Gunung Tambora – Sumbawa

  • Written by:  Heinz von Holzen
  • Date Posted:  October 8th, 2011
  • Category:  Sumbawa
  • Comments:  No Comments »

Interestingly  on our journey to the almost top, countless incidents took place which made this extremely long and seriously exhausting adventure most memorable and unforgettable. A great many reasons make it absolute essential to return in the hopefully near future to this historic spectacular,  impressive volcano. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora


Very few mountains that we have climbed, exited us more than the massive Gunung Tambora. Simply looking at the eruptive history of the volcano brings shivers down one’s back as on April 1815 a catastrophic volcanic eruption took place, an outbreak that was  the largest observed eruption in recorded history taking the lives of well over 50’000 people.Hiking @ Gunung Tambora

Some History and Figures:

In 1812, the caldera began to rumble and generated a dark cloud. On 5 April 1815, a moderate-sized eruption occurred, followed by thunderous  detonation sounds, heard in Makassar on Sulawesi 380 km, Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java 1,260 km, and Ternate on the Moluccu Islands 1,400 km away. On the morning of April 6, volcanic ash began to fall in East Java with faint detonation sounds lasting until April 10. What was first thought to be sound of firing guns was heard on April 10 on Sumatra Island (more than 2,600 km away. The first heavy explosions were heard in the evening of April 5. The noise was, in the first instance, was almost universally attributed to distant cannon firing; so much so, that a detachment of troops were marched from Yogyakarta , in the expectation that a neighboring post was attacked. Along the coast boats were in two instances despatched in quest of a supposed ship in distress. The explosion is estimated to have been at scale 7 on the Volcanic Explosively Index. It had roughly four times the energy of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, meaning that it was equivalent to an 800 megaton explosion. An estimated 160 cubic km (38 cubic miles) of pyroclastic trachyandesite was ejected, weighing approximately 140’000’000’000 tones. (What a number?) This has left a caldera measuring 6–7 km  across and 600–700 m deep. Before the explosion, Tambora was approximately 4,300 meters high, one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago. After the explosion, it now measures only 2,851 meters.Trekking Adventure @ Gunung Tambora


The estimated number of deaths varies depending on the source. Zollinger (1855) puts the number of direct deaths at 10,000, probably caused by pyroclastic flows. On Sumbawa island, there were 38,000 deaths due to starvation, and another 10,000 deaths occurred due to disease and hunger on Lombok island. Petroeschevsky (1949) estimated about 48,000 and 44,000 people were killed on Sumbawa and Lombok, respectively. Tanguy pointed out that there may have been additional victims onBali and East Java because of famine  and disease. Their estimate was 11,000 deaths from direct volcanic effects and 49,000 by post-eruption famine and epidemic diseases.Hiking @ Gunung Tambora

Global impact:

In the spring and summer of 1815, a persistent dry fog was observed in the northeastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the “fog”. It was identified as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the  Year without a summer. Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On 4 June 1816, frosts were reported in Connecticut , and by the following day, most of New England was gripped by the cold front. On 6 June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 cm (12 in) deep accumulated near Quebec City from 6 to 10 June 1816.The 1810s are the coldest decade on record, a result of Tambora’s 1815 eruption. As well as a cooler summer, parts of Europe experienced a stormier winter.This pattern of climate anomaly has been blamed for the severity of typhus epidemic in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean between 1816 and 1819. Much Livestock died in New England during the winter of 1816–1817. Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Families in Wales travelled long distances as refugees, begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oat and potato harvests. The crisis was severe in Germany, where food prices rose sharply. Due to the unknown cause of the problems, demonstrations in front of grain markets and bakeries, followed by riots, arson and looting, took place in many European cities. It was the worst famine of the 19th century. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora

The long  journey to Pancasila:

The fastest way to reach the Island of Sumbawa is definitely by plane. Different airlines offer several flights daily from Bali. Unlike in the past, most flights are now on time and actually rather reliable. Well during turbulence one wonders how well the planes are maintained and serviced. On arrival in Bima keep your identification card or passport handy as officials normally check foreigners visas.

While waiting for the luggage one will very quickly be approached by official and private operators offering various types of transport services. Well one would have the option to travel the 200 km to the starting point of your hike by public transport, which would certainly be cheap, and an amazing adventure on its own,  but at the same time it will take an enormous amount of time and passion. I guess this would be a totally different adventure, traveling by public busses that are overload, crowded and extremely slow. Not to mention the frequent break downs. We decided to hire a small mini van at a cost of  US$ 130 for the journey to Pancasila and two days later back to the airport in Bima.  The 200 km trip simply takes place on two types of roads. The first 100 km on the rather busy main road to Dompu and then on to Kempo which concludes part one. Well I am not certain if I should consider the second 100 km as road. I guess once upon a time there was actually a road as the few reminders of asphalt proof. However what exists today reminded me more of totally eroded outback trek in the Australian desert. The highlight of the entire trip would probably be the last three kilometers which simply become not passable during the frequent tropical down pours. Hiking Adventure @ Gunung Tambora

Pancasila – 490 meters:

PancasilaAfter arriving in the late afternoon in the small village of Pancasila, we  immediately checked in with Pak Saiful  at the Tambora Trekking office which will also be your accommodation for the night. He will organize and settle all formalities,  arrange trekking permits and two very reliable guides at a cost of about US$ 110. This price includes a rather hard bed for the night, breakfast the following morning, plenty of coffee and tea on the mountain and then most importantly a hearty meal on return and a wonderful ice cold shower.Pancasila It would not be very smart to have any expectations on comfort and be happy and grateful for the various little luxurious everyone provides around you. We actually were most fortunate that during the night we spend in Pancasila the power was,  as it often happens,  not working giving us a chance to enjoy a night in the open without a light in total silence and serenity. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora

Pancasila contacts

Tambora trekking office: Saifule Bahari,  Dusun Pancasila, Desa Tambora Kecamatan Pekat,Kabupaten Dompu NTB, Hp: 085 937 030 848

Highly recommended guides, Pak  Darbo and  Pak Muhamed

The long and tiring climb

Unfortunately we were not able actually ride the first part of the trek on the back of a motorbike as the path, due to recent storms was simply too slippery and muddy. This would normally save at least one hour of the total walking time. Well,  I guess when we departed Bali we mentioned to everyone that we would go for a long hike to the top of Tambora and not for a bike ride. At least on the way down we were fortunate enough that two bikes made it to the edge of the coffee plantations and offered us a terrific relief as at the end we were totally exhausted and on the end of our strength. Keep in mind that the adventure starts at 450 meters over sea-level where it is still hot and seriously humid. In terms of ascent Gunung Tambora is perhaps the “flattest” of any volcano we have climbed in Indonesia. But then keep in mind that you will have to conquer a total of about 2300 meter altitude, and this over a distance of about 50 km, which makes this an enormous tiring adventure with countless obstacles waiting for you in the endless rainforest. Hiking @ Gunung Tambora

Pancasila – Pos 1 at 1084 m, 3 hours:

The first hour leads passed coffee and vegetable plantations and eventually ends at a small and relatively new settlement that was built by several Balinese Families. A gracious, mystic Hindu temple is a gentle reminder of the religious orientation of  these relatively new trans migrants. The following two hours are relatively monotonous with hardly a change of scenery. The dense forest offered barely an open view of the surroundings. At times the forest felt  almost eery as total silence seemed simply not in place, as one expects a remote forest to be full of bird and animal life. The silence was eventually broken by a rather large mountain stream offering plenty of delicious fresh drinking water. Trekking Adventure @ Gunung Tambora

Pos 2 1290 m,  1.25 hours:

After departing Pos 1 the path first leads a few meters down a narrow valley and across the mountain stream, then relatively steep up on the other side. The first couple of hundred meters are perhaps the hardest part of this stage  with various slippery sections .The trek then quickly flattens  and only very slowly gains altitude. The path which is in good condition allows you to cover a relatively good distance very quickly. Be smart and move on rapidly  as you gradually enter the territory of leeches. The fewer stops you take the less chances you give these miserable suckers to launch an attack on you. Which they will with guarantee. Hiking @ Gunung Tambora

Pos 3 1595 meters 1.30 hours – Leeches by the thousands:

If there is one single element  we can not understand when reading through all the many reports one finds on Gunung Tambora, then there is the fact that nobody warns and talks about leeches. Nowhere else in Indonesia were we more ambushed  by these useless parasites than between Pos 2 and Pos 3. Not just by a few, no no by dozens at the same time. When looking at the photos one would think that we just survived a life threatening battle in a horrendous war. As we found out too late a few precautions would have prevented some serious itchiness in the aftermath. Locals claim that fresh tobacco soaked  in a little  water and rubbed on the exposed body parts is definitely the answer to the attacking leeches. A good friend claims that insect repellent works wonders. As we neither had tobacco or insect repellent; we decided on the way down to wear long trouser and tight the ends with a string. Next we virtually ran like mad and guess what? It actually worked!  Well miserable leeches were  only really one obstacle, then what was even more painful were the countless horrific burning nettle leaves which not only stung on the bare skin but could not be stopped by protecting yourself with a long self shirt. If this was not enough, then there were thorns, horrific thorns, that were so sharp and hard and of course broke off when they penetrated through the skin. This again caused almost instant infections which added dramatically to the unreal jungle experience. For a while we actually considered our selves rather crazy to call such an adventure fun. I guess we are a bit on the unusual side always  looking for something out of the comfort zone. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora

Pos 4, 1864 m, 45 minutes:

The greatest relief was the announcement by our guides that Pos 3 marks the end of the  leech (bitch)country. First we gave ourselves a good clean up and double checked that the last remaining   parasite was removed from even the remotest body part. Sorry impossible as the last ones were found upon our return to Bali in our bags. Then after some  refreshment and a fill up of our water bottles from a nearby stream we moved on quickly towards the over night camp. Very swiftly the path now finally gets steeper and quickly gains in altitude. Yes the steep trek will slow you down, however the going is still pleasant.

Pos 5, 2025 m, 50 minutes:

The next hour continues to be pleasant and comfortable going. Steep, but not too steep with one slightly tricky passage down some roots which was not too much of an obstacle. As you get closer to the  over night camp the forest loses gradually on denseness allowing some better views of the surroundings and every now and then a glimpse of the summit. Once again the large pine trees reminds one that at an altitude over 2000 meter the elements can change very quickly as it happens in our case as heavy clouds very quickly covered the entire mountainside into a creamy grey blanquette. The clouds then opened up at the same moment we set up our tent. From within we  enjoyed an hour heavy cold rain. Trekking Adventure @ Gunung Tambora

Campsite,  2025 meters:

The small protected over night camp provides only enough space for perhaps three tents. As such it is wise to really check with your guides in Pancasila if there is enough room for the night. Especially during the months of June, July, August, September and October this site can often be crowded. If there is no room for one more tent then the other alternative would a campsite roughly 30 minutes further up the mountain. One of the great luxuries on Tambora is the fact that one finds water in several locations making it not essential to carry additional weight in terms of fluid.

A very painful, expensive lesson:

10 days prior to the departure for Gunung Tambora I sent  my trusted hiking boots for a quick repair that should only really take few minutes. Then the evening before departing I ask one of our housekeepers to pick up the shoes. Unfortunately the shoemaker was nowhere to be found as he left for a family ceremony to Java. This gave me no choice but make the journey in my brand new, high quality Swiss army boots that I purchased a few months earlier. Having gone through some basic military training in Switzerland I had a rather good idea of what to expect from new shoes. Consequently I packed additional bandages, just in case. It was then already within the first hour in to the hike that I  felt  some blisters developing on my left heel, and less than an hour later the right one followed. Somehow as long as I was on the go the pain was just bearable but hugely uncomfortable. What unveiled when I opened the boots after arriving at the overnight camp scared me deeply of what to expect the following day. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora

After a rather restless long night it was our aim to depart around 4 am. ½ hour prior I decided that it was time to look after my large 5 cm diameter blisters. Out I took my extra load of plasters to quickly find out that they were so old and useless that they had lost any capability of sticking to the skin. Next followed a debate of how to solve this challenge, as it was impossible for me to slide into the shoes. The answer then come from a 50 cm long Sumbawa bush knife and a small Swiss army dagger which carved out two large  holes into the back of my shoes that where  big enough for my heels to move freely in the boots and not  touching any edges. I guess it was the death sentence for my beloved boots which then were inherited by our trusted guide, who promised to repair them and then use it for hopefully a very long time. Lets keep our fingers crossed that his feet are not as tender and spoiled as mine. Hiking @ Gunung Tambora

Crater rim 2650 m, 2 hours:

Departing the campsite requires a good quality headlight which obviously only really illuminates the immediate surroundings. When walking in the dark it is actually rather difficult to get some sort of orientation and impression of the mountain. As on any other volcano  the final stage is usually the steepest section of the entire trip and Tambora is not any different. Very quickly the forest gives  way to high altitude bush and grass land. At times the trek is on solid mud which can be rather slippery on the way down, but gradually consists of loose stones and small rocks. In the cool early morning hours the going is most comfortable and easy going. As the first lights appear on the horizon the surrounding of this massive mountain become slowly visible, making you guess where the highest point might be. When we eventually reached the rim of the crater we were welcomed by very heavy fog giving us absolutely no chance to see any further than 10 meters. As this unforeseen drama started to evolve our dear guide gradually started to get paranoid and was no longer willing to go a step further. When ever we attempted to go closer than perhaps 10 meters to the crater rim he would harshly call us back. The reason for this was quiet simply the enormous drop, between 500-700 meters straight  into the crater. Apparently a lot of the edges are  overhanging and often give way to enormous  land slides thundering  down into the v deep. Obviously nobody wishes to sit on one of the cliffs when they give way. This pretty much ended our adventure to see and photograph one of the world’s largest volcano craters. Beside the thick fog,  torrential cold winds convinced us rather quickly that we have to  give in to the mountain   and start our very long journey home. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora


We will definitely return to  finish the climb to be able to marvel at this impressive huge crater. As we were told, the best months weather wise would be between August to October. Gunung Tambora is by all means not the hardest mountain to climb and yet  hardly ever another mountain drained our bodies more then Tambour as one needs to cover well over 50 km during  the hike up and down the mountain, and all this in less then 36 hours.  I guess the relatively low altitude in the lower sections, that are very warm and humid, together with the seemingly endless leeches infested forest, including with a pair of top of the line hiking boots made this an extremely memorable discovery. What matters  most are the terrific people in the village of Pancasila, their warm hospitality and the volcano with its outrageous violent history. Trekking @ Gunung Tambora

Direction to Gunung Tambora:

Trekking Adventure @ Indonesian Volcanoes




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  • Welcome to Trekking and Volcano Adventures in Indonesia

    Unfortunately Indonesia is far too often for the wrong reasons in the lime light of the world press. Terror, tsunamis, earthquakes, destructions of rain forest and corruption seem to be the favorite subject of the media. To my great disappointment far too few people talk about the incredible cultural diversity of the nation, the enormous size, and totally forget to focus on the unbelievable beauty of this great nation.
Beside the incredible beauty of Indonesia, a nation is only as good as its inhabitants. I cannot think of another place on earth where you would find so many incredible kind people that will be delighted to look after you in a way normally only kings and royalty are treated.
 Hopefully these colorful stories will encourage many readers to pack a good pair of quality hiking boots and a backpack big enough to store the impressions of the countless memorable discoveries awaiting one throughout Indonesia. Selamat Jalan and happy trekking Heinz von Holzen Trekking @ Indonesian Trekking Adventure
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