Volcanolovers in Indonesia
Trip to Merbabu
By Handjono Suwono, Phil Salvador, Yuvid Rastianto, Redo Waworuntu
April 2007 – The lights of Gambir station quickly receded as the Argo Anggrek train glided towards Semarang in that cool night. By 21:30 the eyes of the 11 climbers have become heavy after the long afternoon in the Kartini-day celebration. The late dinner call at 00:30 did not wake most of us. The lights in Semarang were still lit when we arrived by 4:30. Half an hour later, by dusk we left the century old beautiful Tawang railway station riding across waking-up Semarang, passing the gorgeous Blenduk Church, and awesome Lawang-Sewu which is said to be the head-quarter of local spirits.
An hour drive to the student city of Salatiga, and off we stepped at Pasar Sapi Lama, into the infamous Warung Gudeg Koyor Bu Sukini. Do not miss it for it is one of the most famous gudeg junctions in Indonesia. Kopeng was only 30 minutes away from Salatiga but already chilly at 1000m. The Mount Merbabu north-base-camp of Tekelan is only 2km away through a narrow street of unconsolidated stones. There we did the final planning for the climbing.
By 9:50 we left the Tekelan base-camp and marched towards the summit. After 2 hours of relatively tame track to the 1800m altitude, the real ascent gradually began. Some 60 degrees slopes were already a little bit exhausting although the vertical heights of the ascent were not very torturing yet but an hour later we found out that the lunch bags had been carried through a different track by the porters. Luckily we could find slices of breads, cheese, dried meat, cakes and fruits in our bags.
The humid air very soon became chilly once we stopped for some breath. For the unaware ones, the tall grasses looked inviting for a lie-down but very soon your back would be wet and you would feel painfully cold. The last rays of the sun were a luxury to dry our damp clothes. When the twilight quickly came, we walked on the rim and looked at God’s beautiful painting in the sky. Sun-set ray reflections and clouds below made us realized that human beings are only one small part of the universe. But very soon the darkness took over. Now the headlamps must be lit for we did not want to tumble down the slopes. A few meters ascent was very precious especially when warm clothes and foods were scarce. Fortunately the moon and thousands of stars in the clear sky accompanied us to the summit. Not a full moon but bright enough to light the spirits of the hungry and cold.
At 2500m we decided to camp, for the team was already exhausted due to cold and hunger. The late dinner was at the same time a gathering around the crackling fire. No one wanted to be too far away from the fire. There was not really an appetite teasing one under the sky at 10 degrees C, but the night was really fine. The lights of the villages spread over the foot of the mountain and further east the yellow lights of Salatiga city lamps gave a sense of warmth from the distance.
Early morning, we had a pushed-though-the throats breakfast of instant noodle, eggs and apples. Luckily the hot sweet tea did the job. Then, again the 11 climbers marched towards the summit.
Despite the dim moonlight our headlamps still worked hard when we left the camp site for the summit by 4:00. Indeed, the ascent to the summit was an epic climb. The final part to the summit was overall a steep 3 hours mix of rock and wet soil, but we managed thanks to our grip soles. With the headlamps we negotiated the demanding ascent, sometimes close to 90 degrees slopes. The vertical heights were also sometimes very high and fist-size stones sometimes rolled down after being stepped on by our limp feet. Surprisingly the early morning march was not too cold.
The closer to summit the steeper the ascent, until the final approach, where a tough negotiation must be made between us and a 20cm wide, uneven stone path. The path’s left edge is towards a curving gorge and the right edge is vertical rock. Not a real bottomless abyss, but the inexperienced climbers among us felt like instant heroes upon safely passing it. Another 60-80 degrees long torturing slope to the summit, followed by a “bonus” of relatively leveled track, and there we were, at the Kenteng-Sanga summit. The 9 holed stone blocks on this summit were filled with water, not ice, so we knew it was fine for some of us to test our endurance by taking off our jackets. How were the stones so precisely holed and brought up there, only God knows. We followed the relatively gentle track to the tallest summit of the mighty Mount Merbabu that is only 100 meters away from Kenteng-Sanga summit.
The 3152m summit of Merbabu was windy and chilly that Sunday morning. The sky was clear, the sun gleamed on the serene summit welcoming the 11 climbers. Now look to the north-west, Mount Sumbing – Sindara and Dieng Plateu are looming in the distance. Sumbing’s summit is far away but smiling and trying to convince us that it is as beautiful as Merbabu’s. To the north are Mount Telamaya and Ungaran, with Rawapening Lake lying vaguely at their feet. To the south-east is the shy Mount Lawu saying hello to us amidst the white clouds.
And finally turn your stiff neck to the south where the furious Mount Merapi was still smoking gently, its fumes blown by the wind to the west. The white tip of the summit looked so clear from where we stood that we wondered if projectiles could reach us should it erupt just then.
The summit experience was like a dish of nasi-gudeg after a hard day’s work, fulfilling and wiping out all the sweat like a glass of hot java coffee. It was really a breath-taking view and we decided it was beyond compare, not to mention the heroic sensation after the hunger and cold. Stand a little distance from the crowd and you would feel the serenity, as if you had been there carving the holed stones thousands years ago in a different life.
Reluctance spread amongst the 11 heroes when the time came for us to descend back to civilization, for it was a well earned climb and we could endlessly record the sensational views with our cameras. However, if we stayed much longer we would be too late for the trip back home.
The 6 hours descent was not easy for the 11 of us, neither for the more experienced half or the less experienced one. In the first 2 hours of descent some 60 degrees steep and 100m high slopes were encountered, not to mention the treacherous water gorges that were eager to swallow the feet of the less cautious ones. Tactics? Strategy was even needed when you descend those slopes without wanting to torture your toes, knees and thighs. Gradually we took off our warm clothes for the chill turned into warmth. There was no shade along the track at first, only bushes and burnt trees. Fortunately, at the 2000m altitude mark young trees and occasional old trees gradually shaded the tracks. There must have been a forest once upon a time over there.
At 14:30 on that cloudy Sunday afternoon the last pair of hikers finally arrived at the Mount Merbabu southern-base-camp in the Selo village. We felt decidedly like heroes for it was an epic journey to the mighty Merbabu (3152m). For many of us it was counted as one of great experiences in our life.
CopiPanas – Volcanolovers in Indonesia
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