THE FOREST SYMPHONY
After the epic hike, my relationship with Mount Dempo is love and hate. The summit serenity and beauty are the ones I love from Mount Dempo. Then the black monkeys symphony and the playful squirrel are the exciting experiences I do not get in Java. Actually I also love the difficult ascent for it gave me the feeling of strength. Then what I hate? The terrible and torturing descent.
Palembang – Pagaralam (300 km, 7 hours)
Palembang was smoggy when we flew over it. The smog smell squeezes our lungs as we left the airport towards the city center. By 17:30 we crossed the famous Ampera bridge over the Musi river towards Kertapati sub-urban direction south west to Pagaralam. The city was so congested you thought you were in Jakarta.
The traffic was slow along the flat terrain and well paved highway. Dinner was ok in Cambai Jaya Padang Restaurant near Prabumulih town, the oil district of South Sumatra. Finished at 20:30 then on we rode to Pagaralam through the towns of Muaraenim and Lahat. The road was less congested after Prabumulih as many turned left towards Lampung. Muaraenim at 10:30 was quiet, so was Lahat at midnight. Some young motorists roared along the warm yellow lighted city streets.
After Lahat gradually the road changed to become zig-zag and ascending. Villages are scarce and the midnight darkness engulfed the dim lights from one or two other vehicles. Closer to Pagaralam the road became more and more snaky then appeared a stocky built steel bridge over a deep gorge. The script on the cliff says “Selamat Datang Di Pagaralam Kota Perjuangan”.
Pagaralam – Villa Besemah (15 km, ½ hours)
From the town center we turned left passing the market. Wide road, bright lighting and then steeply ascending route brought us to the state tea factory complex. A little more uphill along the meandering narrow road, then we arrived at Villa Besemah at 1:30 morning. Short conversations then the 4 wary hikers fell asleep in the warm large room.
Villa Besemah – Pintu Rimba
Breakfast was long and continued with waiting for the truck that would bring us to Kampung-4 the vehicle ride end. Some 30’ ride, then we stopped at the last warung and re-packed our stuffs. By 9:00 we started the hike towards the Pintu Rimba.
Pintu Rimba (1825 m) – Shelter 1 (2170 m)
The morning of 30/9/2011 was cloudy and the famous Mount Dempo view was not seen from the tea estate road. The sound of the symphony from the forest was quite clear and became stronger when we walked slowly towards the Pintu Rimba. The turn to the Pintu Rimba from the tea road was not obvious. It was just an entry to tea bushes rows like the others.
After 10 minutes walk along the tea bushes the Pintu Rimba appeared like a real door for behind it the thickness of the forest was quite obvious. Among the writings one says “Do not continue hiking if you are having menstruation”.
Very soon the trek became narrow and steep. Amidst the dry season the wet soil was not totally wet but nowhere dry. A little slippery, soon the trek offered the “model training place” because it was like a deep dry sewer only enough for 1 foot. Afterwards some short leveled strip of 2 – 3 meters and then steep ascent again. There were several those “model training place” but they were ok.
The symphony of the monkeys accompanied our journey, then gradually the trek became more difficult with vertical ascents of 1 meter sometimes more. We had to hold on roots and sometimes grasses to lift ourselves up. Niches are useful for intermediate stepping spots, but sometimes there were none. Good sole grips are very useful as well as arms strength. We started to think about the descent.
At 12:00 o’clock after 3 hours of hike appeared the Shelter 1 amidst the tall trees. Some 50 meters to the right, there was it, the black monkeys headquarter. The sounds of the black monkeys were loud. Different pitches, melodies and strength, all together they made up the forest symphony that we interpreted as a welcome hymn for us.
To the same direction is a fresh water spring but the drips are small so you would need many minutes to fill in a 600 ml bottle.
Shelter 1 (2170 m) – Shelter 2 (2640 m)
Very soon after Shelter 1 the trees became denser and the cold crept under our wet nylon shirts. You do not want to wear cotton shirt when hiking on the mountain because it loves your sweat and wants to keep it forever. Nylon, polyester and their cousins let go sweat.
The trek became really tough with the vertical ascents. Like climbing deteriorated ladders with slippery steps. You have to test a sticking root before you hold on it, for some are not strong enough. There was one vertical ascent of 5 meters with slippery steps you would not make it without courage and focus. They call it “The Cupboard Wall”.
Two hours already passed and the black monkey symphony was not heard anymore but the torturing trek seemed like endless. Shortly after the Cupboard Wall we spotted a sign on a large diameter tree “Shelter 2” but our happiness soon vanished when we read the complete script that says “1 Jam Menuju Shelter 2” with an arrow directing us towards the west. It meant “1 Hour To Shelter 2”.
A 1 – 2 minutes break then we continued our hike along the routines of steep straight hike, vertical ascent. There was the advantage of a person with flexible body. Legs were often lifted straight over hip level. Strong arm and hand grip were also important to keep yourself standing up not to make yourself belly up or back up. If you were an ex ballet dancer or acrobat, definitely you would enjoy the trek more than I did.
The strenuous trek was endless but then around 15:00 appeared the Shelter 2. The plain was actually small, a little more than half of badminton field. Some 20 meters away to the right or north direction there was a water stream where you could fill up your half empty bottles. The flow was strong enough you could hear it from the Shelter 2 main.
There we took a long rest to have our late lunch. The fog that has been lingering above the forest since the morning after wetted the soil and everything on it. The cold air of the height made me wearing my sweater. I still saved my warmer trousers for the late afternoon chill, so by 16:00 we resumed our hike towards the summit. It was supposed to be 2 more hours.
Shelter 2 (2610 m) – Dempo Peak (3070 m)
For some moments the sun shone over the trees and I really expected a warmer afternoon. But it did not last long and the fog soon came back like wanting to accompany us to the summit. The forest was still quite dense, so the cold was really hugging our bodies.
We walked faster to warm ourselves when the sky was already darker, and a short break to return our breaths was enough to chill us. Then the trees became sparser and shorter and the area was more open. The soil we stepped on changed to rock and some places were wet with water perhaps seeping from beneath. The preserved forest really keeps the water under the ground. No wonder water was available at Shelters 1 and 2.
By 18:30 appeared the “Cadas” (Rock) sign board on a tall tree and shortly afterwards we took a long break to sip hot drinks. Also waited for the other team members who were left behind a little while. Then by 19:30 we resumed our hike to be surprised 15 minutes later for the Dempo Peak campsite was actually very close from the point we rested.
The fog slowly went away after the strong wind swept. But gradually the wind became storm and we had to struggle to erect the tents. The larger tent particularly was very difficult and 4 of us worked together erecting it. Pinned down to earth, then there you went. The ones with less cold tolerance quickly slipped into it and then into the sleeping bags. Some were still outside amidst the stormy wind and even cooked dinner. The warmed rice and canned fish were real delicious and returned our energy. Not a strange story, but you know it that on a volcano summit under whatever weather, whatever we have for dinner it always tastes delicious.
The crescent moon accompanied the wary hikers. She waved her hand from the distance and ensured us the sky would stay dry until the day after. Thanks mother nature. Then the hot ginger closed the unforgettable evening and one by one the hikers ceded into the tents.
Dempo Peak (3070 m) – Merapi Peak (3150 m)
The night on the Dempo peak actually was not very quite for the storm hit our tent and made the noise. I envied them who were not disturbed and snored. I changed position 180° and then slowly participated in the snoring party.
The sky was already bright at 6:00 o’clock when we got up. We were late because we said we would be ready for Merapi Peak by 5:00 but we did not. The steep ascents along the trek, the storm and the serenity of the Dempo Peak really deceived us from early bird wake up. After a quick light breakfast of biscuits and coffee we descended to the Plataran Valley.
The Plataran Valley (plataran = front yard) welcomed us with the chilly wind sweeping from the east. The descent was around 15 minutes crossing a short trek of steep ground with many exposed roots of tall bushes.
The valley is supposed to be better for a night camping for it is actually vast with many bushes, some short trees, water spring and an open place for ceremony. A red-and-white flag, our Indonesia national flag was waving handsomely on the far west of the valley yard, swept by the easterly wind. Overall the Plataran Valley must be good for hundreds of tents if not thousands.
Crossing the Plataran was quick, then 5 minutes later we ascended to the steep rocks of Merapi Peak. I took a zig-zag approach to save my breath and 20 minutes later we found ourselves over there on the Merapi Peak of G Dempo.
Quickly we crossed the 10 meters wide rim and peeked over to the Merapi crater down below. Must be around 150 meters from the rim as it looked deep. The water was greenish with vague smokes from its perimeters. The porters said the color changes, sometimes grayish sometimes brownish. I am glad when they said greenish is good sign.
As the sun was getting higher, the wind also blew stronger and luckily the fog was away. To the southeast is the Bukitbarisan mountain range and to the west supposedly the Indian Ocean shore but it was blocked by low land clouds. Off course we enjoyed the closer southeast view, the Plataran Valley with the bushes and the RI flag at the far west end where the hikers usually camp and celebrate RI Independence Day.
By 8:00 we descended to Plataran Valley and then ascended back to the campsite for real breakfast and re-packing. While breakfast was warm and nice, consisting of nasi-goreng, noodle and bakso, re-packing as usual was not very interesting. Sad to leave the summit serenity. Then by 10:00 sharp we saluted the summit guards and then marched down to the Pintu Rimba.
Dempo Summit – Village
As we thought, the descent was not easy. In fact it was a lot more difficult than the ascent, as we had to watch for everything. Our steps, our heads (not to hit low horizontal branches), gorges, lichen, water puddle, slippery shale soil, weak roots, tall grasses (you would think they are good to step on then you found yourself stumbled). Then measure our legs length if they could reach the lower part of the vertical descent.
Arriving at Shelter 2 by around 12:00 was already a relief but the exhaustion started to slowly attack us. Short break only, poured our water from the summit to the ground and replaced it with Shelter 2 water. The summit water was sulfuric, Shelter 2 water was really fresh and nice. Then we marched on without lunch towards Shelter 1. There the most difficult part of the descent on Mount Dempo. The true vertical descents for them with long legs were difficult but not severe. Shorter legs, if complimented with weak shoulder and inflexible limbs, really made it tough. No way we could remember where were the locations of the foot steps. Therefore we frequently had to guess and sometimes slipped then depend on our arms and shoulders strengths.
The endless vertical drops, when you take a break and look far ahead, they make you nervous if not desperate. Really-really steep, much steeper than any forest trek I did before. Meanwhile the sweat from our bodies wetted our shirts and our heads like we walked under the rain.
It was 15:00 when we got to Shelter 1. An ½ hours break of light lunch, together with some students from Palembang who then returned to the base-camp for some reasons. The descent was not quicker than the ascent particularly for this leg of the trek. Three hours up and the same down. Now you imagine how tough it was.
From Shelter 1 the trek was somewhat easier with a lot less vertical drops but the steep and slippery curves plus fallen tree trunks also exhausted the wary Jakarta hikers. However, after the bone breaking vertical drops along Shelter 2 – Shelter 1 leg, the Shelter 1 – Pintu Rimba leg was like a play ground. Even the narrow water-line that easily could make you stumble looked ok.
By 17:00 Pintu Rimba appeared suddenly and then the open area of the mixed bushes of tea and other flora. The 15 minutes walk from Pintu Rimba to the tea estate road seemed endless for we longed the warm and nice seats in the car that would take us to Kampung 4 warung then Villa Besemah. We were so happy when spotting pak Anton, the driver and his car were ready over there waiting for us.
The last sunray of the bright dusk slowly ceded in the far west behind Mount Dempo. The summit gradually became a silhouette, darker and then unseen anymore. But the symphony of the black-monkeys was still loud from where we sat, they said good-bye and sent you warm regards.