Indonesia lies in one of most seismically active areas of the Ring of Fire. The 1883 Krakatoa volcano eruption off the coast of Java produced the loudest sound heard in the modern era; Indo’s Tambora eruption (largest one ever recorded) created the Year Without Summer, while Toba’s supereruption, the largest one in the past 25 millions years, created a ten year volcanic winter and killed off all but about 15,000 humans on planet Earth.
The dark history and beauty of Indonesia’s volcanos draw mountaineers and geologists from around the world to this great archipelago. Of all the volcanos I’ve climbed (which include the Bali’s Mt. Batur (whose beauty is way overrated…), and Java’s Ijen & Bromo), Gunung Merapi has been by far the most taxing and hazardous climb of them all. Merapi is considered one of the world’s 16 Decade Volcanos for its high volatility and strategic location right next to Java’s famous city of Yogyakarta (also know as ‘Jogja’ and not to be confused with Jakarta). Its eruption in November 2010 killed over 350 and displaced more than 350,000 people.
Gunung Merapi literally means ‘Fire Mountain’ in Javanese and can be seen from the great Borobudur temple (above).
It actually took little effort to convince my cheerful roommates to join me on an unguided summit attempt of the volcano even though it was clear we were quite ill-prepared on such a short notice. Lacking fuel for my stove or a suitable tent, we knew we had only one day to reach and return from the 2911 meter/9550 feet high summit of Merapi. It took us hours to find a third flashlight, rent two motorcycles, and drive 50 km to the trail head without a suitable map at midnight without any sleep.
The rainy season had made the unfrequented trail very tricky and taxing. The trail followed a steep ridge with a slope of 55 degrees. By sunrise, we passed the tree line and were treated by a wonderful panoramic view.
Above, Merapi casts a shadow over the villages at its base while a large fault line can be seen at the bottom of the picture if clicked. Below, Merapi’s neighboring mountain.
The last bit of the trail through loose sand and rock took us nearly an hour to scramble up to the crater rim. The sulfurous smoke and hot gases blew out of the crater while dark storm clouds came in drove us off the summit quickly due to the possibility of mudslides.
After eating the last Cliff bar I brought from the USA, I could only think about a hot shower and sleep which made the descent very uncomfortable. I still can’t understand why it has been impossible to find trail mix or granola bars in SE Asia no matter how hard I’ve searched. I kind of lived off that stuff back at home. Well, I live off sate ayam in Indonesia now…
Above, a tribute to the volcano near its summit.
The blisters on my feet lasted a week after my Merapi climb. All the guides had advised us against a summit attempt during the rainy season, but we all returned in an acceptable condition.
The Man of Mountain, Mt. Merapi.