In the Darkness of Mount Sundoro
Mount Sundoro (3136 M) in Central Java is situated in the vicinity of famous Dieng Plateau. This mountain is usualy associated with her sister, Mount Sumbing (3371 M). Sundoro, Sumbing and Dieng Plateau can be conveniently reached from beautiful Wonosobo City.
Two pm March 20, 2008 when I called Tri, the young engineer, and she answered in a blue tone that they were still in Cirebon 13 hours of ride from Jakarta. The main road from Jakarta to Cirebon was congested like a clogged sewer, allowing the unfortunate bus riders to sleep indefinitely. Indeed they should have arrived in Wonosobo 9 hours earlier but Cirebon is still at least 3 hours away from Wonosobo, if the traffic was kind. The porters were uneasy and wondered if we would even make it to make the start from Sigedang that rainy afternoon.
It was 20:00 pm and Sigedang was already dark and I was already half asleep when the cars arrived. There we were, 3 wary of waiting all day long, 8 stiffened by the bus seats after 18 hours of struggle from Jakarta. By 21:00 the full moon shyly smiles above the 11 delighted climbers. The 18 hours bus episode was already left behind. The march from Sigedang was quick, we were led by the gentle porters and the path was shiny lit by the moonlight amidst wet tea plantation.
Post 1 is actually a tea-weighing shelter. Pretty close from our start-point, it must be less than 1 hour but the stop was a little bit extended due to acclimatization need, for some of us were new to high altitude breathing. But I also believe the happiness was actually the main reason. We laughed a lot. Then the trek gradually adds its slope. The slope’s rate of change was quick, unfortunately, so our breaths were quick amidst the clear field of Mount Sundoro’s hip.
Post 2 was quickly reached in about 1 hour from Post 1 and we started to see from above, the green bushes sparse trees. I think it must be the tea-limit, where the tea plantation ends. But Post 2 is still a tea-weighing shelter like Post 1. In the day it must be hot and steamy walking in such an open area. That is why we were always advised to start climbing in the evening to avoid the stinging high altitude sunray. From Post 2 we could already feel the stiffness of our leg muscles as the ascend was steep. Perhaps 60° at places but certainly not less than 45° in average. Luckily it was night when we started and the sky was so clear with only thin mist in the air. Do not drop, oh rain, for we would possibly turn our back from the peak direction for fear of falling down. The trek was straight, frank and open like a very honest friend. Refreshing but the steep trek was not smoothened with a turn-left-up-turn-right-up type ascend. It was just straight to the peak passing another shelter that must be Post 3. I did not stop very long for the cold has started to creep in my shirt.
Dinner packs were distributed to us by the porters and we ate them amidst the chill on 2300 M around 1:00. Already March 21, 2008. I think it must have been <15° because I had to wear my sweater already. By 2:00 we were already on 2,500 M. We should, because the magnificent 2,500 M Mount Prahu was looming up north, its peak was about our eye level. Breaths taking view to the Mount Prahu and Dieng complex, with the crater fumes blown in the wind and the yellowish lights of Dieng village twinkling brightly. So clear was the view, we felt like wanting to throw a stone over the valley to the mighty Dieng plateau.
Resting once a while was nice for a minute or two but very soon the wet backs of our aging bodies became very cold. The 12°C air was not very compromising for a sweater wrapped sweat-wet body and no gloves. The trek was steep enough by then, looking back made me a little scared. Falling down would be a matter of quick grab to a bush, otherwise the way to the bottom of the valley was quite straight.
Then a few part of vegetated strips on 2700 M – 2800 M, where we saw a tent on a very narrow plot, with some clothes hanging on a tree branch. No sound, no light and no intention to disturb, so marched we on to the peak. Actually we wanted very much to get the share of the warmth in the tent while waiting for the sun to rise but we decided not to.
By 5:00 I was so sleepy I wanted to stop and sleep, but the terrain was so sloped I could barely sit. Then by 5:15 I tried my luck with a 5’ – 10’ sleep half-standing-half-sitting. It must be some 60° slope, but I do not care. As long as I could close my eyes and doze. The moon became paler, it must be dawn and the sense of warmth suddenly arouse with the vague sunlight far away in the east. We marched again with the spirit of “already-close”, and were completely right. Three tents suddenly appeared amongst the bushes, we thought they must be some people else’s but the guys greeted us and confirmed that they were the porters who were waiting for us because they left Sigedang earlier to prepare the tents and the meals. The best thing was that it was the peak. Great, for now it is time to sleep. It was 5:30 in the morning, already warm and the peak was only frequented by us. No other climbers. We realized then, that en-route to the peak we did not see other climbers.
After a quick doze we explored the peak and found out that Mount Sundoro peak is a flat and about a soccer field wide. To the south and west it has wider plots. In the middle there is a 50 M deep dormant crater with a small pool in it. From the east rim there is a path to the crater bottom. The crater is about the half of the peak plot. Not totally barren, the peak is vegetated with 2 M tall bushes. The north-west part of the peak was a muddy sand field, where there was a non-permanent monument of 20 cm round stones put together making a circle with a heap of some larger stones in the center. It adds the serenity feeling of the peak, which was occupied by us on that cloudy morning.
Look north, there is Dieng mountains with Mount Prahu dominating the scene. A little closer the jealous Mount Kembang is looming lonely just at the Mount Sundoro foot. Can’t really see Mount Slamet clearly for it was cloudy in the west.
Breakfast was hot and luxurious with a lot of rice, chicken, eggs, sausages and vegetables. Add a little chilly and ketchup, they make the world smiling in that glorious morning. The big breakfast was slowly coming into our stomachs with a sense of victory after the long night along the steep trek to the Mount sundoro peak. Victory against ourselves, not against the mighty Mount Sundoro and nature. Indeed that is what we always feel when standing proudly on the peaks of mountains and hills.
After a warm sleep under the tents – well, some actually slept under the warm sky – by 11:00 we marched across the peak to the south for the descent. Just a few second, and the rain dropped heavily. Luckily I already wore my raincoat after feeling some tiny splash of water on my skin. Very soon we encountered the wet unconsolidated stones of Mount Sundoro’s hip. They were so loose we had to take care doubly. The march down was quite slow amidst the rain. Not totally out of vegetation, but the trail down must have been very hot without the rain.
From the peak to Post 3, it was a 3 hours of torture to the knees for the steep descent and the impact of the loose stones. Then the trail became less steep but the stones were just there along the trail. Mount Sundoro is really a stone mountain, my friends. It was already 14:00 and the cloud was still hanging low, side by side with the mist over Mount Sumbing. We could only get a glance at the mighty Mount Sumbing’s peak tip. Then disappearing again, covered by the cotton-white mist. It was actually a disappointment because looking south to Mount Sumbing while descending would have been a terrifying experience. Must be like gliding slowly down for an uphill run, but this time a little tougher than talking. And Mount Merbabu must be there also in the south, but the cloud just did not let us enjoy them.
Some short stops en route, still under the cold shower. The stones gradually were compromised by the wet soil, made us sliding once and a while. Post 2 was a dilapidated shelter with only half of its roof in place. The shower only spared us a little. Some had lunch, some ate crackers and some only looked at the rain in the hope the Kledung village was close already. It was almost 16:00 and the light was already dim in the lower hip of Mount Sundoro that already has been vegetated quite nicely, although not dense at all.
There was a nice shelter that we do not know if it was Post 1 or else but it was occupied by some warmed trekkers and the dusk was close by 16:30 so we marched on. They told us anyway, that it was not Post 2 but just another Post in between. Not really descending because the trail was already quite leveled. Beware of the bamboo small bridge, for the stream beneath was strong and deep.
From a few hundred meters we saw some lighted white roofed buildings, so it must be the Kledung village although we wonder if it should not be Post 1. But Post 1 could not be that large and bright. We sped ourselves while negotiating the slippery leveled trail between the sparse pine trees. Ten minutes, 15’ and 30’ later we did not find anything. It was not WYSWYG at all, must be illusion to all of us.
A few minutes later Post 1 at the right side of the trail. We wanted very much to stop and take a rest for a while but it was already dark and we wanted very much to finally rest in the must-be-warm-and-dry base-camp. The 3 tall quiet silhouettes, 1 lady and 2 men standing under the shelter were not convincing us they were trekkers for there were no back-packs. Who were they, in the darkness of Mount Sundoro foot?
Gradually the vegetation changed to cabbages and tobaccos. We could see them with our headlamps only because it was a pitch black evening under the shower. Still 18:00 but really dark and cold. A gentle downward slope, a turn to the right, a stony trail, then some shiny reflection of metallic thing ahead. The motorbikes ……….. What a nice welcome for we know it was still another few kilometers of graveled road to the base-camp. We know pak Yanto must be taking care of us. So let’s ride them, guys. No headlamp? Do not worry, put our headlamps on and kick the starter ………..
CopiPanas – Volcanolovers in Indonesia
Diah, Anti, Tri, Jufri, Yanto, Andhika, Agus, Redo, Masood, Alham, and Handjono