Mount Merapi

(updated on 1/13/2015)

Admiring Sunrise at Indonesia's Most Active Volcano

Enjoying sunrise at the country's most active volcano, while directly seeing Merapi's whirling caldera-it's a must-have experience in life.

YogYES team arrived at the feet of Merapi right just when sadranan ritual has been accomplished. During the ritual, which took several days, the base camp was closed-hikers could still climb the mountain but without transiting at the base camp. This was because Barameru base camp, which belongs to Mbah Min, was used to serve guests from the neighboring villages. Sadranan has been a tradition inseparable from the life of societies living around the slopes of Merapi; it is held annually before Ramadan (the fasting month for Moslems) to honor the ancestors, while also functions to maintain brotherhood.

Mount Merapi, which is situated within a straight line which also connects the Palace of Yogyakarta and the Indian Ocean, holds an important role in Javanese society. The three places are believed to be a cosmologic trinity; all of them are closely connected to each others. Merapi is believed to symbolize fire, Indian Ocean to symbolize water, while the Palace is the balance between the two. Tonight, we departed to hike the fire element, Mount Merapi.

We started through the Northern hiking trek, via Plalangan, Jlatah Village, Selo District, Boyolali Regency, Central Java. Plalangan is the last sub-village to reach if we are hiking from Selo trek. We can reach the sub-village by public transportation from Jogja to Magelang, stopping at Blabak and continued by minibus to Selo. Afterwards, we would need to walk through asphalt roads to the base camp; the track ascends a bit, and no public transportation available. To make it easier, we can also rent a car for about IDR 800,000-picking us up at Jogja and drive us directly to the base camp. Merapi has three hiking treks; the two others are Deles and Babadan. However, they offer heavier trek, which makes hikers prefer Selo trek instead. Apart from the three treks, there is also another trek via Kaliadem; the trek is currently unavailable as it has been destroyed by the massive eruption in 2010.

We can take some rest or stay for a while at the base camp with no fixed fee imposed-just give some proper sum of money. YogYES paid IDR 35,000 for it-including dinner for three. We hiked by assistance from a guide, Gimar, a 22 year old father who is Mbah Min's youngest son. Gimar is a farmer who also serves at the base camp. He offers service as a guide or porter for those in need; just tell Mbah Min and Gimar will be at your service. The fee for a porter ranges around IDR 125,000, and IDR 300,000 for a porter. Make sure you have prepared enough water as you won't find any spring along the trek and up to the summit. Don't forget to wear jacket, or the cold mountain wind will freeze you off.

The normal hiking duration from the base camp to the summit is approximately 5 to 6 hours. The first four to five hours are spent to hike up from the base camp to the third checkpoint-also known as Pasar Bubrah (literally translated as "Shattered Market"), followed by an hour of hiking to the summit. YogYES departed earlier as we planned to camp and to find for the best spot to enjoy sunrise up there. We started hiking at 19.30. The trek began with asphalt road to New Selo, followed by steep trail passing through tobacco and cabbage fields which belong to the locals. After walking for about an hour, we arrived at a welcome portal. Another hour of walking from the portal through pine forest, we arrived at Checkpoint 1. It took about 1.5 hour from Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2, through exhausting heavy trek. From then on, the route from Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3 or Pasar Bubrah would then be relatively easier though the trek was full of stones. Make sure you bring good headlamp as there would be no other lighting source available along the trek.

Hiking in darkness doesn't mean you can't enjoy good view. Instead, you can feel strong atmosphere of peace, while listening to the sound of gamelan played in ketoprak performance far away down there, making companion to every steps on the hard stones left by the caldera's eruption. As if joining the performance, the wind caressed the trees, inviting them to produce sounds and adding more to the mystic feel of Merapi. While taking a short break, we watched thousands of lights below the clouds; seemed like a kingdom of fireflies. If you lift your head up to the sky, you would see millions of stars in the dark sky, as if they were glittery powder spread by fairies.

We almost reached Pasar Bubrah, but we intentionally held our steps back and decided to build our tents behind a big rock to keep us from the strong breeze. From our campsite, the majestic view we had seen appeared even charming. It is as if we were in another world when we watched thousands of city lights below our feet, while the inhabitants of the Milky Way were clearly seen above the sky.

Everything changed when the sun rose in the next morning. The glittery stars were replaced by golden rays from behind Mount Lawu on the East end, making the ground we stepped on appeared like Persian golden carpet. Mount Merbabu stood calmly on the North end, while the three brothers-Mount Slamet, Sumbing and Sindoro-were covered in mists on the West end, looking like Egypt's Giza pyramid from afar. Enjoying Merapi's beauty would get us questioning about its legendary ferocity; for a while we would forget how the mountain had caused the loss of thousands of lives, buried a civilization down, and driven the Ancient Mataram Kingdom away to the East of Java Island.

It's time for summit attack-climbing through Pasar Bubrah which, 8000 years ago, used to be the mountain's crater. There's only one single trek route, through loose sand and stones-no other route available. The sand and gravels were just loose that they could not keep our feet stable; we would continuously drift down. The frozen magma produced by the last eruption was also too unstable; we would have to crawl and choose the most stable stone to be able to move forward step by step. After about an hour of climbing, we were greeted by the smell of sulfur. Standing on the crater rim of the country's most active volcano would certainly be an unforgettable experience-2914 m above sea level. The view was just so spectacular; the feel of the exhausting trip seemed to all fade away. Here we are-on the summit of Mount Merapi.

The summit has also been hikers' favorite spot to enjoy sunrise view. However, the narrow, steep area would often keep photographers back from moving freely to find best angles, let alone to erect their tripod. We climbed down before the sun rose higher. It took about 4 hours to climb down back to the base camp. The locals' fields were visible down there, bathed in sunlight. The area has been fertilized by the volcanic ash regularly produced by the mountain's crater. Well said, Merapi is never angry; he only tries to keep balanced by sharing what he has got to give for the surrounding nature.

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