As with any other adventure into remote parts of our magnificent planet it is absolute crucial to keep a few simple basic points of survival in mind. This to be able to bring home lots of photos, memories, and stories that you can tell all your loved ones. Here are a couple essential points to check before heading into the harsh wilderness of Indonesia’s spectacular volcanoes.
Never climb without a local guide. He knows the trek inside out and will bring you safely back even if the weather turns bad on you. These delightful humble locals will become an incredible source of local information and tales and at the same time will carry your heavy back bags.
Just as with any other mountain do not attempt a climb with your running shoes. Good shoes will offer additional grip in loose gravel, and protect your ankles. Never use new boots, something everybody seems to know and always bring a spare pair of good quality socks. Ignorance of these basic rules will result in a rather painful and most unpleasant experience and can shorten the life span of your new shoes drastically.
Most visitors to Indonesia believe that the warm, humid tropical climate will follow you all the way to the top of a mountain. Wishful thinking!! Setting up camp at an altitude over 2500 meters during the later part of the afternoon is often an incredible memorable moment as sun sets have to be among the most powerful and colourful ones anywhere. You always have a very small pocket of a few minutes when nature is transformed into an incredible orange. However the moment the sun sets the temperature will drop quickly down to the freezing point and this requires very warm clothing. Always bring a change of two or three t-shirts and preferable warm thermal underwear, a jumper and a good jacket that will protect you from the often-torrential winds. I always bring a second pair of socks, a warm hat to cover my ears as well as a pair of claves that I will also wear on the way down. That way I can hang on to bushes to slow me down and whenever I slip and fall, which always happens, they protect my hands from injuries, well sort of as my broken little finger proves the opposite.
As on any other mountains the elements can change incredibly quickly; one minute you bask in the sun and a minute later a horrific thunderstorm seems to appear from nowhere. What works best for us is a heavy – duty raincoat as used by the armed forces. They are big, well, a little heavy but easily cover a large surface including your backpack. They are normally not too tight allowing comfortable hiking. There large size and durability have in many instances made a perfect shelter for our guides who normally spend the night next to a fire trying to keep warm.
Always check with your guides on the availability of water, as it is crucial to stay well hydrated. Keep in mind some of the ascents will take up to 8 hours or even longer and that you will stretch your physical strength to its absolute limits. Just as with any other endurance sports you will need to replace an incredible amount
of fluid. If not done, then the first symptoms of dehydration are an uncomfortable headache, which very quickly results in fatigue and drowsiness. Go by the same rules given to us by race doctors when I cycled several times across the Simpson Desert in Central Australia. Drink a lot, water is the best and make certain you have plenty of bathroom stops, or in our case bush or rock stops.
If you decide to spend a night close to the summit, then it is absolutely essential to bring a good quality tent that is water proved and resistant to torrential winds. Remember that after sunset the temperatures quickly drop into the low tens and it becomes unbearable to sit for too long in the open. Yes your guides will mostly look after a rather large fire throughout the night to keep them reasonable warm. I always feel sorry for these poor porters as they hardly ever bring anything warm to protect them from the chill and the elements. No socks, no shoes and mostly only a thin jacket are just about all for their protection. Some cut grass as a mattress, a sarong, and a simply rice bag as a sleeping bag accounts for just about all their belongings. I feel guilty when we crawl into the small tent, which within a few minutes warms up to a comfortable 16 to 18 Celsius. Then a high tech thermo mat on the floor, next snuggle into an equally high quality sleeping bag, which will be the guarantee for a comfortable warm night. Warm certainly it is always but unfortunately we find it extremely difficult to sleep at an altitude over 2500 meters. Most nights are rather restless turning from one side to the other and waking up every 15 minutes. Strangely enough and to our total dissatisfaction the only time we seem to fall into deep sleep is when time arrives to get up and head off for our final ascent to the summit.
Please keep in mind that many of these hiking adventures will take you into very remote, and often seldom-visited parts of Indonesia. Therefore make certain prior to your departure to inform friends or contacts of your intentions to climb a particular volcano, this together with an indication when you expect to be back. Always bring along a fully charged hand phone which in emergencies can be a vital link to the outside world. Often we are totally astonished when our guides started to call or text their friends and loved ones from the most isolated places.
Many volcanoes are in the centre of national parks and to climb them requires a permit, which can be obtained at ranger or national park stations. In order to get these essential permits, Indonesian bureaucracy requires detailed personal information. As such it is wise to always carry several copies of your ID card, passport, driving license, pass port photo, and if possible the same of your friends and relatives. The more you can show, the easier it seems to get these essential documentations. Enter these offices always with a few packets of local cigarettes, and be prepared to spend some time negotiating a reasonable price. Here it helps greatly if you already have hired a guide prior to entering the office as you can ask him to organize the permits. Often all this paperwork seems to be a waste of time, but then again this paperwork can be your life saver in emergencies.
Make certain prior to your departure that you check your basic first aid kit, not only for content but also for the quality of the medication. For many years I simply picked up my little bag with all the essentials and never actually checked the inside. Then one nice day after wearing a new pair of boots for my journey I developed massive blisters that needed attention. Then when I opened my little bag, and I found that the antiseptic lotion had dried up and the plasters would not stick to absolutely anything. There is no need to bring a large medicine bag but a few essentials to look after cuts, bruises and most often blisters.
Unfortunately far to many people completely underestimate the size of Indonesia’s volcanoes and mountains. Europeans think that the Alps are the only place with high peaks, and often back packers rave about their adventures in the Himalayas. Keep in mind that on many volcanoes you will need to conquer at least 2000 altitude meters, which is substantial. I have not many friends back in Switzerland that ever climbed a mountain starting their hike at 1000 meters and end up over 3000 meters. In most cases a cable car ride offers a comfortable alternative for the first part of the journey. Please be honest and ask yourself how much you actively exercised during the past 12 months. If the answer is nil, then you better marvel at the volcanoes from a distance and do not attempt a climb. How often have we heard that one served in the elite forces in the British army, or have taken part in an ultra marathon across the Sahara Desert or survived to Kokoda trek in the jungle of Irian Jaya? Unfortunately all this was in the past and we ended up in several instances carrying these elite talkers back down the mountain side. Many of these volcanoes and mountains are extremely challenging on your endurance and will become torture, especially on the way down. If however you are reasonable fit, then each and every adventure will become an exceptional memorable journey.
Even with guides, there is absolute no guarantee that they will find the way through thick fog, especially in higher rocky sections. In these areas it takes so little to come off route and consequently it is almost impossible to find your way back safely, unless you record your way on a GPS which then will bring you precisely the same way back as you came. Furthermore the recorded trek can then later be uploaded on Google Earth for future reference.
A good quality headlight and spare batteries are absolute imperative if you hike at night through thick forests. The same light is also of great use when spending long hours in the tent plying cards and waiting for the early morning hours.
Beside my obligatory camera bag with rain cover I keep all my gear in an 80 litre back pack that stores all the camping gear as well as food provisions. This pack weighing around 16 – 18 kg fully loaded is normally carried by our guides. Then I bring a second smaller back bag that I personally carry which contains all the essentials for en route. Raincoat, change of t-shirt, warm alpine felt jacket, hat gloves and then of course some snacks and plenty to drink. Here it is worth to spend a little extra money for good quality. Ensure they are fitted out with a rain cover.
10 meters of strong rope always always comes in handy. Perhaps as a cloth line to dry your wet clothes, or when you have to build a shelter with your raincoats, or even as a safety line in difficult passages.3×4 meter tent cover made from water proof materials. Again this can be used as a shelter or as an additional cover on the floor should the ground be wet. Light weight sleeping bag for a temperature range between 5 – 10 Celsius. A pair of thongs come in handy around your camp site. They allow you to take off your boots and give your feet time to recover from the strenuous passed hours of hiking. I remember one hike to the summit of Gunning Tambour when I would have paid a fortune for a pair of thongs, when I was on route in my brand new army hiking boots that caused blisters the size of small steaks. Then a light weight adventure towel for the well deserved shower after returning from the mountain. A good quality camp cooker keeps your spirits up as they make it easy to whip up a feast of flavours even at higher attitudes. A hot coffee in the morning or perhaps a cheese fondue at night will add a bit more twist to your already great adventure. Last but not least and very important is a good stock of tissues which come in handy when nature calls. As water is always in short supply a few wet tissues can work wonders. Then just as in the army never leave home without a pocket knife for which there is always a need. Emergency whistle and a small mirror to be heard and hopefully seen in a serious situation. Always handy is an oversize plastic bag, big enough for the back packs to fit in, as well as smaller plastic bags to carry back all your garbage.