Definitely not the highest volcano in Indonesia, and not the hardest to climb. But without doubt one of the most memorable one for it’s magnificent wide open summit offering a volcanic landscape which could not be more dramatic.
This very exciting volcano was our third Merapi in Indonesia which we climbed in our quest to reach the countries most scenic mountain tops. The previous two were both in Java, one close to the city of Yogyakarta and the second one in the far east of Java close to the island of Bali. All three volcanoes share several particular characteristics. They are just short of the 3000 meter, and are all among the most active ones in the country and as such spell some potential danger. Each takes a similar amount of effort to climb and are not among the toughest adventures. But most importantly each one is incredibly scenic, carving countless memories into your mind and with it making them among the most popular hikes in the country.Merapi stands for fire, power and danger, however to us the word “Indah” standing for beautiful would be more appropriate. We will never hesitate to climb any Merapi again should we be in these very beautiful parts of Indonesia. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that this will not be in the too distant future. Trekking adventure @ Gunung Merapi Sumatra
Most visitors to the area will arrive in Padang and then take a three hour bus ride through the lush tropical Anai valley to the picturesque hill-top town of Bukittinggi. We decide to take the longer scenic route leading first for 70 km north along the coast. This has to be among the most picturesque stretches of costal roads anywhere in Indonesia with the main road passing through endless rice fields and across many large rivers. With the Indian ocean on one side and the Pegunungan Barisan mountain range with its countless volcanoes on the other. Unfortunately the incredible beauty has been severely tarnished by countless ruins of the devastating earthquake that hit this region in 2009. For kilometer after kilometer the road side is littered with totally, partially or seriously destroyed buildings. In many areas people still live in tents and we were pleasingly surprised that many foreign aid organizations are still in the area helping these already poor people back on their feet.
After 70 km the road turns from the coast and gradually ascends towards the mountain range. The next 20 km become more scenic by the minute, as the valley gets narrower and the road slowly climbs towards Donau Maninjau. Gradually rice fields are replaced by vegetable plantations that are neatly crafted on to the incredible rich volcanic soil. A narrow gap in the mountain range allows the waters from the lake to overflow down into the valleys and with it watering the fertile grounds and with it guarantee a year round plentiful harvest. Just as you arrive at the lake you will notice a large hydro electrical plant that supplies clean electricity to the many villages in the surrounding area.The street now follows for several kilometers along the shore of the lake present a spectacular feast of sights in every direction. The lake is in the center of an long extinct volcano measuring a massive 17 kmlength by 8 km width. Protected by up to 600 meter high walls of the caldera this high altitude oasis is the perfect escape from the hot and humid Sumatran afternoon sun.In the village of Meninjau the road turns north east ascending once again towards the rim of the caldera. 44 narrow zigzag turns later and 450 meter higher you reach the look out Embun Bagi from where you have amazing views of the this volcanic wonderland. The entire area reminded us of our homeland Switzerland where you would find very similar settings.
The final 20 km to Bukittingi continue to surprise with more dramatic very hilly landscapes. The mountain ranges are covered by dense rainforest and the valleys are extremely fertile where everything grows from rice in the lower regions to any imaginable vegetables on the slopes of the volcanoes. Ask your driver not to take you back along the main road but one of the many smaller winding streetss allowing you to savor the charming country side, passing small villages with its traditional houses that are adorned with soaring buffalo horned roofs. Keropok and laundry dry on every sunny surface and there hip-roofed dutch chalets survive the elements over the years. Children’s passing by greet the foreign visitors with a singing HELLO MISTER. Hiking @ Gunung Merapi Sumatra
Welcome to a cool, lush landscape where fertility comes from volcanic destruction. Bukittinggi stands for “Tall Hill” and sits at around 1000 meters over sea level. Surrounded by the volcanic peaks of Gunung Merapi, Gunung Singgalang and Gunung Agam. The year round pleasant climate with its 100‘000 inhabitants make this the perfect starting point for adventures to the surrounding mountain ranges or the various valleys and remaining rain forests. Reasonable prized very basic accommodations are easily found on Jalan A Yani in the center of town where you also can arrange your guide. Be prepared to bargain for a reasonable price as starting rates are outrageously. The same street is also the entertainment area at night with a choice of restaurants serving everything from Pizza to simple Sumatran meals. The same places then turn at later hours into make shift night clubs playing Reggae and serving cold beer. It is worth while to get up early in the morning and stroll through the streets of the city center where you might pick up some of the latest designer fashion at bargain prizes. Do not miss the famous land mark clock-tower with it’s stylish roof which stands close to the central market “Pasar Raya”.Hiking @ Gunung Merapi Sumatra
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Pak Bami organized our guide for the next morning as well as the car for the 10 km journey from Bukittinggi to Koto Baru, and from there to the starting point of our next hiking adventure.
Your trek will start at an altitude of 1313 meters and will reach the summit at 2757 meters. With an altitude difference of roughly 1400 meters makes this a comfortable 3 1/2 hours hike. Most guides will tell you to start your journey at 11 p.m. in order to reach the summit by sunrise. We highly recommend not to depart before 1 or 1.30 am as this will give you plenty of time to be on the summit just for sunrise. As with any summit, the top of Merapi is completely exposed to the elements and the often torrential freezing winds will blow through every zip in your jacket. Something you really do not want to experience in this altitude. Once the sun is passed the horizon the atmosphere will very quickly warm up allowing you to enjoy the spectacular wide summit of Merapi.Trekking @ Gunung Merapi
In Koto Baru turn off the main road and head up Jalan Tantawi for a good three kilometer or until you reach a telecommunication mast. Here the road leads into the trail where the actual hike starts (1300 m). Just as on many other volcanoes the trek first leads for about one kilometer through farmland before turning left into steep forest. Shortly after entering the woods you have to cross a rather simple bamboo bridge which can be quite tricky, especially if you are afraid of heights. We found crossing, or better crawling on hands and knees the safest.
The trek then quickly gains altitude and requires in many section to climb up the washed out path across roots and fallen tree trunks. There are several resting places along the way which unfortunately are littered with any kind of waste from previous adventurers. As you gain altitude in the forest the vegetation becomes less dense allowing good views of the valley below and Gunung Singgalang right across. After a comfortable 2 1/2 to three hours the final base camp is reached just short of the tree line at around 2400 meters. Keep in mind that from this point it will take less then one hour to reach the summit and as such stay at this protected site before heading up the final rocky slop.
Shortly after departing from the last camp the landscape becomes steep and very volcanic, littered with rocks measuring from the size of a car to as tiny as spoons. The path then winds steeply up zig-zag through the rock face of the last 300 meters. With the fast approaching day light at the horizon the entire surrounding is starting to look more dramatic with every step you get closer to the top of the volcano. Within less then one hour the wide open summit of Gunung Merapi is reached with the three peaks clearly visible in the distance. Two of them, Garuda and Merpati can be reached from this point.
If you wish to reach the actual highest point of the volcano then you have to take a completely different route from Koto Baru. We were told that this is a very seldom taken path, and to approach the summit it does require one to be not afraid of heights as in some parts climbing at a 80% angle is required. An approach we were not very fond of as we do not like to bring our lives into risk.To us the two highest points which we reached on our adventure were more than satisfying, as the entire mountain top is incredible beautiful.Trekking adventure @ Gunung Merapi Sumatra
Once the edge of the volcano rim is reached we headed north east towards the Merpati peak (2757 meter) from where we experienced another dramatic volcanic sun rise. The large amounts of sulfur smoke released from the active volcano, together with howling winds and stunning colors of the first sun light cast a dramatic spell onto the moon like landscape. To my delight I found a spot only a few meters from the very top which was totally protected from the icy arctic like winds, which gave me plenty of time to play with my cameras taking a large amount of terrific shots from this very special look out. This is always a very special moment when you realize how massive these mountains are when you see the amazing landscape far below. From this vantage point we savored views as close as Bukittingi to the south and as far as Gunung Kerinci in the east which is well over 100 km away.Hiking @ Gunung Merapi Sumatra
From the Garuda peak we slowly made our way to the next highest Merapi summit (2650 meter), which took a good 45 minutes of comfortable easy hiking across an absolute magnificent volcanic dream land. With the active center of the volcano at the north-eastern side you circumvent the active center passed previous lava fields. Mostly flat at first, it then slowly descends down towards the edge where vegetation has once again taken over from resent eruptions. The path then climbs through rather dense spiky bushes and dead trees ending after a good 150 meters from where one will be rewarded with more stunning views of the near and far. From here you will have clear sight of the actual highest ridge of the volcano rim (2900 meter), which sits in not passable thick forest. Perhaps another memorable trip for the future in to this very picturesque landscape.
On most of our volcano explorations, once the highest point is reached, the sun has risen, a rest with some snacks are taken and plenty of impressions are absorbed. Time always approaches far too quickly to approach the always long way home. This is very different on Gunung Merapi as you need to track back the very same way as you came in. These are two very special kilometers of which you want to enjoy every single centimeter. With the active crater in the distance you will pass several extinct vents with a diameter of approximately 100 meters and a vertical wall of about 20 meters falling to the floor of these volcanic outlets. These are reminders of rather violent past eruptions, making us wonder when this very active mountain will blow its top again. Let’s just hope it will happened when nobody enjoys the stunning scenery.Then just as the path parts from the summit you will notice a small, and unfortunately vandalized memorial for a loving husband who tried to protect his wife from falling rocks during a sudden eruption. Yet again a reminder that most volcanoes throughout Indonesia will take lives if one ignores the rules of mountaineering or warnings from locals.
As mentioned in the introduction, Marapi stands for fire and the immense powers of the earth’s interior. Something we were able to experience on all three peaks. And yet it is this dramatic power which makes these volcanoes so memorable and actually seriously beautiful. Not the hardest one to climb, but definitely some of the hardest ones to forget, one to which we will definitely return one day.
Trekking @ Indonesian Volcano Adventures