Climbing to the top of an erupting volcano.
Why would you climb to the top of an erupting volcano?
Semeru rises to a height of 3676m above sea level and is the highest point on Java. The cone-shaped volcano is a part of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, one of the most beautiful areas in this country. The mountain can be seen in the background of the classic picture from the viewpoint over Bromo (below). Semeru is one of the peaks included in the Indonesian Seven Summits, and it’s also the third highest volcano in the country. This volcano is very active and has small eruptions with short intervals, sometimes every 15 minutes. Standing on the top of Java, watching the sunrise, and waiting for the first eruption of the day, sounds like an extremely cool experience! It got me excited.
Warning! People have died climbing this mountain
The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources suggests you only hike to Kalimati, and stay at least 4 km away from the crater. This volcano’s danger level is currently at 2 (Alert), but might be adjusted. Check with Magma Indonesia before you decide to hike an active volcano.
From what I’ve heard, there are several ways to die while climbing this mountain. I can’t confirm any of the stories, but after having been there they all sound likely enough. Apparently, climbers have been killed by falling rocks while doing the final ascent to the top. Rocks can start rolling down the side of the mountain either because another climber accidentally makes it roll, or because of landslides caused by mother nature. A foreign visitor was hiking alone and got lost on the way down from the mountain. They searched for him for two weeks, but his body was never found. I also heard stories of people being killed by rocks being thrown up during an eruption.
I saw a guy coming down from the mountain, he had summited the day before, and he looked like the mountain gave him a proper beating. He had fallen on the way down, doing several flips and rolls on the volcanic rocks. Before we started hiking they warned us that there are panthers in the area, and if we meet them we should back off. If you don’t bring proper equipment, you will be so freaking cold at night, you might actually get frostbites.
There are several reasons not to climb this mountain (or any mountain for that matter). You should always respect the mountain, and be well prepared if you decide to climb it. If I for some reason inspired you to visit the top of Semeru, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. If something bad happens, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!
Planning a trip to Semeru
Many people do the whole trip in 2 days and 1 night, but I wanted to have more time so I could actually enjoy the trip and the beautiful nature in the area. I planned to spend four days and three nights in the mountains, which meant I didn’t have to walk as far every day, and I also got enough sleep. Many people choose to rent porters and guides, which is not a bad idea, but I had an experienced hiking partner and we wanted to go alone. Going alone obviously means you have to carry more stuff, and you have to plan and prepare your own meals.
My backpack is 60 liters, and I filled it up with warm clothes, camera gear, food for the whole trip, portable stoves for cooking, four bottles of gas, two big bottles of water, a tent, a thin sleeping pad, an even thinner sleeping bag, 20 Beng-Bengs and a pocket full of Alpenliebe. Good shoes and a headlamp is also necessary. It ended up being kira-kira 23kg.
There’s also a risk of not finding the way if you go without a guide. My experience was that the trail is super clear all the way to the top, and there will always be other groups and friendly people to ask if you’re in doubt. Normally I would like to have a map or a GPS with coordinates to follow in case of bad weather or if the trail is hard to follow, but good hiking maps don’t really exist in Indonesia, do they? I use the GPS on my phone as a safety backup, and I just learned how to install GPX files on my iPhone.
To get there you can either fly or take the train to Surabaya or Malang, and then organize a car to take you towards the mountain. You are encouraged to register online and pay the entrance fee before arriving. You might be asked to show a doctor’s note saying that you’re strong enough to hike a mountain. They usually don’t allow people to go in alone, your group should consist of minimum three people. So you basically need to have at least two cool friends or try to find someone who will pretend to be your friend when you’re entering the park.
A beautiful adventure
Day 1 – From Ranu Pani to Kumbolo
Ranu Pani is a village located in the middle of the Bromo Tenger Semeru National Park. That’s where we had to register with the ranger’s office. The walk from there to the campsite by the Kumbolo lake is about 9 km, it’s mostly uphill (not very steep) and it took us about four hours. The campsite at Kumbolo is beautiful, and it’s a very nice place to chill and enjoy the nature. You can drink the water from the lake, but swimming is not allowed! The place gets pretty cold at night, I highly recommend bringing a proper sleeping bag!
Day 2 – From Kumbolo to Kalimati
The walk from the lake to the next campsite in Kalimati is only 5 km. We had plenty of time for a big breakfast before we started. This leg of the trip is also fairly flat and easy. It only took us about 3 hours, and it was very enjoyable! Kalimati is also a good campsite, located at the foot of the cone-shaped volcano. A water source is available 15 minutes away, a sign will point you in the right direction.
Day 3 – From Kalimati to the top of Java, and back to Kumbolo
The third day is tougher. We started hiking at midnight, after sleeping for a few hours. It’s not far to the top, but it’s steep. The first hour took us up through a forest on a normal trail. Even though it was completely dark, we didn’t have any trouble finding the way. Acopodo is the name of the place located at the treeline. This used to be a place where you could camp, but apparently, it’s not recommended anymore as it is inside the danger zone (4 km from the crater). From here to the top it took us 3 hours. It is just straight up the mountain. It is steep and sandy. I would highly recommend using a walking stick or two for balance and support.
There was no wind on the top, I couldn’t believe our luck! I wish I’d brought my drone. It was still pretty cold, even after the sun was up. I brought a lot of clothes, and I used all of it. The time spent on the top was amazing! The sun rises over all the volcanoes located further east on Java, and it is a beautiful sight. The view over the national park is also incredible, especially with the steam from Bromo in the distance. The highlight for me was when the 3676-meter high volcano I was standing on started erupting while the sun was rising. What an experience! I will never forget that.
Walking down is much faster. It took maybe two hours to get back down to Kalimati for a well-deserved breakfast and a nap. We packed up and walked back to Kumbolo for the last night.
Day 4 – From Kumbolo to Ranu Pani
Since I had a flight to catch from Surabaya in the afternoon, we had to get up super early and start walking. The sunrise by the lake was another pleasant surprise towards the end of the trip. And with the clear weather, we could see Semeru almost all the way back to Pos 1. Once we were back in the village, we let the ranger’s office know we made it and then headed back down to civilization.
Thanks for another great volcano adventure in this amazing country!