By Lily Ho, Malaysia
Mt. Semeru is the second volcanic mountain summited after we climbed Mt. Rinjani last year on the same day. We did not have good experience on Mt. Rinjani as we were only able to reach the summit approximately an hour after the sunrise. In total, it was 5 hours from the base camp to the summit.
Therefore, I decided to choose a volcanic mountain which is lower than Mt. Rinjani, thinking that it would be an easier one. With this, we invited members, bought tickets, and planned accordingly. Only when this process was complete was when I realised that Mt. Semeru is actually more technically demanding if compared with Mt. Rinjani.
This is due to the distance of loose sandy rocks being longer – approximately 3 times the distance of Rinjani. What?!
We are left with no choice as the trip is already confirmed. The only way forward is to face the challenge. Below is the itinerary:
Day 01 02/07 Surabaya – Tumpang – Ranu Pane
Day 02 03/07 Malang – Tumpang – Ranupane- Kalimati Camp 2700m
Day 03 04/07 Semeru Summit 3676m – Ranu Kumbolo Lakes
Day 04 05/07 Ranu Kumbolo – Ranu Pane
Day 05 06/07 Pananjakan – Mount Bromo – Sumber Waringin
Day 06 07/07 Mount Ijen Crater – Surabaya
There are a lot of challenges to be faced in this trip because we had chosen to visit a Muslim country during the festive Raya time. This meant a pricing increase, human resources shortages, and it almost cancelled the trip because nobody was willing to work.
However, after much discussion, we are lucky to get this trip to go on as planned. There are always pro and cons!
We were briefed by our guide Agus after the trip that if we came during dry season in August, we would probably be overcrowded by the numbers of climbers and most likely stop at Ranu Kumbolo only. The highest record would be 2,000 climbers to summit in a day!
At least with the Raya season, we managed to admire the natural view with local climbers – even if we need to pay a higher price for it.
On our first day, the schedule is quite relaxed. We met Agus, our guide at the airport, and then did some shopping for the camping trip. A lot of shops are closed due to puasa (fasting month). Before approaching Ranupane Village @ 2,100m located within the vicinity of the national park, a journey which took about 3-5 hours, we stopped by a local clinic to do a body check-up to verify whether our bodies are fit to climb Mt. Semeru.
This is the rule set by the local Government. When we approach Ranupane Village via Jeep, there is not enough space, so our guide, Agus offered to sit on the car roof. He is really a nice gentleman!
By the time we reach our Pak Tasrip Homestay, it is already at late night. The weather was indeed very cold, I didn’t had a thermometer to measure, however, I would guess it was around 16o C. After check-in, we have a short briefing session, a quick dinner, and have an early sleep to be ready for our trekking in the next day.
The next day after early breakfast in the Homestay, Agus walked with us until the National Park Office, to do registration. Then we took 6-8 hours to trek to Kalimati Camp. We are gradually ascending at hillside.
On the way, we are lucky enough to spot the big smoke from Mt Semeru which erupts every 20 minutes or so. Not long after the trek, we enjoyed our lunch in Ranu Kumbolo @ 2100m. The valley was windy, but the lake was very clean.
According to Agus, the lake is not allowed for washing or swimming or rowing because the deepness is at approximately 60-80m – equal to a 19-floor building! After a short break, our journey continues to Kalimati (Dead River) as we pass a vast field of savannah.
We took another hour to climb a small hill to reach the camp @ 2,700m. Before sundown, we quickly dress up with our warm clothing and Agus’ team cooked dinner, set up the tent, and fire camp. We were advised to rest after dinner to prepare for a summit attack in the early morning at 1.00am as the climbing will take plenty of energy.
The first day’s trek is easy and we enjoy the scenery a lot. I would conclude it is easier than Mt. Rinjani’s trail.
At 1.00am, we were awoken to have some refreshment before our summit attack. We put our hands together to cheer ourselves up and to get ready for the climb! In the dark, we took an hour to climb on rough ground – a steep hike through the forest. Upon the end of the treeline, Agus advised us to put on our sufficient winter gear as the wind-chill effect is strong without any tree covering.
With enough winter wear, winter gloves, 2 poles, head lamp, here we started our climbing journey.
The route to the summit was quite straightforward; however, landslides were common there as well. Agus taught us the technique of walking on all of the sandy rocks. We needed to kick in the sand before stepping on the rock. And when we saw rocks rowing down from top, we need to shout “Batu! Batu!” to alert other climbers below to avoid it.
Further, Agus brought us on a zig-zag climb so it doesn’t waste too much of our body energy. We are the last group to start the ascending, but we were surpassing other groups one by one despite some of them starting to climb as early at 10pm/11pm. They were struggling because they were going up straight and kept sliding down after every few steps up.
Finally, within 3 hours, we were the first team to reach the summit of the Mahameru @ 3,676m before the dawn. The highest volcanic mountain in the Java Island! It is also super cold!!
We shouted, hugging to each other in tears to celebrate our summit attack, as we stood on the highest mountain in Java!!
After that, our Agus found a place for us to hide away from the strong wind as we patiently waited until the sunrise. With the rising of Sun, we pop out again to take plenty of compulsive photos, and yes, we witness the small scale eruption which happens every 20 minutes, full of smoke and stones.
The view of the major part of East Java is amazing and we were lucky enough to have exceptionally good weather on our summit day – despite the fact we did not come during the ‘guaranteed’ dry season! We truly enjoyed our achievement of the day!
After about an hour, we descend from the summit to Kalimati (camp) to have breakfast and to nap after the long morning climb. One thing fun about a volcanic mountain is, when you descend, you must be bold enough to ski down.
And that’s what we do. It took less than an hour for us to reach the treeline!
After breakfast, we continued our way to Ranu Kumbolo. That night is freezing cold. It was right around zero degrees; however, our hearts were warmed with our achievement!
Day 04 05/07 Ranu Kumbolo – Ranu Pane (B,L,D)
The next day, very early in the morning, we woke up to catch the sunrise view of Kumbolo Lake. That meant taking another round of compulsive photos with the lingering fog. After breakfast, we track back to Ranu Pane Village using a different route via Mount Ayekayek, the foot of Mount Semeru, to arrive at Tasrip Homestay.
A special note on this day is coincidentally, that it is the first day of Hari Raya Puasa, and our chief porter invited us to his house for “buka puasa.” We made a donation to the village and joined in the night parade. Many villagers were holding ‘obor’ (a kind of fire torch), according to Agus. This gesture is offered as a reminder to their ancestor’s hard times in years past.
Personally, this is a very different experience to me, in looking at the villager faces. I can tell happiness comes from simplicity – not necessarily from the material comforts.
Next up is Days 05 & 06, the visit to Mt Bromo @ 2,329masl and Kawah Ljen Volcano @ 2,799masl is a bonus to us; I would say both are more of a sightseeing type of place of interest. The Ocean of Sands required to cross in order to summit of Mt Bromo was unique.
The viewing of the Hindu’s temple held by Tengger Tribe from Bromo is magnificent.
As to Kawah Ljen Volcano, it is also an eye opening to witness the blue flame. In this world, there are only 2 places with this, and the other one is in Iceland. The blue flame was due to liquid sulfur, which has caught fire and burns with an eerie blue flame.
This volcano is the most acidic volcano lake in the world! After this, we left to drive back to Surabaya. Our beautiful trip has come to an end.
I started to fall in love with this piece of land. The people in East Java are rugged, kind, and not so commercial. Agus had introduced a lot of mountains in Indonesia and one can see he is a real mountain lover.
When back in Malaysia, I performed a lot of research about mountains in Java. There are about 20 mountains above 7,000 feet. And look at G7 of Indonesia: I think I shall be back to complete the list. One note about our trip: there was a Swiss hiker missing 2 weeks previous due to his reluctance to abide to the local rules to climb within few days. Instead he wanted to summit Semeru in one day.
They didn’t know there is a turning hour where wind will change directions so poisonous gas will blow against us. His parents were with us during our trip too.
It is always better to understand the nature than to challenge it. Challenge yourself instead, but follow the rules so that everyone can come home at the end of the experience.