Mt. Merapi, Indonesia: A Fiery Climb

Mt. Merapi, Indonesia: A Fiery Climb

A steep ascend into the first light on top of an active volcano

Shankh Chatterjee
January 22 , 2018
03 Min Read

I sat in the hostel lobby, ready for another challenge. The challenge was to see sunrise atop an active volcano. I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. With all my equipment ready, camera and phone charged, soon I was on my way to Selo, a small town at the foothills of the mountain, two hours away from my hostel. My guide told me we had time before the clock struck midnight, as that’s when we were going to start our trek. The wait became rather interesting as various stories of trekking and the volcano came out.

The history of Mt. Merapi and stories from the last eruption in 2014, as scary as it sounded, made me even more curious. Due to the eruption, we were only allowed to climb the mountain from the north side, where Selo lies, the south side was declared too dangerous for tourists as the lava had flattened that side of the mountain.

Now with midnight was upon us, we strapped on all the gear and started our walk uphill to the entrance of the National Park. At the checkpoint I came across various people from around the globe and a short conversation later, we decided it was time to move on. Rather unexpectedly, the thin road ahead had transformed into a jungle.

Without a shred of natural light and with only the beam of a headlamp to show us the way, we followed each other and trudged our way up to the top of the mountain before first light struck. After every hour, we took a short break for some conversations and sugar--to keep us going physically. Earlier that day, the weather forecast warned us of possible rain, but we were blessed to see a star-studded sky. We decided to savor the moment in complete darkness. The knowledge of climbing an active volcano and the clear sky gave us that much-needed adrenaline push towards the summit.

The base camp, Pasar Bubrah

The trek continued and the path upwards became colder and steeper. The rocks came unraveling under our feet and the tree barks became more slippery due to the dew formations, making our trek extremely challenging. But I guess, if you are climbing an active volcano, you can safely expect it to come with some challenges of its own. After a grueling four-hour trek, we reached the base camp, Pasar Bubrah. We could almost smell the finish line. If you think the trek was tough, the final climb to the summit made it seem like a child’s play.

The first obstacle was sand (volcanic ash). Where we took two steps forward, we slipped one step back. With no stones or rocks to hold onto, walking was a challenge alright. Somehow following our guides we made it through. The final hurdle to the crater/summit was a steep and rocky climb.

Morning rays as seen from the mountain top

A few bruises on our hands and knees later we sat down at the crater, set up our cameras, and watched the serene sunrise. As we stood there rubbing our hands together for some warmth , we had smoke coming out of the crater behind us and the sky a mix of warm colours. That was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever witnessed.

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