I did not really care for the serenity of the peak was just astonishing.
I reckon it was overall 7 hours from Apuy to the peak. After a while returned to where most hikers sat and chatted. On the way back we enjoyed the scenery to the south and west. The southern Cikijing plain was quite visible with the large Waduk Darma and the smaller Situ Panjalu. Those 2 lakes were blue from the distance not green like what I saw from their shores years before.
To the west, prominently Mount Cakrabuana dominated the arena for its perfectly sharp peak. I figured it must be only for few people only to stand on the peak. Mount Sawal was standing nearby a little east alike guarding the Mount Cakrabuana at the hilly Malangbong area north of Tasikmalaya town. They looked low for they are around 1700m high. But they looked great, for sure. Some lesser peaks to the west, then further west suddenly my eyes caught on the 3 mighty peaks. You could not mistake them with the others for their distinct shapes. Mount Gede and Pangrango was proudly overseeing all the West Java mountains to their east. Mount Pangrango protruded proudly with its sharp summit. The 2 siblings were actually backed up by the silently laying Mount Salak a little further west. The 3 peaks were the warm surprise in the chilly morning at the peak of Mount Ciremai. For I did not expect spotting them from so great a distance.
We joined Masood who chatted with the boys from Cirebon. They spoke Bahasa Indonesia, which is not a surprise because Masood is already capable of speaking it. The communication really was cheerful because of the same interests. Then there they were, the Apuy kids who climbed Mount Ciremai by themselves including camping at the peak. Yes, they were 8 four graders in the solid superb team. Only 4 graders, not even a single teenager.
Time to descent, as usual it was a little sad because Ciremai peak was so beautiful and peaceful. But time does not wait, so there were we, marching down to Pos-6 where our porters waited with the real breakfast.
The Descent to Palutungan
The re-packing was slow, so it was almost 8:00 when we were ready. Agus and me went down to Goa Walet for a peek. The Goa Walet was horizontally shallow but quite large. The horizontal depth was some 20m, the height was also some 20m. There was a small pool where water drops accumulate. Some hikers repacked their stuffs in front of the cave.
We climbed up to the main trek, and then descended to the Palutungan junction in about 10’. Many hikers were ascending to the Pos-6, then we turned left to the steep dusty trek downhill. The trek to Palutungan is approximately 9.5km from the peak, 1.5km longer than the Apuy trek. The Palutungan trek then should be less gruesome due to steepness.
The steep part of the Palutungan route was not long. After 1 hour the trek became less and less steep. On the way down we came across so many hikers climbing up for RI Independence Day Celebration, 17 Agustus, the next day. Those energetic young lads, many of them have climbed Ciremai already several times from different routes. I envy their enthusiasm, courage and energy ………….
Down to Pos-5, we took a short rest of 10’ sitting under the woods canopy. It was still cold at Pos-5, which was less than 1 hour from Pos-6. Another different thing from other mountains, the edelweiss bushes do not exist (or were not spotted) already at ± 2800m. At Rinjani, the edelweiss cut-off was 2000m.
Pos-4 was also almost 1 hour of dusty leveled trek. We could feel it that the trek to Palutungan was not quite straight but somewhat winding. Not so severe, however we knew then that it would take more time to reach Palutungan. Meanwhile the dust along the trek was notorious. Many hikers going up cover their mouths and noses with scarves. The hiker teams sizes varied from 3 to 20, and most of them were from either Kuningan, Cirebon or Majalengka. One team was from Bandung and another from as far as Magelang – a lot closer to Mount Merbabu, Merapi, Sindara and Sumbing.
Pos-3 was wide without shelter like the other posts. And like the other posts, at Pos-3 there were many hikers rested. Again we did not stop but continued to Pos-2. The trek was easy so we did not need long rests to ease our knees. It was already around 11:00 and the warmth of the lowland has been felt by us, the sleepy slow walkers.
Between Pos-3 and Pos-2 the hikers were even more abundant. I warned them to hurry for the peak is still far away. The mostly leveled trek made me sleepier, so when resting at Pos-2 I tried to sleep for a while but I could not. The hunger was stronger, so I had my light lunch of canned potatoes and beef. There was Emergency Team Station at Pos-2 in anticipation of accidents amongst the thousands of hikers. God bless the noble-hearted volunteers …………..
By 12:10 we left Pos-2 and marched down to Pos-1 where there is plenty of spring water. Our pace was fast, hoping for some face and neck washing at Pos-1. The dust along the trek covered our exposed skins and off course clothes.
Pos-1 (Cigowong) was indeed close. A little more than 30’ later we spotted the roof top of the huts at Pos-1. Spotting the water stream, we raced towards the cold water to wash our faces, necks and hands. I drank it a lot too. The water tasted so good …………. Then a long rest at one of the 2 warungs, where we had our light lunches again. There were so many hikers at Pos-1 it looked like a play-ground. And some trail-motorbikes were parked over there.
We descended to Palutungan by 13:30 and found out even more dust on the leveled trek, and it was hot like being at the beach. The breaks after Pos-1 were not for exhaustion but for thirst. An hour later the woods ended and the vegetation changed to farming crops. It was about 15’ when the paved narrow lane of Palutungan materialized in front of us.
The Palutungan village was small and clean with vegetable crops here and there. In fact the houses were built among vegetable farm plots. Pity that the plots turned into houses. Some other hikers were gathering in the basecamp, I figured they were about to climb up to the peak. Northern wise, the sky was dark like ready for raining. We did not spend much time at Palutungan. Quickly we loaded the Kijang car with our bags and rode to the main road for Cirebon then Jakarta. Goodbye Mount Ciremai, see you sometimes in the future, from a distance …………