Triple trek trip
Ijen, Semeru and Bromo – these three volcanic peaks of East Java are a wonderland of adventure and amazing scenery.
WHEN I received a surprise invitation ( via Facebook tag) to trek Mount Semeru, East Java, I did not hesitate to join up – even though the other 10 participants were strangers.
After we touched down at Juanda Airport, Surabaya, we were greeted by our trekking guide Agus, who is named after the month of August. He made our five day, four night expedition an unforgettable experience.
Our expedition began with an almost 10 hour, 300km drive in a minivan to Sempol Blawan village. After dinner and a trek briefing at our Catimor Homestay, we repacked the stuff needed for hiking and then hit our beds.
At 2am, we began our trek up. Once we reached the Ijen plateau, we stood and looked down at the dazzling, electric- blue fire. This came from the burning of sulphuric gas, which was emerging from cracks of the Ijen volcano.
As the sun slowly rose, the site looked even more surreal, as the turquoise blue lake there unfolded.
The lake is the site of a labour- intensive mining operation, in which baskets laden with blocks of sulphur are manually carried up from the floor of the volcanic crater. The lake is recognised as the largest acidic crater lake in the world.
A two- hour hike is required to reach the rim of the crater, followed by a 45 minute hike down a narrow stairway. Despite its dramatic setting, the Mount Ijen trek is a relatively moderate one, suitable for any first timers. However, a mask is a must to avoid getting choked by the thick and pungent sulphuric gas.
After tackling Ijen, our next target was to hike Mount Semeru, which is the highest volcanic peak of Java. After a tiring eight- hour drive to Lumajang town, Agus brought us to the local hospital to check on our blood pressure and body oxygen levels – our health certificates were required to get the trekking permits.
The next morning, we got all our luggage thrown into a 4WD jeep that took us to Ranu Pane village, where the trek was to start. The jeep ride was a lovely experience, as we passed villages and vegetable farms. The landscape was simply beautiful.
At Ranu Pane, we left behind the extra luggage that was not required for the trek. We also met our porters cum cooks who would carry two days worth of food supplies, water, cooking utensils and tents – plus our bags. Hiking with porters definitely made the experience more bearable!
Agus registered our group at the ranger’s office. The start point was at 2,100m above sea level. The stratovolcano Semeru ( also known as Mahameru) is very steep, rising abruptly to 3,676m from the coastal plains of eastern Java.
The Ranu Pane - Semeru route would go through a lot of beautiful scenery at Waturenjeng, Oro- Oro Ombo, Cemoro Kadang, Banjangan and Kalimati, where we would camp overnight before ascending Semeru the next morning.
Here is where I would like to wax lyrical on the wonders of Ranu Kumbolo Lake at 2,390m, midway to the Kalimati camp. We had been trekking through pine forests and when we suddenly stepped out, it seemed that we had stumbled on an undiscovered world.
The lake took our breath away. No man on
earth could have carved such a landscape. Only Mother Nature herself was capable of such a masterpiece. It made me recall a quote: “Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you” ( David McCullough Jr).
The lake was surrounded with hills filled with green pines, and white clouds were reflected in the lake. A cool breeze removed the fatigue we felt from the hours of trekking. It was a perfect getaway spot to recharge mind, body and soul.
The porters prepared hot meals for us and Agus pointed to a hillside.
“You see the heart- shaped terrain?” he said. “It is known as Love Valley. As you climb up the valley and leave the lake, think of the person whom you love, make a wish and climb straight up. Don’t look back at the lake. Your wishes may come true”.
From the lake, it was a four- hour trek to Kalimati base camp ( 2,700m) crossing the Oro- Oro Ombo and Cemoro Kandang points. Kalimati, which translates to “Dead River” in Javanese, had a savannah bush type of landscape with plenty of small mountain flowers.
Tents were pitched. I put on my thermal wear and tucked into my sleeping bag to keep warm in the 10° C cold. Armed with only headlamps and flashlights under the starry night, we tucked ourselves in early that silent night.
At 1.30am, we had to wake up to fill our stomachs with some food and warm coffee. We wanted to get to the peak to witness the sunrise. The trek from Kalimati would take about four hours.
We soon got to Arcopodo, the last check point before the ascent to Semeru. The trek became abruptly steep and our feet sank into the loose sand, making the climb even harder.
This was the hardest part of the trek. Trekking in the dark, we relied on light from our own headlamps, and also from those ahead of us. We had to ascend the 45 to 60 degree gradient slope and the sand, loose stones and gravel made the climb three times harder – with every step forward, we were liable to slip back down two steps.
There were no plants or trees to hold on to, and there was no proper trail. The climb drained our stamina. To make matters worse, the air had less oxygen at this high altitude.
But it was glorious when we finally got to the peak. The slow sunrise provided a panoramic view at 3,676m above sea level. The splendid landscape unfolded as we rejoiced reaching the top of Semeru. The cold, the altitude, the steep climb were all worth the pain once we set our foot on the highest point of Java.
Having enjoyed the scenic views, getting down was fun – what took three hours to climb just took less than an hour to slide down along the sandy slopes.
We packed all our stuff from the Kalimati camp and trekked down. On our way back, our thoughts were on crossing the magical Ranu Kumbolo lake again. When we got there, we enacted a Bollywood moment, our own version of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
At Ranu Pane village, we collected the stuff which we had left behind, hopped onto the 4WD jeep, and headed straight to the homestay at Cemara Lawang for our last destination, Mount Bromo. The jeep passed through picturesque savannah- like fields and plains filled with fine volcanic sand.
On our last day in Java, we drove up in the jeep to Mount Panajakan, the most popular viewpoint to see the sunrise at the entire Bromo- Tengger- Semeru National Park.
Mount Bromo ( 2,329m) is an active volcano and its name is derived from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god. It sits in the middle of a vast plain called the “Sea of Sand”.
The Hindu temple here is a place of worship for the Tengger tribe of the mountains of East Java. ( They are a remnant from the days when the main religion of Java was Hinduism.)
At Panajakan, the sky started to change colour as the sun crawled up slowly, revealing the elegant Mount Batok in the middle of the Tengger Caldera while Mount Bromo sat humbly behind it.
From afar, the majestic Mount Semeru overlooked the vast caldera of the other two mounts.
We then went through a vast plain and reached the foothills of Mount Bromo. From there, it was an hour walk over 245 steps to reach the top of the Bromo crater. That was the finale of our hike.
It had been a memorable trekking trip and I had made 10 new friends. What a great adventure holiday!
Made it! the group at the peak of Mount Semeru.
the writer ( left) with his trek buddy at the peak of Mount Ijen.
View at the Bromo crater with Mount Batok as a backdrop.
the turquoise acid lake at the Ijen volcano with sulphur fumes emerging from rocky crevices.
Crossing the ‘ Sea of Sand’ to get to the Bromo crater.
the writer enjoys the magnificent scenery at ranu Kumbulo lake.