After three glorious beach days in Krui, we went back to Bandar Lampung for a night and then flew into Yogyakarta in Central Java. We had the sunrise Merapi Volcano hike in the back of our mind, and then upon arriving at our guesthouse, we decided that that very night was our night.
Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be fine. says Lonely Planet Indonesia. Susan — a marathon runner — and myself — well, thin — have always considered ourselves to be in AT LEAST a reasonable level of fitness, so we set off in the middle of the night undaunted and unprepared to scale the volcano — one of the top ten deadliest in the world.
Already chilly, the rain did not help at all. The Rp 7000 (70 cents) ponchos that Susan bought us at the base turned out to be the most — er, only — valuable piece of equipment we had. Besides that, Susan was wearing exercise spandex, a light jacket, and tennis shoes while I was wearing shorts, Chaco sandals, a tank top, and a cardigan. I know better than to set off on a hike like this, and punished I was for not using my head when I was packing. Fortunately, I had my sarong to wrap around my legs, which added some warmth.
The hike was steep right from the get go and never flattened out. We were marching into cold, slippery darkness with no briefing from our guides, no maps, and just in general no idea of what to expect. There were six of us in the group. Two seemed pretty serious about hiking, and also in a hurry for some reason, while Susan and I and the a Dutch couple felt like Merapi was killing us slowly and painfully.
We lost hope at various points of the hike, but we snapped and vocally said that we wanted to go no further when we reached the first plateau and had this conversation with our guide.
Will we make it to the top? No, the weather is too bad.
Will we see lava? No, it isn’t clear enough.
Will we have a nice view for the sunrise? No, it’s very cloudy this morning.
Can we just stay here then? No, we need to at least make it to the second plateau.
And then we saw lightning in the distance.
Three hours in.
We continued our death march, now, with the lowest of expectations.
When we made it to the second plateau we huddled in a tiny cave for warmth. Some managed to get a little bit of sleep, I decided to quit smoking. By the time we arrived at the second plateau, I realized that I was indeed NOT in a reasonable level of fitness, so cigarettes had to go — I’m one week in.
One of the guides came into the cave and announced that the weather had cleared and we were going to continue on to the third plateau and possibly the crater. Skeptical, we followed. Significantly lighter outside and the breath taking scenery coming into view, this part of the hike was easily the best and we all began to feel much better about the previous four hours.
the first sign that we had made it through the night
When we arrived at the third plateau, we couldn’t make it up to the crater because the volcano is active and was smoking, so we watched the sunrise from where we were. It was magical. We were high above the clouds and other mountains were all around us and the forests were lush and intriguing. The view from the top truly was stunning and offered one of the most intense feelings of freedom that I’ve experienced.
Not going up there with all that smoke coming out!
Unfortunately, a helicopter did not come to pick us up, and we had to hike down. It was just as bad as the hike up, and especially awful for Susan because early on, she sprained her ankle. I’ve always said that Susan is the toughest girl I know, and watching her get down the mountain with a bum ankle and, all things considered, in good spirits, is now making me wonder if she is even human. Having walked off the mountain without any injuries, I cherish that feeling of freedom that I felt at the third plateau watching the sun come up, and if Merapi blows in 2014 as it’s expected, I will be saddened and feel lucky that I got to know her a bit. Susan, has different feelings on whether the hike was worth it.
So the bottom line if you’re planning to hike Gunung Merapi is wear the sturdiest of hiking boots, go during the dry season, bring a head lamp, and prepare to be cold, even though you’re in Indonesia. It’s not easy, hiking at night is scary, and no matter your level of fitness, you’ll probably really hate at least a portion of the hike.
back down near the bottom. We survived.